Sleep Deprivation Makes Dads Do Strange Things

My wife could barely wait to tell me.

"Do you know what you did last night?" she asked, her smirk revealing that whatever I did, it was dumb and hilarious.

So what did I do this time in a sleeping stupor?

Being tired as a new dad comes with the territory. Sometimes that means hilarious things happen! But there are ways to reduce the exhaustion with a new baby. | instafather.com Photo: Gratisography.com

Being tired as a new dad comes with the territory. Sometimes that means hilarious things happen! But there are ways to reduce the exhaustion with a new baby. | instafather.com Photo: Gratisography.com

Unlike winter, sleep is not coming - but you'll be OK

Since becoming a dad in 2013, I have embraced sleep deprivation. Not because it's fun - no, it sucks - but because I learned there is no avoiding it. You gotta just embrace it. When you have a newborn baby, and you're doing the right thing as a father and taking your share of night shifts, you're going to be mind-numbingly exhausted.

I have no reason to sugarcoat it. You're going to be the kind of tired where you could seriously fall asleep standing up if someone would just let you. Why won't they let you? WHY WON'T ANYONE LET ME JUST SLEEP? 

This may scare you off from being a dad. It shouldn't. You've stayed up all hours on your own plenty of times and did not die. This time, you're just staying up for a reason and not to watch Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King because it's on TNT and you want to see that sweet fight scene wait maybe that was just me never mind.

I'm always trying to be frank with you on this site because I thought it was disingenuous as a new dad when some "expert" on a huge parenting site would say things like "Sleep when the baby sleeps" and "Your baby should sleep through the night as long as you do this, this, and that." No, they won't. And it would only make me feel worse, like I was doing something wrong.

The parent who originally said "sleep when the baby sleeps" definitely had a nanny and a maid. It's easy to think you'll just sleep anytime the baby sleeps until the reality of new parenting hits you: That's the only time you have to do things like mow the lawn, do laundry, use a computer with both hands, etc. I'm not going to suggest that. I'm assuming you know that if you've got errands done and the baby is asleep, you're not going to sit there like an idiot and think, "Hmm, wonder if I should take a nap since I haven't slept in 50 hours? If only there was a cliché to tell me what to do."

So... you'll be tired. But look on the bright side! You might end up doing something hilarious.

Strange Things Sleep Exhausted Parents Have Done:

Here's what happened to me, according to my wife:

It was the middle of a long night taking care of our four-month-old twins. I was passed out, real hard, in the bed. My wife looks over at me and realizes I am rhythmically patting my chest to put the baby to sleep.

Except both girls were in their co-sleepers. There was no baby on my chest. I was PUTTING MYSELF TO BED WHILE ASLEEP. So sad it's funny.

I've got some other gems for another day. But I've got lots of stories for you from other parents so you feel better when it happens to you (and let me know when it does!)

Dumb things moms and dads did while sleep deprived:

  • Turned too sharp by a gas pump and ran the side of my car up against the gas pump concrete protector. Stares all around as I was destroying my car. I still can't live that one down. - Richie
  • Running around looking for my phone that's in my back pocket. - Greg
  • Made coffee with no coffee. - Drew
  • Put the cereal in the fridge. - Nicole
  • Put my K-cup in the Keurig, turned it on. No cup underneath. - Joanna (and Joseph ... and actually, a bunch of people. Keurigs are not for half-awake parents, it seems.)
  •  I once took the dog out to go to the bathroom with baby in my hands and without pants on. I got some looks and didn't realize until I came back in. At least I had boxers on so it sorta looked like I had shorts on. - Joel (Daddysgrounded.com)
  • I slammed my car into a humungous sewer and tore the wheel to pieces. - Jack
  • I used to try to open my front door with my car alarm button. - Charlie
  • After rubbing baby Orajel on my daughters gums for teething, I licked it off. My mouth was numb for hours. – definitely drooling involved from both mommy and baby. - Samantha
  • Answering the phone and having an entire conversation in my sleep that I didn't remember. Unfortunately, the conversation was with my wife and involved me agreeing to something. The phone records proved she really did call me. - Tor (http://andimthedad.com/)
  • (Tor's friend) He was walking through his living room when the TV was on, and onscreen there was a bus approaching the camera. My friend stopped walking next to the TV in order to let the bus pass. Apparently he stood there for several seconds before realizing what was going on. (ed. note - Thanks for throwing your friend under the bus. So to speak.)
  • Put the cereal in the fridge and the milk in the cabinet. I realized it hours later. - Tiffany
  • When I had all 4 if my nieces and nephews staying overnight, I remember my older nephew coming into my room and telling me he threw up on the bed. We were both so tired that I grabbed a towel, threw it over the massive amount of vomit, and told him to sleep on top of the towel. And he did. (He was tired also). I remember thinking that I could just clean it up in the morning. Dried vomit is not as easy to clean as I thought. - Corrie (see, it can happen to aunts!)
  • Waking up and thinking the baby was still in the bed after I had already put her back in her crib. - Hannah (ed. note: Yep. Done that a million times)
  • Backed my car... into my wife's car. - Mickey
  • Pretty much the dumbest thing I've done in the middle of the night, sleep deprived, was to speak. - Phil (ed. note: Simple but true! I've mumbled unintelligible things for sure.)
  • I sat my cup in front of the baby and tried to drink from the sippy cup. - Sam
  • I put my cell phone in the refrigerator. No clue why. - Amy
  • My husband put the ice cream in the fridge, not the freezer. Melted mess. - Katie
  •  I had a minor panic attack while changing my son. I thought his penis fell off in the night... but it's okay, it was his twin sister. It woke me the hell up. - Cuda
  • I took a shower, shaved and dressed for work at 2 am. - Cuda (ed. note: Someone get Cuda some coffee)
  • I fell asleep at a traffic light. Though that's more scary and less funny. - Josh
  •  I put the coffee filter basket for the coffee maker in the freezer, decided to microwave the rest of the old coffee before making new coffee and poured it from the carafe and into the cup, which was actually on the counter behind me. Cleaned up the coffee mess from the counter/floor, filled up the coffee maker with water and made a pot of hot water. - Robert
  • When my daughter was a baby and she started crying in the middle of the night, I jumped out of bed and startled and shouting, "I just don't know what she WANTS! What does she WANT?!" My wife just said, "I got this one..." and I went back to sleep. She still laughs at me about that one sometimes. - Lee
  • Put the cereal in the fridge and the milk in the cabinet. I realized it hours later. - Tiffany
  • Waiting 24+ hours in the labor room (after working a full day before that) and got home the night of my son's birth so worn out. The next day was trash day, and we had one of those can's that had the inner can that you would take out and dump. A nice "stainless" can. Well, a few days later when I searched the house top to bottom and couldn't find the plastic inner part of the can, I came to the realization I threw out the whole darn thing. - Albert
  •  I once was so tired for one of my middle of the night pumps, that I fell asleep and woke up over an hour later still pumping. - Lauren
  • I was in the car for well over an hour by myself before I realized I was listening to, and singing along with, my daughter's favorite Wiggles CD. - Jen
  • Put his pajamas in the dishwasher thinking it was the washing machine. - Lindsey (on her husband)
  • I went to pump milk before finally going to sleep myself and pumped for a good minute or so before I realized I forgot to attach a bottle to catch the milk. I was covered and smelled like milk. - Alicia
  •  I went with a friend to IHop (one of my first "breaks" away from my son). I mistook the coffee carafe they keep on your table with the syrup. Please note: French Toast + hot 100% Arabica coffee = a soggy mess and not very good/appetizing. That said, I ate it, as it was a necessary evil because, at the very least, it gave me the caffeine desperately needed to push through the rest of that morning. My friend could not stop laughing and to this day references the "IHop Incident of '09" as one of the funniest moments ever. - Tiffany
  •  I slept on the couch while my daughters spread with puppy chow all over the living room. I was sad that the puppy chow was gone. My wife was more concerned about the furniture.  - Alex (http://www.66dayexperiment.com/)
  • I thought the baby Orajel was my eye cream and put it on. Seriously rough morning. - Sarah (ed. note: That might be the winner. Wow.)

Your friends are lying to you about their perfect, sleeping angel

At least there's something to laugh about, right?

But you still are hoping it won't happen to you. Your baby will be just fine and sleep all night because you'll do all the perfect methods, you think.

Well, just remember: Babies aren't designed to sleep through the night. If you go into fatherhood expecting a baby to sleep 8 hours in a row, hell, even 6 hours in a row, that is hilarious. Please go pitch that scene to Saturday Night Live.

The truth is it's not physically possible. Newborns are designed to eat about every 2 or 3 hours. Even if they sleep 10-18 hours a day, they could care less if that's done during the night or day (WebMD). So while you think it's "bedtime", they think it's "Now we'll just take dinner upstairs time". They don't understand that nighttime is supposed to be different. 

And once the feeding times space out, you get into the developmental stage of "Oh damn did my parents leave me alone in this crib? Are they insane? How long has this nonsense been going on? I need to be held! Hello? HELLOOOO?" Back to waking up. 

Not that some of your friends, real life or Facebook, will let you think that. You'll have 1 or 2 who will insist they had a perfect baby who defied logic and slept all the time.  

Your best friend’s wive’s sister’s friend’s baby slept through the night 4 weeks in? No, they didn’t.
— instafather.com

That parent is doing some nice revisionist history, where you kinda think in your head that maybe they DID sleep through the night but you forget looking back how they kept waking up and needed put back down. (Or maybe they truly did sleep through the night. Bravo. That still has as much to do with how your baby will do as the eye color of the other baby.)

People want to hope for the best and think their baby is the best, so looking back on it, parents tend to think their kid was better than they actually were. No, their baby woke up. A lot.

Sounds like a nightmare? Trust me, once the baby starts sleeping better, you'll enjoy all those awake moments so much more and you'll see why it's all worth it. You'll see a smiling face in the crib in the morning when they realize daddy is here and man, it'll melt your cold, cold, sleep-zombie heart. 

Just keep pushing through. You can do this. I didn't want to mislead you into thinking this was going to be a piece of cake, but that doesn't mean fatherhood isn't worth some sleep deprivation. It is!

Important note: You have to be safe when you're exhausted. No falling asleep holding the baby if you can avoid it, because that's super dangerous. And don't drive if you can't keep your eyes open, and trust me, you'll find yourself facing that dilemma. Ask for help if you're really struggling and not doing well with the lack of sleep. No shame in that.

Here's what you can do to combat sleep exhaustion

  • Take turns throughout the night, rather than both being awake every time. If your wife is nursing, you sleep until she's done and then you take the baby  (if he/she is still awake) and gently pat her for however long it takes while your wife mercifully goes back to sleep. lf you're doing bottle feeding, it's easier to swap back and forth (try getting formula/breast milk mix ready ahead of time if possible!). We've done it where one of us crashes in the guest room where it's quiet and the other person will call on the phone when it's time to switch (so as not to move/shout).
  • Older baby? Take shifts. When my son was past the nursing stage, my wife would handle any wake-ups in the first half of the night and I'd take the latter. That way, we could each guarantee a long stretch of sleep. Other people alternate nights. Whatever works - figure it out before it's 3 a.m. and you're cranky!
  • Prioritize making up for all-nighters. Some nights it's all hands on deck. No one is sleeping. Your daughter has been possessed by Satan and her cries are nothing short of skin crushing siren song. It happens. Don't think you can just push through the next few days without making up for that huge gap in sleep. If you can push something back/cancel it and gain 30-60 minutes to sleep, do it. Remember, this isn't forever. You can make some adjustments now and it won't kill you. That could also mean you split up errands that day, leaving one person at home baby-free to sleep and then you swap. 
  • Visitors want to see the baby? Take advantage. If you have visitors seeing the baby in the early months, they really need to be there as helpers and not guests. You don't have time for guests. You shouldn't be playing host when you desperately want to clean or sleep. As long as you've got a good, trusting relationship with the friend/family member, see if that visit can turn into them taking the baby out for a long walk in the stroller or an extended rocking session while you/your wife takes a nap. Yeah, it can be weird to sleep if you know you've got a visitor in the house, so that might mean having them take a quick trip (if they are comfortable with car seats/baby care!).

Want tips on getting the baby to sleep? I've tried about everything you can think of with my son and my twin daughters. I've got a list for you that'll give you a good head start on the night.