Sleep Like a Baby: Fighting Fatigue During Deployment

Blog Post #4

February 25, 2011
By: Denise Hamlin-Glover, PhD
Marriage and family therapist associate and New Parent Support Program home visitor
Family Advocacy Program, Fort George G. Meade, Md.

All parents experience fatigue and frustration from time to time. Military families face additional stressors given some of the unique demands of military life. If your spouse or partner is deployed - or getting ready to deploy - you may feel worried about many things, including basic safety and how you will manage everything while he or she is gone. If you have a new baby, it may be pretty scary to imagine parenting on your own. Caring for a new baby is difficult even while your spouse or partner is home, and it's only normal that loneliness, self-doubt or disconnection from your child can creep in as you juggle life as a single parent. There may even be times during deployment when you feel like you are at your wit's end. When my husband was deployed to Iraq in 2005, I was raising our 2-year-old son alone, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, I worked full-time and I was finishing up my dissertation - all at the same time. I was so stressed and overwhelmed with so many emotions. I found myself crying while on my hour-long commute to work wondering, "Why me - when will he be home?"

When your spouse returns from deployment, things can still be difficult as your family reunites and adjusts to being together again. When my husband was returning, I had to remind myself that my husband would have to get used to how "we" operate now just as much as we have to readjust to him being back home. This meant slowly allowing him to take back the responsibilities he had prior to deployment. I knew that this was going to be a slow transition.

Despite expected fatigue and stress during the deployment cycle, even the most seasoned military families can forget how debilitating these feelings can be. In some cases, fatigue can overwhelm you so much that it impacts your decision-making around safe sleep practices. For instance, a new mom with an infant and toddler who has just said good bye to her spouse may be feeling empty, sad and lonely, especially as she considers that she has 365 days of this looming ahead. She may yearn for comfort and wonder, "Wouldn't it be okay to bed-share just this once?" During these times, we can get caught up with our emotions and bed-sharing may seem like a good way to fill the emotional void. Fatigue can also get in the way of your relationship with your child, and this may have long-term effects on his or her development. So, you can see why trying to combat your fatigue is so important.

Having a plan to cope with your exhaustion and stress, especially during the deployment cycle, is one of the most caring and loving things you can do as a parent. Yet, learning something new when exhausted is a real challenge. That means having a survival plan in place beforehand is super important. A plan can give you confidence that you can manage the challenges ahead by outlining some steps you can take when life gets difficult. Consider some of these ideas for your plan, which can help prevent the effects of fatigue so that you can continue to bond with your baby:

  • Are you eating well and exercising regularly? A balanced diet is important in helping you maintain your energy level. Regular exercise, even a 20 minute daily walk, can boost your energy, promote better sleep and improve your mood. Relaxation techniques such as meditation, aromatherapy or reading can also be helpful in reducing stress. Check out Military OneSource's Health and Wellness Coaching Program for help with your plan.
  • Try to get enough sleep. A new infant's erratic sleep schedule may make a regular sleep pattern difficult, so try to work in naps and rest while your baby is sleeping. Remember the importance of a safe sleep environment for your baby and be aware of your level of fatigue. Ensure you always place your baby back in his or her crib to sleep. Although you may want to keep your baby as close as possible, you can stay attached to him or her in ways other than bed-sharing. Some healthy tips to bond or attach with your infant or toddler include: reading to your baby while holding him or her, gentle-touch infant massage, playtime with your infant, establishing bedtime routines and rituals, soothing your baby to sleep and exercising with your baby. When your partner or spouse returns from deployment, work together to make sure everyone in your family is getting enough - and safe - sleep.
  • Work in some "me time" that allows you to get away and do something fun away from home. Personal time is important; it helps you refresh and put things in perspective.

Most importantly, remember that you are not alone on this journey. An invaluable strength of military life is the sense of community it provides. Reach out to those in your life who can help you care for your baby. Do you have family or friends that can help you? Look into the possibility of using child care or line up some babysitters you can use. Is there a local parenting group where you can meet other military parents going through the same thing as you? A family readiness group, if available, may be a good place to start. And, if you ever have questions about safe sleep practices, please contact your installation's New Parent Support Program or Military OneSource.

Making your plan and working on your support system early can give you some peace of mind as you prepare for deployment.

Dr. Denise Hamlin-Glover is a Marriage and family therapist associate and New Parent Support Program home visitor with the Family Advocacy Program at Fort G. Meade, Maryland. She is also the wife of an Army soldier and the mother of two young children.


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