Podcast - Episode 8 - Coping With Sleep Deprivation
Welcome! You Are Here Because You Believe Birth Is About Making Mums Too.
As a Newborn Mother, you are being invited to reinvent yourself because when a baby is born so is a mother, and the birth of a mother can be more intense than childbirth. You'll learn how to find peace and joy in the first 40 days after birth and how your postpartum experience can change your life.
Research has found a new baby typically results in 400-750 hours of lost sleep for parents in the first year - sleep deprivation and motherhood go hand in hand.
I’m not going to offer you sleep solutions today. What I will do today is try to help you cope!
As a lifelong lover of naps, I find it hard to understand when people tell me they can't nap! But I know it's true, many exhausted new mums say they find it really hard to sleep during the day.
For more information on How To Nap click here.
If you'd prefer to listen and read through or simply read along in your own time all of the content is below.
Yep, it’s torture. You don’t need anyone to tell you that.
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.
But there is a common misconception that the worst weeks of sleep are the first weeks after birth. 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.
In fact, many, many mothers hit a wall around the four-month sleep regression, or when baby number two arrives. Sleep can get better and worse at various ages and stages, but it’s really the relentlessness of it that starts to wear you down. After many months of sleep deprivation, you really can lose your marbles.
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.
So I’m not going to offer you sleep solutions today.
What I will do today is try to help you cope!
So I’ve compiled 14 of my favourite strategies for coping without sleep.
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! You’ve probably spent a load of time meticulously planning your baby’s bath/dinner/bed routine (or maybe you just stick your baby on your boob. Either way, a bedtime routine can be soothing for grownups too, especially if you are feeling wired.
For example, treat yourself to a self-massage, a bath, a 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 for hours in the night when your baby has gone back to sleep, you can get up and do some part of 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 five 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 earplugs if someone else is listening out for your baby, so you can fully relax.
5. Actively Relax
I don’t know if it’s true but I have heard that 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. Get Dressed
When you are feeling like a train wreck on the inside it can sometimes help to project a more optimistic external appearance and make you feel more enthusiastic about life. Maybe it’s a bit like how fake smiling makes you happy?
Wear a nice dress and put on some lippy can make you feel like a human being again, even if it only lasts for a few minutes.
At the very least have a shower put on some really nice, clean loungewear so it doesn’t feel too much like groundhog day.
If you haven’t yet mastered the art of napping, it’s well worth learning!!! As any seasoned napper will tell you, naps can be life-changing. 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. Carry On Your Business As Usual
It can be tempting to collapse in a heap, and some days there is simply no other way. But if it’s possible, just get on with your life.
Sometimes the more you focus on being tired, the more tired you feel.
If you cancel appointments and reschedule your life you are kind of resigning yourself to a whole world of tiredness.
If you can ignore it and get yourself moving, you can find friendships and creativity and work that can distract you from the fogginess.
9. Eat Well
Food is more than fuel for our bodies. It can nourish you deeply on an emotional and spiritual level. If you find you are surviving on cake and coffee from mums group and your toddler's mushy leftovers have a think about what else your body is craving other than sleep? Are you iron deficient? Generally feeling malnutrition? Think of this stage as a marathon, it’s a long game. Food can make a huge difference to your energy and vitality.
If you can afford to buy good ready-to-eat food then do. There are plenty of home-delivered lunch plans and meal boxes available these days.
But if finances are tight getting some friends together and do a big batch baking day and fill all your freezers at once. Or ask a neighbour if they are happy to swap a meal with you once a week, you can cook double on Tuesdays and they cook double on Thursdays, for example.
Or if you are really not coping than be strong and ask for help! For example, a quick post on Facebook can open you up to surprising and unexpected friends who would be happy to drop a meal over.
If you haven’t started to move your body since your baby arrived now is the time. I mean right now! Just roll your shoulders, touch your toes, stretch from side to side. Breathe.
I talk to so many mothers who wished they’d started moving earlier after their baby was born. You don’t need to do anything crazy but a few stretches and a short walk can do wonders for your energy and mental health.
Light quite literally wakes you up. Embracing the cycles of night and day can help with your hormones when you are feeling ‘jet lagged’ from sleep deprivation. Sleep in the dark, and get outside as soon as you can in the morning.
12. 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.
13. 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.
14. 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!
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