There is simply nothing in this world that can prepare you for the sleep pattern changes or lack of sleep you may encounter when you become a new mum.
Every new mum will be different and some will cope with the lack of sleep, where others will suffer and find this probably the most stressful time for them, as sleep deprivation can affect how you function.
There is no doubt that during those early days, a full night’s sleep will feel like a distant memory. Silentnight’s sleep expert, Dr Nerina, who has first hand experience of being a new mum, explains the importance of taking time to rest and shares some of her tips to help mums through those first few weeks with a newborn baby.
Top Sleep Tips for new mums
Make rest a priority
This is one of the hardest things for new mums to do but resting during the day will lessen the effects of sleep deprivation and improve the quality of your sleep at night.
It’s too easy to say “I’ll just get some chores done,” but before you know it, baby is awake and needing your attention again. Sometimes a break of 5–10 minutes can be sufficient to enable the body to renew energy physically and mentally. Drink a glass of water, eat a piece of fruit, stretch and close your eyes.
What to do if you wake up during the night
It’s inevitable that you will be woken, sometimes repeatedly, during the early days of your baby’s life. However, there are a few ‘tricks’ that you can use to get yourself back to sleep more easily. Be prepared — try to have everything on hand for a quick feed or nappy change and if you have to put a light on, use a low-level bedside lamp. The less time you are exposed to light, the easier it will be to get back to sleep again. Avoid checking the time — if you do this, you are more likely to start worrying about how little sleep you’ll get.
If you really can’t get to sleep…
Use the time to relax. Abandon all attempts to sleep and allow yourself to just rest. Tell yourself ‘it doesn’t matter if I don’t sleep tonight; I’m just going to REST.’ It’s tricky but you might be surprised how quickly you get to sleep. Alternatively, get up and do something relaxing. Read a book, have a cup of camomile tea or warm milk, or even do some ironing to tire you.
Hyper-sensitivity to noise
Many new mothers find that they hear every slight noise that baby makes and they even start to imagine noises. You may find it helpful to use some white noise to block out the sound of every tiny whimper. You can buy white noise machines or use a fan to create background sound.
Wind down for good sleep
Try to get into a bedtime routine. We respond well to familiar rituals that tell our brains that it is time to prepare to rest. Read a book, listen to relaxing music or sip a milky caffeine-free drink. A ten minute bath is the perfect route to relaxation, try using some essential oils such as lavender, to help promote sleepiness. Avoid anything over stimulating such as sending emails or surfing the internet. If you watch TV before going to bed, try to watch something funny, inspiring and up-lifting. Make ‘to do’ lists part of your wind down process as well, getting them out of your head and onto paper before you go to bed. Those twenty minutes of wind down time are more likely to help you feel rejuvenated, five or six hours of efficient sleep is better than seven or eight hours of shallow, restless sleep.
Get some exercise
One of the hardest things to do when you’re a new mum and you’re exhausted is to find time for exercise, but this will help you to both relieve stress and sleep more effectively. Exercise helps to reduce levels of adrenaline and other stress hormones and it boosts the production of hormones which ‘repair’ the body thus making your immune system and overall health more robust. It doesn’t mean having to go to the gym or running, a 20 minute brisk walk can boost the production of endorphins.
Caffeine and Alcohol
Caffeine and alcohol are stimulants. It can take your body up to 10 hours to remove all traces of caffeine, even after just one cup of tea or coffee. If you’re having problems sleeping or are waking up feeling tired, minimise caffeine and increase fluid intake by drinking more water, herbal teas and dilute fruit juices. Alcohol is the most commonly used sleep and relaxing aid in the world as it initially has a sedative effect. However – alcohol stops you getting good, deep sleep and can increase REM sleep so the next day you feel not only physically tired but also mentally fuzzy. If you are regularly drinking alcohol to help you sleep, ask your doctor to help you find an alternative.
Learn how to power nap
Every new mother should power nap and anyone can learn how to do it! A power nap is a short sleep lasting 5 to 15, when you will approach a near sleep state without actually falling asleep. Incorporating visualisation techniques – relaxing scenes, for example – can make it even more effective. If you are exhausted you might find it helpful to use a stopwatch or alarm clock to stop you falling into a deep sleep. The more you practise it, the easier it will get and the more rejuvenated you will feel.
Is eight hours the norm?
Many individuals become anxious because they feel they might not be achieving the ‘normal’ amount of sleep. Although new mothers are less likely to get hung up about this it’s worth knowing that sleep requirements vary from person to person and also depend largely on whether the above strategies are being practised regularly. In this age of information overload, the challenge is to achieve efficient deep sleep rather than a quota of hours.
Your sleep environment
Keep your sleep environment free of clutter and baby’s toys. The ideal temperature is slightly cool so keep windows open or have a fan in the room — the noise from the fan can also help to cut out distracting background noises. Place a few drops of lavender in a cup of hot water on the windowsill 20 minutes before you go to bed to promote sleepiness and keep all mobile phones and computer equipment out of your room. Your bedroom should look and feel like your sanctuary.
Nutrition and supplements
In order to get good sleep, we need a good balance of the naturally produced sleep-inducing hormones serotonin and melatonin in our system. Adequate amounts of vitamin B6 and tryptophan are needed to boost these hormone levels and they are found in chicken, cheese, tofu, tuna, eggs, nuts, seeds and milk. Drinking a glass of milk before going to bed can help to induce sleep. Avoid skipping breakfast as this is vital to stabilising your blood sugar levels and helping you to produce Melatonin. It’s best to resort to sleeping aids as a last resort. Valerian (tablets, tincture or tea) can aid sleep for most people. Passionflower and hops also have mild sedative effects.
“We place too much emphasis on the amount of time we’re supposed to sleep but it’s more important that we focus on achieving quality, deep sleep, rather than a quota of hours. As a new mum, it’s important to make the most of any free time you have restfully and to take regular naps of no more than 15 mins, when you can, in order to re-energise.”