Sleep deprivation, something you cannot prepare yourself for when becoming a new parent. Babies can wake up every 1-2 hours throughout the night, leaving both parents feeling extremely exhausted. When you complain about it people will tell you how you need to sleep train your baby, stimulate your baby more throughout the day so they sleep better at night, co-sleep, don’t co-sleep, let your baby self soothe. If only it was that easy.
I’m 4 months into motherhood now and as amazing and rewarding it has been, sleep is now something of the past. Waking up multiple times throughout the night, having an unsettled baby that will only sleep in your arms, trying to squeeze in a nap during the day when the baby is asleep, only to be woken up 5 minutes later by the sound of your crying baby.
After weeks and/or months of sleepless nights, you begin to feel like a zombie. You feel run down, forgetful, anxious, emotional and bad tempered just to name a few things. Sleep deprivation can even cause you to feel resentment and detachment from your baby which inhibits in the bonding process. It can bring out the ugly in both parents, we have shorter fuses and mothers can often feel resentful if our partner pretends to fall asleep when the baby is crying. Sleep deprivation impacts your life and takes its toll on our overall wellbeing.
Im no sleep expert but here are a few tips that have helped me get through those exhausting days:
Ask for help
Too often as parents we don’t want to ask for help. We want to try and do it all and sometimes parents are ashamed to reach out. Mothers can underestimate how much help they need after having a baby, when you’re running on little sleep and recovering from child birth it is crucial to speak up. It’s hard work to raise a child and it may or may not take a village, but it certainly takes some help.
If someone offers to help and look after your baby for even an hour, take the opportunity, or better yet, give them a task to do. There is always a list of chores that need to be done such as the washing, laundry to fold, grocery shopping. You will feel so much better when these tasks are ticked off and your friend or relative will feel good about helping out.
Get out of the house
There are days when it gets to 3pm and I’m still in my pajamas, I haven’t showered yet and I’ve only managed to eat a piece of toast. The one thing I’ve tried to make a priority each day is to get out of the house. A 15-minute stroll with the baby in the fresh air and sunshine can do wonders for our mental health. Getting out and moving will help you relax, lower stress levels, and give you a dose of vitamin D which helps with our mood. Our bodies internal clock is regulated by our exposure to sunlight, this means it can trick our body into believing it should be awake even when it feels tired. I find that when my baby isn’t sleeping, a lap around the block with her in the pram will put her straight to sleep. It’s a win win!
Cut out or cut down on coffee
Drinking coffee elevates your levels of cortisol and when cortisol levels are too high you can suffer from headaches, waking up feeling exhausted, lowered immunity, low sex drive, having more energy in the evenings than the morning and feeling wired during the day. Coffee is going to give you a quick energy spike, but it is using energy stores you don’t have. Over time, you are actually causing your body to become even more exhausted.
Since having Max I actually started drinking coffee twice a week as a treat, this increased to once a day and then some days I would be having two coffees. I felt permanently wired, had trouble sleeping when I actually had the chance to get some sleep and I struggled to function in the morning until I had a coffee. I’ve started to cut right back on coffee and I’m now down to 2 a week. There are days when I feel like I could have 5 a day due to lack of sleep but I’m feeling a lot less wired, anxious and exhausted. If you don’t want to cut out coffee, aim to drink it first thing in the morning. It takes your body around 8 hours to break down the caffeine in your system which is why drinking it around lunch time or in the afternoon will affect your sleep.
Many mothers might be so tired that often eating right and staying hydrated gets forgotten. It is critical that new mothers stay well hydrated, especially if you are breast feeding. Dehydration can cause fatigue, headaches, dizziness, water retention and a poor milk supply. We should be aiming to drink around 2-2.5 litres of water each day. If you do struggle to drink enough water, drink 2 big glasses as soon as you wake up in the morning and carry a drink bottle around with you so you can sip on it throughout the day.
When you’re feeling exhausted, cooking a nutritious meal or a meal of any kind can feel like the biggest chore. Too often when we are feeling exhausted we will reach for something sugary to give us an energy lift, only to leave us feeling more exhausted soon after. However, making the extra effort to have a healthy meal can work wonders for your energy levels. If you’re fueling your body right, it can really help you cope during the day from lack of sleep. Encourage your partner to cook more (if you’re reading this and your partner just had a baby, cook some meals!), stock up on healthy snacks such as nuts, fresh fruit, crackers and hummus or peanut butter, popcorn and hard boiled eggs. If you’re breastfeeding it is so important to be eating every couple of hours to keep up your milk supply. If you’re making dinner, cook a bigger portion so you can eat the leftovers the following day and keep snacks on you when you are out during the day, this will stop you from going to a café or bakery and picking up something that is high in sugar for a quick energy fix.
Being a mother is one of the hardest jobs and too often Mums forget to take care of themselves. For some mothers, ‘me time’ seems like a foreign concept and often we feel guilty spending time away from our children. According to a 2014 study, on average mothers gets only 17 minutes of ‘me time’ each day as she spends majority of her time looking after children.
I believe that spending at least 15 minutes per day, by yourself is vital. ‘Me time’ is not a luxury, it is necessary. Going for a walk, going to the gym, taking a hot bath or reading a book by yourself helps you feel like a person again. It helps you stay in touch with who you are and it gives you time to breathe and reflect. When a Mum gets a break from her daily stresses she is happier, emotionally more balanced and gives her some time to re fuel her tank. Taking care of yourself is imperative and we shouldn’t feel guilty to take some ‘me time’.
Don’t underestimate the benefits of taking a 20-minute nap. As soon as you put the baby down, try and get some rest. If you can’t fall asleep, do something that will help you unwind even if it’s just lying in bed or sitting in front of the TV. One of the reasons I have started to cut down on coffee is so I’m not wired up on caffeine all day and I can actually have a 20-minute nap when I put the baby down. We need to encourage our partners to take the baby for even half an hour so we can sleep. This also includes telling visitors to go away because Mum is sleeping. It’s so beneficial for everyone if the Mum is able to have a short nap.
If you have any other tips to help with sleep deprivation, I would love to hear them.