By Heather Keniston
Before I became a mum, I was a nerd when it came to sleep. My husband can tell you. Sleep was a huge priority in my life and you could tell when I didn’t get in the bed at 10:00pm sharp.
I had heard all the horror stories from my girlfriends and even my own mum about the pit of sleep deprivation. I shrugged away every piece of friendly advice from my friends and family and even nosey strangers during my pregnancy.
I was determined I would be tucked in bed when 10:00pm came and my little one would be fast asleep in their crib and everything would be perfect.
You can probably tell where this is going. I was wrong. 100% wrong.
Bringing my daughter home from the hospital was exciting. I was still naïve; I was bound and determined this sleep thing was going to work out in my favor.
Literally the first night, my daughter cried and cried. Nothing I did soothed her and my husband and I walked the floors all night, rocking her, bouncing her, rubbing her back, and nothing worked. Sleep deprivation day one, but I just thought it was a rough night.
A few more nights like this and I was kicking myself for how cocky I had been during my pregnancy. Sleep deprivation had taken root in my home and my husband was feeling it too.
A few doctors’ visits later and I learned my little girl had colic. If you’re a mum and your baby had colic, you know the struggle. You know they cry all the time and nothing relieves them.
So how do you deal with this as a mum? Especially as a new mum. You’re just desperately trying to do everything right and you’re so hard on yourself when it comes to the new role of parenthood. Mix in sleep deprivation and it’s enough to put you over the edge.
Obviously, I’m writing this blog today which means somehow, someway, I made it. It wasn’t easy and it took a lot of extra work on my part. Not everything I did to fight sleep deprivation was right, and sure, I messed up from time to time, but I learned from it. There were also the occasional nights I was just too wound up to fall asleep or right before I'd fall asleep I'd hear a ghost cry. Ghost cries are the worst, where you think you hear your baby crying so you get up, just to find them fast asleep. #NewMumAnxiety
You can make it too. If you’re in the pit of sleep deprivation like my girlfriends and mother told me about, I have some helpful tips that worked for me. If you’re reading this, know you are not alone.
One of the biggest things that helped me was my diet. If I didn’t sleep well one night or if I was awake feeding my daughter, the next day I incorporated things like more water, herbal teas, more exposure to light and more physical activity. It helped give me more energy and get me through those tough sleep deprivation days.
Here are some tips that helped me manage my sleep deprivation from being a new mum:
I think everyone could drink more water. It’s so important for our bodies, but we struggle with it. We can easily kick back a few cups of coffee, soda, or beer, but when it comes to water, it’s not that simple. At least for me. If you find yourself not drinking a lot of water, increasing the amount you drink will help you feel more energised during the day and sleep better at night (when you can). Try sipping on a cup of water all day to keep your body hydrated. Drinking water helps flush toxins out of your body and replenishes your body’s water supply it needs to function. And, it gives you more energy!
2. Light in the House
As crazy as this may sound, I made sure every morning when my feet hit the floor, all my blinds and curtains were open to let in the day light. Having that natural light in my house helped me feel better and I believe it kept my body going. I noticed whenever I put my little girl down for a nap during the day and I had to close her windows and rock her, I felt the most tired. The darkness didn’t work for me. So, if you’re struggling with sleep deprivation, let a little light in and see if that doesn’t improve your level of tiredness.
3. Energy-boosting foods
Try things like bananas, eggs, trail mix, and hummus. Incorporating these energy boosting foods into your diet will help increase your energy during the day. Even just the motion of eating can increase your alertness and wake you up. Just make sure to stay away from what your body really craves when you’re sleepy: sugar. One thing I found helpful was small meals and light snacking. When I ate a larger meal, it was like going into a food coma. My belly was full and all I wanted to do was curl up and go to sleep.
4. Power in Numbers
Ever heard the saying “misery loves company?” This is true for sleep deprivation too. When someone else is sleep deprived, you’re able to help each other stay awake. If you begin to fall asleep, having someone there to wake you up or talk to you while you fight sleep can help tremendously. It’s like driving on a long trip. It’s easier for you to stay awake if you have someone to talk to in the car. These people are more valuable than they’ll ever know.
One thing I enjoyed that helped me get through the day with sleep deprivation was my activity level. When I sat down for longer periods of time, say nursing my little girl, sleep deprivation would rear its ugly head, and remind me how tired I was at the time. I never pushed my body to do anything difficult, like strenuous exercise, so please understand that’s not what I’m suggesting. I simply went for a quick walk down my street or up and down my driveway a few times with my daughter. Especially on the sunny days, it felt so good to get some fresh air and sunshine, even if it were just for 5 minutes. Increasing your activity with a run or walking can help you stay more alert throughout the day.
When I could get sleep, sometimes I couldn’t fall asleep. My mind would race around all the things I needed to do. I would also arouse to every baby coo, whimper, or general noise coming from the baby monitor.
Here are some things I found helpful when trying to get better sleep:
Before bedtime, I turned to drinking herbal teas that had sleep-promoting enhancements within each tea. Herbs such as chamomile, lavender, passionflower, and lemon balm aren’t clinically proven to work, however; I found they relaxed my body and they were soothing to a tired mama. One cautionary piece of advice is to drink a cup of tea about an hour before you want to go to sleep so you can flush it out of your system by the time you lay down. Even on nights when my little girl was up for a feeding or diaper change, I tried to sip my tea as I nursed so I could begin to relax by the time my bedtime came around. It’s tough when you do lay down to sleep but you can’t seem to fall asleep because you’re too wound up. This helped relax me.
I’m sure your mum or grandmother encouraged you to drink a warm cup of milk before bed. That’s another piece of advice I filed away thinking I wouldn’t need it. Once sleep deprivation set in for me, I pulled this old folk remedy out of my stored memory file and used it. There’s no proven assurance from science that this method works for sleep deprivation, but it’s relaxing!
3. Lower caffeine
I loved my afternoon Starbucks runs, but I was also in my early twenties when I made these coffee runs and they didn’t affect me as a college student. Studies have found caffeine is harder to get out of your system the older you get. Realizing I couldn’t have as much caffeine was highly beneficial to my war on sleep deprivation. Just a side note, I was also a breastfeeding mama so I watched my caffeine levels anyway. I had a small cup of coffee in the mornings, but other than that, I turned to other ways of getting energy during the day. Yes, it was hard, but worth it.
When your baby starts sleeping through the night, it’s a joyous occasion filled with cheering and date nights, and MORE SLEEP. However, if you still find it hard to get sleep, you may have a sleep disorder and should see your doctor!
To all the sleep deprived parents out there, I leave you with this: May you soon find sleep, don’t worry if the housework piles up for now and may the force be with you.