It’s 1:40 a.m. and I’m currently awake, breastfeeding with my almost-six-month-old (second kid). I’m in product management by day, and I’m doing a really shitty job at my job these days because I’m so tired and I can’t remember things from five minutes ago. I don’t remember it being this bad with kid number one. Help! What are proven ways to deal with bad sleep? How do I retain knowledge and do a better job?
There is no data to prove this (I looked), but I don’t think you’re alone in feeling that the exhaustion is worse with the second child. For one thing, taking care of the first child is also a lot of work — you can’t always nap when the baby naps, and it’s just harder to get the rest. So I’m not surprised this is tough, and I’m sorry.
Give yourself grace. Sleep deprivation is literally a form of torture. It feels like crap to struggle at work, but one thing you can do is try not to blame yourself.
There is no secret option C here. Outside of illegal stimulants (also contraindicated for breastfeeding), there isn’t some magic way to get more out of your sleep, or to really get around not sleeping enough. One thing that has been shown to improve cognition is napping (see details here). You might find that napping for 20 minutes midday gives you an extra burst of energy. Of course, napping at work isn’t always (or even often) possible.
If you cannot nap (or even if you can), another step is to ask whether you can improve the quantity or quality of nighttime sleep. Is it possible to split the wake-ups with your partner? Is it possible that sleep training might be a good idea at this point? If you do have a partner, I would urge you to sit down with them and talk about what you might do together to help fix this. If you do not, I’d sit down with yourself and ask the same thing.
Finally: although it may well not be a factor, I’d suggest you test for anemia. As I’ve written about before, it’s a surprisingly common issue for women postpartum, and the symptoms (fatigue, brain fog) are similar to what you see in sleep deprivation. The fact that you said this is worse with the second child makes me think you might want to look at it as a cause. The upside if you do have low iron is that improving your iron levels is a relatively easy fix in most cases.