September 10, 2018

10 Sleep Tips For New Mums

When I had my daughter, I was a crazy person. And I say that as a psychologist. My obsession with sleep (hers and mine), preoccupied me like a heroin addict looking for another hit. Actually I was worse than that. Whilst lack of sleep is just something we all have to accept in those early baby phases, there are some things which I wish I had known. Now, from the other side, I offer a psychologist’s top 10 tips on surviving sleep deprivation.

1. Acceptance is key

Now, I don’t mean acceptance in a ‘get over it’ kind of way. That’s not much use. But just accepting, and being kind to yourself, about where you are in your life now. Remind yourself that this is a phase. Mutter ‘this too shall pass’ when necessary. The more you obsess with getting sleep, the worse it will be. Accept a few hours here and there at the beginning is ok.

2. Understand what’s happening to your brain

Lack of sleep affects cognitive functioning. That means your concentration, memory and capacity for decision-making are all depleted. Just like when you are drunk, only there’s no chance of sleeping it off. Would you make a life-changing decision after a Friday night bender? No you would not. Same applies - try to avoid very big decisions for the moment.

3. Communication is still in your control 

You will say dreadful things in the fog of tiredness. Your partner will say dreadful things. But however tired you are, strive to be nice. Whatever you feel like on the inside, the one thing you have control over is what you say. Agree that there is an amnesty in these first few months on insults, threats and sulking.

4. Let go your perfectionist standards

When you were BC (before child) you might have had some rigid views about what a normal functioning person should do. Now is the time to hold those views very lightly. I am not saying that you have to let every standard go and start living like Stig of the Dump (I betray my age here) but be realistic about what you can achieve. Unrealistic goals are the biggest reason people don’t achieve what they want. So iron if you must, but don’t iron everything if you can’t. Go to the supermarket if it gets you out of the house, but shop online when you can’t face it. Read a bit of Grazia/War and Peace but accept you may not get to the end just now.

5. Aim for some routine (a very loose one)

Try to not fall into the trap where day and night no longer mean anything. Sitting about in your pyjamas for the next year will only make you feel worse. Aim to have a proper day where you get up and get changed and get out of the house. In the evening, try to create a different atmosphere by having a wind-down routine for you and your baby when possible. Low lights, quiet time, gin. Ok, maybe not that last part.

6. ​Ditch the screens

Phones, tablets and computers omit a blue light which stimulates the brain to stay awake. You can do yourself a huge favour by limiting your use of them. Even better if you can ban them from your bedroom altogether. You’ll just have to wait till morning to start googling ‘how can I make my baby sleep before I go insane’.

7. Exercise

Anything goes. The more active among you will like a mother and baby yoga/spin/kung fu class but even staggering to the corner shop counts. The more you can get some fresh air and exercise, the better you will feel. You’ll still be tired, but at least not feeling grotesque like you’ve been held in solitary confinement.

8. Hydrate 

God, I feel so boring writing this but it’s true. Being dehydrated as a desiccated coconut will do your energy levels no favours at all. Drink, drink and drink some more. Water I mean. Not vodka.

9. Ask for help

Don’t ask and you won’t get. If a friend visits, ask them to watch the baby while you have a 20 minute breather in your bedroom. Just don’t climb out of the window, shin down the drainpipe and leg it. No one will thank you. People usually want to help a new mum, they just don’t always know how so ask for what you need.

10. Rest when your baby rests

That old chestnut I hear you say. Yawn. Everyone knows that. But notice I said rest not sleep. As soon as your baby goes to sleep your mind will probably starting saying this: ‘OMG! The child sleeps! I too must sleep! But I can’t. Oh God. Why can’t I? This is my only chance. I am doomed to a life without sleep.’ This will then play on repeat for the rest of the time the baby sleeps. The key is to accept that you may sleep or you may not, that’s not in your control. But you can rest. This could be just putting your feet up, listening to a mindfulness exercise or lying down in a quiet room and enjoying, for a very brief while, no one spitting up on you.