Many babies begin to ‘wake up’ around 2 weeks of age. Some babies are ‘awake’ right from birth, and others are always pretty relaxed and sleepy.
Sleep has to be one of the most discussed topics amongst new parents. Nothing can prepare you for the physical and mental exhaustion that a new baby will inevitably bring into your life.
Research has found a new baby typically results in 400-750 hours of lost sleep for parents in the first year. Notice that there is a big difference between those two numbers? Some babies sleep a lot more and some babies sleep a lot less, but either way, sleep deprivation and motherhood go hand-in-hand. No matter what some sleep ‘experts’ tell you, some babies just do not, and will not, sleep.
What I will do today is try to help you cope!
1. Be proud!
In some circles you may feel embarrassed to admit how often your baby still wakes up at night. We are conditioned to believe it is poor parenting skill that leads to sleep deprivation; as usual our culture blames mothers. Naomi Stadlen, one of my favourite authors, suggests mothers ought to wear their sleep deprivation like a badge of honour. In her book, What Mothers Do, she says, “Surely a mother who has chosen to sacrifice her sleep deserves respect and admiration for her generous mothering.”
2. An hour of sleep before midnight is worth two after
My husband was an elite athlete and they were always told to go to bed early, rather than sleep in. Scientifically I have not been able to find any proof, but from an Ayurvedic perspective, different times of day hold different energies. 10pm-12pm is Kapha, ruled by earth and water, a good time to get deep, sound, rejuvenating sleep. Also, practically speaking, most babies get their longest stretch of sleep early in the night, and wake more frequently in the morning hours. So, it’s a good idea if you hit the sack early too.
3. Have a bedtime routine for you
A bedtime routine can help you wind down and get to sleep on time too! For example, treat yourself to a self-massage, shower and have a warm drink (like date milk, see page of 36 of the recipe book). Do your bedtime routine every day after your kids are asleep. If you find yourself lying awake in the night when your baby has gone back to sleep, you can get up and do your bedtime routine again.
4. Get five hours sleep in a row
A baby’s sleep cycle is 45 minutes; but an adults oxytocin levels peak after 5 hours of sleep… No wonder you feel exhausted. Do your best to get four hours sleep in a row. This isn’t always possible, but consider asking your partner to do a shift at night, or leave your baby with your mum for an afternoon. Leave expressed milk and wear ear-plugs if someone else is listening out for your baby.
5. Actively relax
Meditation, singing and breathing all induce the same brain waves as sleep. Some spiritual seekers, who have spent many hours praying or chanting, report not needing many hours of sleep. Use any relaxation technique you enjoy during long hours spent feeding or rocking your baby.
6. Be forgiving
It’s very natural for parents to displace their negative feelings about their baby onto each other. Be mindful of what is really bothering you and forgive each other for the odd tantrum.
7. Have a power nap
A power nap is a very short nap that ends before deep sleep. 10-15 minutes is enough to reduce irritation and cognitive fatigue without leading to the dull heaviness you feel after a longer nap. The benefits of a power nap last nearly three hours, so schedule yourself a power nap every time your baby sleeps, to get you through the day.
8. Have a laugh
Sleep deprivation is torture, I hear you! Try and have a circuit breaker, like a silly song, a game with your toddler, a funny YouTube clip or a trashy sitcom. Laughter releases oxytocin, which gives empathy and compassion.
9. You are not alone!
I know it may not be helpful for you to hear that it really does get easier, but talking to a second, third or fourth time mum can help to put everything into perspective. Imagine yourself with thousands of other mothers pacing up and down the hall, rocking and bouncing and feeding together. It’s true, there really are mothers all over the world, right now, doing the same things mothers have always done. Trying to get a baby to go the f*** to sleep!
Last of all, I just want to share with you a red flag for postpartum depression. If you can’t sleep, even when your baby does, if you are lying awake at night with negative thoughts and feelings, it could be a sign that it is time to see your GP about ask about your mental health.