Five weeks ago I started waking up every weekday at 5am. No, I’m not a morning person naturally and no, this change wasn’t easy for me. But it was entirely necessary for my mental health.
I’m home with my toddler every day from about 7:30am until 7pm. My husband works outside the home and I work part-time from home.
Nearly 12 hours alone with a toddler every day is a kind of exhaustion I never saw coming. We live in the city so our outdoor time is generally in public spaces that require extra supervision beyond what would be required in say, a backyard. I’m with Ben every time he goes up on to the playground equipment (he’s not quite ready to do this alone), I’m kicking him a soccer ball in our local park, or walking to a local toddler class. It all requires you to be very “on”.
Our house is small. The downstairs of our row home is basically one big room. By about 10am if we haven’t gotten out, my toddler is bouncing off the couch (literally) and clearly going stir crazy. I guess cabin fever sets in way faster with kids?
I started to get burned out. By the time my husband was home I was desperate for some relief. To just be alone for five minutes or to sit down and put my feet up. I felt terrible that he was coming home to someone who was not her best, especially when I know he works hard to ensure that I can be home with Ben during this part of his childhood. I was frazzled and short and not being as patient as I’d like to be with Ben and with N.
So here’s the truth, to wake up at 5am without issue…what you need to do is emotionally and mentally get to your tipping point where you need alone time so desperately, that it becomes a priority over sleep. That you crave getting up so you can be in your house “alone” (everyone sleeping) and get the things done that are important to you outside of being a parent and partner. This has never happened before in my life but now it has so I can thank a 22 month-old for getting me there.
A few things I learned by getting up at 5am…
My child’s sleep patterns. I always thought he woke up around 7 but the truth is, he wakes up initially much earlier and then is in and out of sleep for about an hour before he actually stands up and is ready to start his day. At first I was getting up at 5:45 and it just wasn’t working. Ben was in a light enough sleep at that point that if he heard me, he’d immediately wake up fully and want me to come get him. I basically had to start getting up when I knew he was still in a deep sleep. For me that meant 5am.
My best friend is an early riser and she always said that after a few days, your body gets used to it. I thought there was no way that was true but turns out, she was right! Usually after the weekend Monday (when I get up with Ben one day and sleep in one day) is a little rough. Each day is progressively easier as the week goes on. A few times so far I’ve even woken up at 4:57am without the alarm.
Going to bed early is key. Making it through the next day if you stay up too late is a struggle. I still have a hard time with this but being pregnant, sleep is even more necessary than usual so I try and force myself to at least be in bed by 9:30pm, 10 at the latest.
You can’t nap. For me, napping makes it impossible to go to sleep before 10pm and then subsequently makes me more tired the next day. If I’m really struggling or I can see that I will be soon, I’ll have an iced black tea (about half the caffeine of a cup of coffee) at about 2-3pm. I’ve found that for me, this is enough to keep me from napping but doesn’t affect my sleep schedule later.
Mentally, getting up early has been my saving grace. It gives me nearly two hours in the morning to be by myself downstairs in our home. By the time Ben wakes up I’m fully awake and ready to start my day with him as my best self.
One thing I don’t love about getting up at 5am is that it cuts in to my time with my husband at night. Since he isn’t getting up at 5am, he doesn’t need to go to sleep at 9:30pm. We used to stay up together until 10:30 or 11 but I just can’t do that anymore. It bums me out a bit to go to bed without him but I also know that…
1. He gets some alone time downstairs after I go to bed, which I’m sure is nice too.
2. Having the mental break/alone time every morning has made me a better wife and Mom and overall happier person.
I know he’d rather have less time with that version of me than more time with the frazzled, less patient, mentally fried version.
It’s been five weeks of 5am wake up calls and I’ve only missed about three days (when the nights were rough due to illness/Ben issues). I don’t see how or why I could ever go back to getting up when Ben does. In a lot of ways, I feel like getting up at 5am saved me. It perhaps prevented a spiral into actual unhappiness. It’s mentally made me feel like I can be the best version of myself every day.