Mama Shaker: Ashley, On Maternal Sleep Deprivation

Ashley Olivine wants sleep-deprived moms to know they don’t have to suffer through months, years or even decades of sleepless nights.

“Clinically I’ll talk to a lot of women who will say, ‘Okay my kids just went to college and I really have not slept since they were babies,'” she says.

“It just gets to the point where they don’t really know what it’s like to feel rested anymore.”

Ashley says many moms don’t believe they deserve to get help because they’ve let it spiral out of control.

“That’s the big problem we see long term with moms,” she says. “They get in this habit of sacrificing their own sleep and their own health for everyone else.”

Meanwhile, Ashley believes healthcare professionals don’t take maternal sleep deprivation seriously.

“Everybody looks at first 6 weeks postpartum, and everyone focuses on postpartum depression,” she says.

“You’re a mother for life. It doesn’t stop after 6 weeks.”

For those of us with babies not yet sleeping through the night, Ashley says there’s no need to panic.

“Moms have this magical ability to condense the sleep cycle,” she says. “Especially in the first 3 months, you are made to wake up multiple times during the night.”

“Let’s say your baby wakes up at the same times every night, and it’s a lot. Your sleep cycles will shrink so that they will fit into that amount of time.”

When the fog of frequent nighttime wakings extends beyond the end of maternity leave, it can leave us feeling much less in sync.

“You’re right that you can’t go on like that forever, because babies are supposed to grow out of that,” says Ashley. “If they don’t, that’s when you need to get help.”

I mentioned how I was “spoiled” with my first born, who slept through the night by 4 months old. But now I’m 8-months-deep into the second time around, and I haven’t had a full night’s sleep since May. Apparently I’m not the only one.

“It’s not uncommon for second kids to be harder, because they’re often carted around for their older siblings’ schedule,” Ashley points out.

And then there’s the added obstacle of keeping one sibling asleep while the other is awake–which can feel especially challenging when you’re running on fumes.

“Let’s say you’re older kid doesn’t know and runs in and and wakes up the baby and you lose it,” Ashley says, describing that moment of rage many of us know all too well.

“Basically when you’re sleep-deprived and stressed, your interactions with your children and spouse are going to be more short and negative,” she says.

Ashley says early research suggests maternal sleep deprivation impacts all family dynamics–meaning divorce rates increase, children don’t hit milestones as quickly and they start having trouble in school.

“You have to eventually put your foot down and say ‘I’m going to do what it takes,’ she says.

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How This Mompreneur Makes it Work

Ashley reached her own limits as a new mom, so she learned to apply techniques from her private practice to her own daily routine.

“My career is brain work,” she says. “I’m pretty big on doing that first thing in the morning.”

Ashley says anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes of brain work can “give me so much recharge it’s like having a babysitter for 8 hours.”

(I can imagine, as I find myself choosing a workout, hot shower or solo Starbucks run over a cat nap to get a much-needed mental break and energy boost.)

“I’ll do the woo-woo meditation stuff; plus the very medically respected, scientifically proven cognitive behavioral therapy; plus some deep restructuring brain work,” she says.

“I just do kind of a mix because I feel like all of them have their own advantages and you can’t get as much benefit with just one.”

Not surprisingly, Ashley is “not someone that ever, ever skips breakfast.”

She also checks her “old-fashioned, handwritten calendar” to see what events are coming up that day.

Next, she walks her older daughter to school as “part of our bonding time” and often extends school drop-off into a stroller run by the water with her youngest.

The remainder of her weekdays are spent juggling her sleep practice and coaching fellow mompreneurs, along with after-school ballet and swim lessons.

Women Helping Women Succeed

“Women should not feel that they need coffee or wine to get through the day, and there should be other options readily available when you go to your doctor,” Ashley says.

Instead of piling on to the jokes about intravenous caffeine drips and wine o’clock, she’s determined to help the medical community better understand maternal sleep deprivation.

“It shouldn’t be laughed off as ‘oh hey welcome to being a parent, it sucks, it’s hard, get used to it’ because these are real medical conditions,” says Ashley.

“What’s really kind of scary is that there is not very much research on all of this,” she says. “Nobody knows the full extent of the impact of all of this stuff 20 years down the road.”

This is why Ashley carves out time for writing papers on maternal sleep deprivation on the weekends, while her daughters are playing.

Her goal for the sleep-deprived among us is to “reverse it, no matter how bad it is,” and ultimately to “get into this good place where you’re feeling good and everything that you’re putting out into the world has good energy behind it.”

In other words: what dreams are made of.

Mama Shaker: Dr. Sharon Somekh of Raiseology

When her oldest daughter started middle school, pediatrician Sharon Somekh decided it was time to re-orient her career around what she loved most about her profession: working with parents.

In March, she left her practice and launched Raiseology, so she could build “more meaningful relationships” with parents virtually from her home office while being an “accountability partner” for her 11-year-old.

“I help anxious parents go from feeling like a deer in headlights to feeling like they can really do this… to the point where they can stop being so anxious about the day-to-day and really enjoy what they have in front of them–which is their kids.”

“We all love our kids and want what’s best for them,” she says.

Women Helping Women Succeed

As a mother of four daughters, ranging from 3 years and up, Sharon has personally navigated through multiple stages of working motherhood. For her, it was actually easier to get through 80 hour weeks as a resident when her first two were very young.

“One of my mentors said something to me that I’ve since told many, many moms,” says Sharon. “When your children are young is when you will feel better working more. A lot of moms think when their kids grow up, they’ll go back to work. You don’t realize that that’s when it’s hard to go back.”

She says feeling secure in your childcare arrangement and getting help are key to making it through the early years–I couldn’t agree more.

“Whether it’s emotional help, coaching help, physical help, outsourcing certain things you don’t enjoy doing at home–it will make your life much easier and it’s worth every investment in yourself to do that,” says Sharon.

Part of that support has come from moms who pitched in for preschool pick up and drop off. Her then 3-year-old started to notice and at one point told Sharon she wanted to be a stay-at-home mom when she grows up.

“Nothing hurts more than that,” she said. “But when she asked me ‘why do you work?’ I gave her a very honest answer. I think we underestimate what our kids understand and we need to have real conversations–that are age appropriate–with them.”

“Every mom has mom guilt,” she says. “They may have guilt about different things, but they still feel guilty.”

She says knowing your limitations benefits both you and your children.

“I think the example we set for our kids is really important. I like that they see that I’m a driven person and I value what I have to offer and think it’s important enough to put it out into the world.”

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How this Mompreneur Makes it Work

“If you’re asking how I manage four kids, I don’t,” Sharon says pointing to the independence that she’s fostered in each of her children.

She described a recent parent-teacher event where another mother she was volunteering with called her 11-year-old three times to make sure she was getting ready for school.

“I did not have a doubt in the world that my daughter was waiting for the school bus,” says Sharon.

Her 8-year-old makes her own lunch for school, and Sharon and her husband are currently training their 5-year-old to get herself dressed with the help of routines and checklists.

“It takes effort in the beginning, but it definitely has amazing payoff…and it’s great for the kids because one day they’re not going to be living in your house.”

You can learn more about Sharon’s “system of empowerment and independence” on her blog. In addition to her group program for parents of toddlers to school-age kids, she also consults parents of infants one-on-one, and she’s launching a podcast this summer.