5 Practical Tips to Survive Sleepless Nights With Littles

posted by Andrea | 12/9/2019

how to survive sleepless nights with littles

The last 8 years of my life have been filled with more sleepless nights than I care to recall! As a coping mechanism for my ultra-structured Type-A self, I came up with a short list of techniques to survive sleepless nights.

These techniques won’t necessarily help your children sleep any better (sorry!), but they WILL help you handle the sleeplessness a little better.

In my experience raising 4 infants (2 of which were horrible sleepers, 2 of which were fantastic sleepers) we, as parents, can do and try and test and implement all the tips so-called “experts” tell us to do to get our children to sleep — but ultimately, the kids are in control. If they aren’t sleeping, we aren’t sleeping. 

While I’m a HUGE advocate for training children to sleep, I’m also practical… and I know that all the training in the world won’t help certain children! I figure that if I can’t control my child’s sleep, I can at least control how I react and respond to it! 

THAT’S what I’m sharing with you today!

mom and sleeping child

kids sleeping on a car trip

sleeping with mom

These are the tried-and-true tips that have helped me survive sleepless nights with our 4 young children for the past 8 years! 

how to survive sleepless nights with littles

1. Keep your Smartphone with you at all times!

This is my top tip for surviving sleepless nights because I know how much harder and “longer” the sleepless nights felt BEFORE I had a smartphone. 

When I was up all night, every night with Nora I had nothing to read, nothing to do, nothing to occupy my mind except the fact that I was SO tired and couldn’t sleep. 

Now, I can read a book, catch up on social media, play a game of Solitaire, respond to emails, check my bank account, text a night-owl friend (or Dave if I need him for something), and so much more. It’s almost like a mini mom-vacation… almost!

Sometimes, when my babies were really little, I’d bring earbuds into the nursery with me and literally watch a movie on Netflix or Amazon Prime while I sat there rocking them back to sleep. Obviously, this wouldn’t work with older children — but it was a game-changer for me with infants! 

I also use the light from the phone’s screen (and the flashlight app) to help me see things in the dark nursery without needing to turn a brighter light on.

And, I’ve spent many hours researching things like “what are signs of pneumonia in infants?” or “how long can a breastfed infant go without pooping?”

For someone who is NOT usually “attached” to devices, I can confidently say that having a smartphone felt somewhat like a “lifeline” for me. It has been a crucial part of my sleepless night survival plan! 

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2. Hang a robe (with pockets) near your own bed.

Yes, this is actually my #2 tip! 

I have a thick robe and a thin robe hanging on the backside of my closet door (just 3 steps from my side of the bed) and any time someone wakes me up in the middle of the night, my first priority is to grab my robe. 

My main reason for the robe is the POCKETS! 

I always keep the pockets of my robe “stocked” with tissues). I put other items in the pockets as necessary — things like my phone (see #1 above), cough drops, children’s medicine, digital thermometer, and more. 

The pockets are so handy for various middle-of-the-night needs, especially when trying to juggle a squirmy infant or defiant toddler. Plus, I personally just feel cozier and happier if I’m snuggled in a robe!

NOTE: This is the warm fluffy robe I’ve worn for YEARS. And this is a similar style to my light-weight robe for summer.

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3. Stock the Nursery with YOUR “Supplies”

This tip is geared more towards sleepless nights with infants and toddlers — but it could work for older children too. 

When I was regularly up many times a night with our newborns, I had a separate water bottle that I kept right in the nursery at all times (especially helpful when nursing and feeling SO thirsty all the time).

I also kept chapstick, nursing pads, my earbuds (see #1 above), and even a few snacks in the nightstand drawer (along with my stockpile of burp cloths). 

Still to this day I keep a light blanket hanging on the back of the nursery chair (in case I’m cold), a small fan on the nightstand (in case I’m hot), and a neck pillow over the armrest so I can drift off to sleep even while holding a sleeping baby (I’ve never dropped a child yet!) 

So often, we focus on stocking our nursery with things the baby needs… which is great. But don’t forget about yourself too! 

As you probably realize by now, you will spend a significant amount of time in your baby’s nursery — make sure YOU feel comfortable in the room as well!  

NOTE: Here’s the tiny fan I use, and this is the neck pillow I use.

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4. Consider Alternate Sleeping Arrangements. 

As much as I hate to include this tip, I feel it’s necessary to address as it’s one of the only reasons I survived the unfathomable number of sleepless nights throughout the first 3 years of Nora’s life. 

Dave and I did not want our children to sleep in our beds OR in our room because we are both fairly light sleepers and I didn’t want to hear the baby’s noises all night long.

Since we didn’t want the kids in with us, I went in with the kids… seriously! 

We ended up buying a new mattress for our bed when Nora was 1. We then put our queen mattress on the floor in her nursery (we took down her crib around 6 months because she refused to sleep in it). I slept on this floor bed with Nora for many hours every night until Simon was born, at which point Dave took over (much to Nora’s dismay!)

It was not ideal. It’s not something I ever thought I would do. But it worked and allowed me to squeeze in a few more minutes of sleep each night. 

After our horrible experience with Nora’s sleeplessness (more info at the end of the post), we decided to actually put a twin bed in our nursery for our other kiddos. I slept in the nursery every night until our babies developed some sort of sleep pattern (usually at least 2 months). 

This meant one adult could get a full night of sleep in our own bed, and the other adult could still sleep somewhat comfortably in the nursery. 

It won’t last forever (I promise) but it might be worth considering alternate sleeping arrangements for a few months… just to get a little more sleep!

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5. Change Your Attitude.

I know… this is HARD.

It might even feel impossible! 

When you are running on very little sleep, even the slightest annoyance can upset you more than it otherwise would (been there, done that!) 

I’m certain I don’t need to remind you how maddening it is to hear cries over the monitor. Again. Only an hour later! 

However, I have personally come to realize that IF (and it’s a big if) I can mentally re-group enough to change MY attitude a bit, the whole sleepless night gig feels just a teeny-tiny bit more doable. 

I remind myself (over and over and over again) that this will not last forever. 

I remind myself of every single old lady who has told me how fast these years go (even if I rolled my eyes at them). 

I remind myself that I am my child’s main confidant. I do everything (or almost everything) for them. For whatever reason, they are incapable of sleeping right now. They might be scared, they are probably tired, they don’t know how to fall asleep. All they know is that I can help them and they want me. 

Sometimes this seems unfair or annoying to me — but honestly, an attitude adjustment is a tremendous help for me when I’m awake (yet again) with another child in the middle of the night. 

Of course, it might take several minutes for my raging internal dialogue to allow space for these more positive, nurturing thoughts… but once I get there mentally, I find I’m able to calm my children more effectively, and we all get back to sleep more quickly. 

NOTE: If you’re struggling with Postpartum Depression, it will be much more challenging to adopt a positive attitude regarding sleeplessness. Read this post… it might help!

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Sleepless nights have been the most difficult part of parenting young children for me.

I can deal with the clutter and the additional laundry.

I can handle the insane number of to-dos and requests they come at me with each day.

I can meal-plan, pack fun lunches, and plate up hot breakfasts like a pro.

I can prioritize and schedule and remember almost everything required to help life with 4 young children flow more smoothly. 

But for the love… is it too much to ask for a consistent 6-7 hours of uninterrupted sleep at night?!?!

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Unfortunately, I realize my tips won’t magically help your children sleep any better. 

However, I do think they will help YOU cope with the ramifications of your children’s sleepless nights — at least that’s my goal! 

Just keep reminding yourself that they WILL sleep eventually!  

More of My Sleep-Related Posts: 

How we FINALLY got our oldest child to sleep through the night (it only took us 3 years!)

Our experience using a trained Sleep Consultant for our 3rd child (it was a game-changer for us)

Tips to deal with exhaustion and chronic sleep-deprivation (helpful for anyone battling sleeplessness — not just parents of young children)

My thoughts on children’s sleep schedules (hopefully this is encouraging for you)

My most-recent bedtime routine post (this is still pretty much how we run things around here)

Our SUPER early morning routine (the only way I get anything done around here!)

3 Ways I improve my quality of sleep (simple, yet effective)

The effects of sleep on EVERYTHING! (seriously, it’s SO important!)

Clearly, I’m fairly passionate about sleep — either that or I’ve just been sleep-deprived for so long that it’s something I constantly think about! 

When it comes to sleepless nights, we need all the tips we can get… please leave your tips below!

What has helped (or currently helps) you survive those awful sleepless nights? 

how to survive sleepless nights with littles

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21 comments

  1. Marisa

    12/13/2019

    I wish I’d had these tips when my 6 year old was a baby! Neck pillow for snoozing while rocking is brilliant 🙂

    Allowing myself to change my mind was the best thing I did. I’m stubborn and have annoying ideals. My son was a difficult sleeper and he refused to cooperate with the best-laid-schemes. My husband kept reminding me that there is no perfect plan, and most things require a balance of costs and benefits.

    Breastfeeding was difficult for me, so my husband insisted that he give at least one bottle of formula at night. I gave in, and it was a huge help to be able to sleep a solid 4-5 hours during the night. As he pointed out, our son might receive a marginal benefit from breastmilk over that one bottle of formula, but he will receive a much larger benefit from a mother who is calm and sane over a mother who is falling apart from lack of rest.

    Instead of using the co-sleeper for three months and then transitioning into his own crib, we let our son sleep with us until he was 3, and then off and on for the next year while he adjusted to his own bed. He went back to sleep so much quicker when he was in our bed, and I could sleep better knowing that he was right there in my arms; I didn’t have to listen for his cry during the night. The transition to his own bed was relatively painless when he was ready.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    haha — the neck pillow has been a “life saver” for me many times!

    So glad you found a system that worked for you and your family. It’s amazing how quickly kids “transition” when the time is right for them — I’ve found this is true of sleeping in their own beds, potty training, learning to read, riding a bike, etc. etc.

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  2. Annette Peterson

    12/10/2019

    Love this! I am with you on lack of sleep being the most difficult part of having a young child. I just wish I had this great info when my kids were younger. Thank you for your great advice and encouragement. It’s best from someone who has truly been there…especially with Nora.

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    Andrea Reply:

    being tired affects EVERY part of my day — it’s so important for me to get enough sleep, and it’s so frustrating when I don’t have “control” over how well (or not well) I’m sleeping at night!

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  3. Julie

    12/10/2019

    My first was a terrible sleeper. Baby two was fantastic and baby three would go to sleep, but wake up at 4am to play!

    Now they are all teenagers, still keeping me up, while I wait for them to come home from a night out, discussing boyfriends, girlfriends or they need picking up from a party or from a part time job.

    Hard to believe only a few short years ago, I was in the same place as you!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    yes, I’m told the teenage years will keep me up too! But it’s different then I suppose 🙂

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  4. Shereethia

    12/09/2019

    Dear Andrea,
    As I type this, I’m yawning for the 569th time today & I still have an hour left until I get off work. I have a 4-year old and a 3-month old & I just wanted to thank you for writing on this topic. This blog has been the most relatable I have read ever. Now I don’t feel as crazy or singled out for the lack of sleep I’ve been getting. I’ve lashed out on my husband about how he just has to get himself ready for work in the mornings & I’m getting myself & 2 other human beings ready for the day, every single day.

    Ever since I had my second daughter, I just knew right away that I would have to get acquainted with this “new norm” and at first it was intimidating (to be honest, it still is very intimidating-especially since I work full-time and I have a 35-40 min commute twice a day, Monday through Friday. and then back to doing it all over again. With my girls being so young, they both seem to need me all night & all day long (My 4-year old has been needing me much more now that she sees her baby sister getting more attention) & even though I’m constantly comforting one or the other, I wouldn’t trade it for anything because of the one-liners I’ve constantly heard since having children-“you have to cherish the time while they’re young because time flies.”

    Again I just want to thank you for sharing your experiences without fear of judgement & shame because I truly thought I was doing it all wrong-wanting to be there for my children but yet still wanting them to have their independence. I never knew how parents with multiples did it but now I’m starting to appreciate my parents a lot more.The truth is-since I’ve changed my mind-state on sleep & my purpose, I’ve been happier and comfortable in knowing that my children will always know that I’ll be there in their corner. This doesn’t change the fact that I get exhausted & my body constantly aches but at least , I’m not alone.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    oh no — so sorry to hear you’re not getting much sleep!
    And yes, I can totally relate to feeling frustrated that YOU have to do all the night-time baby wake ups and not your hubby. I felt angry about this too when Nora was younger. However, as we’ve added more children, Dave now gets up with the older 3 (if/when they wake up) and I’m still on “Clara duty” so it has all evened out a bit 🙂

    You definitely are NOT alone — SO many parents have the same feelings as you.
    It won’t last forever (we all know that) but it would sure be nice if we knew when the sleepless nights would end!!

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    Shereethia Reply:

    Thank you 🙂

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    Andrea Reply:

    you’re welcome 🙂

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  5. Meghan

    12/09/2019

    All great tips! Thank you for sharing your list with your readers; I can attest they work! First baby, great sleeper. Second – horrible sleeper and I had a horrible attitude. Third baby – horrible sleeper and better attitude and all of your tips put into place. I would add working out and coffee like your other reader did.
    My youngest is four and if someone wakes up in the night, I still always have my zip up sweatshirt and slippers by the bed. Being warm and comfortable really helps!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    yup! the attitude really matters on this one — and it’s SO easy to feel bitter about the fact that you’re waking up all the time!

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  6. Nancy

    12/09/2019

    A friend told me two helpful things that go along with your #5, change your attitude. First, try not to take it personally. As you said, there’s a reason they’re not sleeping but the reason is NOT to prevent you from sleeping. Getting angry doesn’t help and is actually counterproductive. And second, don’t keep track of how many times or how long you’re up each night. It doesn’t help at all, and just breeds resentment, to know that you were up [insert number] times. Although once in a while it might feel good to “brag” about it the next day LOL.

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    Andrea Reply:

    yes, it’s very easy to get so angry — when there’s really nothing you can do about it. Although it might seem like the babies are “out to get you”, they obviously are not!

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  7. LEANNE

    12/09/2019

    1. Coffee
    2. Working out…. It makes me feel better than a nap… it encourages me to drink fluids which also makes me feel better…and lets me have some “lifesaving” treats like m&ms with my coffee..

    I will say that the sleeplessness can come in spurts… teenager-dom hit our house in full force this year…so, some of that sleeplessness has come back… nights I need to wait for my oldest to get home or he wants to “talk” at 10:00 at night… or another child with school anxiety that needs help getting back to sleep…. thinking about issues that come up with them… Its not the same as the early years….but, it still disrupts your sleep 😉

    My husband will frequently turn on his bible app and listen to scripture or pray for others and that helps him sleep when his sleep is disrupted 🙂 Thankfully, again, its not like the early years, but I rely on the same tricks for helping with lack of sleep…. 🙂

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    thanks Leanne — glad to know your sleep hacks are still working for you in the teen years!
    drinking coffee and working out are 2 things I don’t ever do, so it’s good to have these tips thrown into the mix too!

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  8. Jen

    12/09/2019

    Thankfully, I had good sleepers so my “sleepless” nights were mostly contained to those first few bleary weeks, but I would add two things. 1. We didn’t have any babies in our bedroom ever, so we had a system where, when the baby started fussing, my husband would get the baby while I went to the bathroom, got some water, whatever. He kept the baby occupied for a few minutes so I could get situated. My tip: enlist help! Maybe your husband can’t feed the baby (if you’re nursing, which I always was!) but he can certainly help YOU!

    Secondly, I always watched TV while I nursed (this was way before smart phones!). So, before I went to bed, I always got all my supplies ready. I always sat in the same chair so I would have the burp cloth, diaper change, prop pillow, anything I needed ready to go. This meant less time awake and also allowed me to keep all the lights off so that the TV light was all that I had to worry about, and that didn’t bother any of my babies as they all ate and went right back to bed. That little bit of prep before 3 a.m. made 3 a.m. MUCH more manageable!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    I’m surprised you didn’t get even 1 bad sleeper in the bunch — lucky lady!

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  9. Paulette

    12/09/2019

    I think I was one of the little old ladies who said the years would pass so quickly. And when I heard this as a sleep deprived mother, I definitely mentally rolled my eyes! Many nights I spent in the rocking chair with my babies and got up the next morning and went to work. I thought I would be in the stage of my life FOREVER. Wish I had your suggestions back then. I’m sure you’re a help to so many mothers, Andrea. Keep up the great work!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    haha — one of MANY “little old ladies”!

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    Paulette Reply:

    Haha! ❤️

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