Lack of sleep with a baby
A lack of sleep (sleep deprivation) can have a great effect on your mood, energy and ability to think clearly. Things can seem so much more catastrophic if you have not been getting enough sleep, and as a result you are likely to feel more overwhelmed, teary and emotional.
It’s important to recognise the impact of sleep deprivation on the way you feel and function. Don’t be too hard on yourself.
Try and identify what may be causing problems with your sleep, for example, is this due to the baby being unsettled or do you have problems falling back to sleep once the baby has been settled? It is then useful to try and come up with some practical strategies with your partner or other support people to help you get the sleep you need. This may include for example someone else doing the midnight feed, or, if your baby tends to cry frequently this may include arranging for someone to take the baby for a long pram walk.
I think the sleep deprivation and new mother experience makes you very vulnerable and you need people around who will be there and help you. Preferably your partner, but also your family and friends.
Talking with your maternal and child health nurse, general practitioner or paediatrician may also give you some insights, as can calling a helpline to get some practical tips.
Sleep is a basic human need. Don’t underestimate how much it can help you by building your energy, resilience and help you to maintain a positive and realistic outlook.
Tips for improving sleep
1. Be aware of your sleep debt: It is easy to forget how much sleep we’re missing out on and it is important to ask yourself how much your sleep and quality of sleep may be impacted.
2. Cut yourself some slack: Parenting can be challenging enough without the added burden of doing it with too little sleep. Sometimes we might need to prioritise sleep over other chores which can wait and be easier to do when you are not feeling so sleep deprived.
3. Take your baby out for a walk each morning: If possible, taking your baby out for a walk every morning can improve the maternal and child circadian rhythms, so that you are in sinc with one another and more likely to be able to sleep at the same time.
4. Take naps when you can: Stealing a nap can whenever you can can make a big difference. Try to make the most of any opportunity that comes by.
5. Set yourself a routine bedtime: This can help you to prioritise sleep and gives you something to look forward to.
6. Avoid screen time before bed: Screens can play havoc with your brain by affecting the release of melatonin. Try reading a book instead. This can slow you down, make your eyes tired and help you to drift off to sleep.
7. Avoid caffeine and alcohol before bed: this can impact on getting to sleep or sleeping through the night.
8. Be aware of possible triggers: Try not to mentally overstimulate your mind before bedtime. For example, running through events for the next day, engaging in overstimulating conversations or watching action movies can leave your mind racing and not in a state for slowing down for sleep.
9. Consider keeping a sleep journal: If sleep problems are persisting, consider keeping a sleep journal or tracking your sleep digitally. This can give you a true idea of how much or how little quality sleep you are getting.
10. Be aware that changes in sleep may be a sign of anxiety or depression: Anxiety often makes it very difficult to fall asleep or sleep through the night – regardless of how you baby may be sleeping. While depression can lead many parents to want to sleep more, for others sleep patters are disturbed in other ways.
11. Don’t be too proud to ask for help: Having the opportunity to have quality sleep can make a huge difference on the way you feel, are able to think and function through the day. Your partner, family or friends can make a huge difference by taking your baby even for a few hours to enable you to recharge.