I was a self-employed consultant when I became pregnant years ago, and had visions of working from my home office with my daughter napping or playing contentedly nearby. Then reality struck. For the first three years I struggled to get her to sleep on a regular schedule, and it often seemed like naps were out of the question unless I was holding her, which of course made it impossible to work.
For many entrepreneurs, their first baby—their business—already makes sleep elusive. What happens when they add a human baby to the mix?
Jennifer Bright Reich is an entrepreneur and author of forthcoming book, “The Mommy MD Guide to Getting Your Baby To Sleep.” She said she, too, struggled to balance sleep and work when her children were small. “My older [child] didn’t sleep well, and he wasn’t a good napper, either,” she says.
Bright Reich used a variety of strategies to cope with the demands of motherhood, entrepreneurship, and lack of sleep, and her new book reflects the reality that what works for one baby may not work for another. It offers over 500 tips from physicians who are mothers themselves.
“In my experience, there is no one-size-fits-all sleep training method, because every child has a different temperament,” writes Bright Reich in her book. “Furthermore, every family has different routines and goals, so what works for one family does not work for another.”
Here are strategies that some small business owners have used.
If your child is a couple of months old and healthy, but not sleeping through the night, you may want to consider a sleep training program or professional help.
Deacon Hayes, founder of the WellKeptWallet.com, swears by the “Babywise” method described in the book by Gary Ezzo. His son now sleeps about 12 hours through the night and three hours at naptime. “It did take about three months of rough nights to get to that point,” he says.
As for me, I took my daughter to a pediatric sleep specialist who, after what seemed like a cursory wellness check, declared her healthy and told us to just let her cry herself to sleep. It wasn’t advice I could follow through with, and I didn’t find it particularly helpful. But Bright Reich had more success with that approach. She kept a detailed sleep log and reviewed it with a sleep specialist who recommended a fairly rigid schedule that did help over time.
Okeoma Moronu Schreiner also found it helpful to get professional advice. “My boys were OK sleepers,” says Schreiner, a corporate attorney and founder of TheHappyLawyerProject.com, “but we worked with a sleep consultant and it was worth every penny.” The consultant she hired cost about $200, and within a week her son was sleeping 12 hours a night. Best of all, she was able to apply those same techniques when her second son was born.
Become an Expert Multitasker
The advice I heard most often when my daughter was young, was “sleep when the baby sleeps.” But if I did that, I remembered thinking, I’d never have time to get anything done. That’s why entrepreneurs often get creative when it comes to multitasking.
Sarah Li Cain, founder of the blog High Fiving Dollars, swears by her nursing pillow. “It’s a LIFESAVER!” she wrote in a Facebook message in all caps. (She’s that big of a fan.) “I managed to balance baby on lap with nursing pillow and use two hands to type,” she added. “I also got good with typing with one hand at one point.” She also mentioned using voice dictation into Google docs.
Lauren Greutman, a personal finance expert and author of the book, “The Recovering Spender,” says she used the Babywise with her first three children. “But by the time baby number four came around, I ditched it and did a lot of typing with one hand while I was holding or nursing the baby.” She says her fourth child was a “horrible sleeper, so I basically had to work whenever she slept, which means some nights I was up in the middle of the night because it was the only time I could get anything done.”
Take Care of Your Partner
Rachel King, who is married to serial entrepreneur and Nav CEO Levi King, is the mom of six—including a set of twins. One of her babies had colic. Yet, when asked how she managed all those sleepless nights, she seemed fairly blasé.
“I am sure I looked over at [my husband] and thought it was nice to sleep through the night,” she says of those late night interruptions, “but I wasn’t mad or anything.” She does appreciate, however, when he gets up with the girls on the weekend and lets her sleep in for a few hours.
Nick Loper, founder of the Side Hustle Nation podcast and website, found a way to help his wife and baby get some sleep, and multitask at the same time.
After his wife fed his son, she would go back to sleep, and Nick would play with him for a bit until he’d tire out. Then Nick would strap him into a baby carrier, hop on his desk treadmill, and get to work.
“He’d sleep an hour-and-a-half or so; long enough [for me] to get caught up on email or tackle one or two other tasks,” he says. “It was a really difficult time to get work done—no paternity leave for the self-employed—so having that setup was great; made me feel like I was participating and getting some bonding time, let mom rest, and still try to keep the biz alive.”
Do What You Can
Brynne Conroy, blogger at FemmeFrugality.com says, “the first time was a nightmare. We both stayed up with our child at all hours. The second time, we took shifts and it helped a lot.”
Her husband works afternoons and evenings, so he would sleep during the day and she’d sleep at night. Even though they didn’t see each other much, “we actually stayed sane,” she says.
Sometimes there’s a silver lining to those sleepless nights—they lead one into an entrepreneurial path with the promise of greater flexibility and opportunity.
Ryan Guina’s first daughter had colic, and he and his wife both struggled with lack of sleep. He was still working a full-time job while trying to build an online business in the evenings.
“I was a walking zombie and I was mainlining coffee in the mornings, Mountain Dew with lunch, and sometimes chasing that with another caffeinated beverage in the afternoon / early evening,” he says. Utterly sleep deprived, something had to give. “It got so bad I quit my day job and took the leap into full-time entrepreneurship.”
He hasn’t looked back. Today he runs two successful websites, TheMilitaryWallet.com and CashMoneyLife.com, and enjoys having more time to spend with his family.
And Lauren Greutman’s husband, Mark, joined her entrepreneurial ventures, adding that his wife convinced him to “quit my job and come home and help.”
In the end, you’ll power through and marvel that you did. Just like you’ll look back at those early stressful days of your business startup and kind of miss them, you’ll miss those bleary-eyed nights with just you and your sleepless baby. Mostly.
As Guina says, “That was 6.5 years ago and I wouldn’t change a thing. Except the colic part. That really sucked!”
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This article was originally written on January 6, 2017 and updated on January 29, 2021.