New Parents and Coping with Sleep Loss

For anyone that has been a new parent with a new-born baby we all know that sleep becomes one of the most important thing in our lives - the Holy Grail.

We think about it constantly, talk about it to anyone who will listen and often end up worrying over sleep loss. Common thoughts include not being able to cope if I don't sleep, I should be sleeping when the baby sleeps, I'm not enjoying it as much as I would do if I were well rested, I’m too tired to do any housework/see friends/do the shopping, what if I make a mistake as I’m too tired.

EVERYTHING seems harder when you’re not sleeping.

Your baby will keep you awake, that’s what babies do (and that’s a whole other blog) however, obsessing or worrying about sleep will get you down and may ruin the sleep you do have.

There’s good news!

During this period, your body may have ‘un-learnt’ how to sleep well, BUT, as quickly as we ‘forget’, we can re-learn.

Here are a few tips to get you through this tricky period where sleep may be a distant memory:

Napping

If you need to and can easily fall asleep during the day when the baby sleeps then it’s no problem to take a short nap. Try to limit this to under 30 minutes as any longer and you may find you are struggling to sleep well at night as naps can take the edge off your ‘appetite’ for sleep.

However, if you find it hard to sleep during the day then don’t. It simply won’t happen for some of us, no matter how hard we try, we are not all designed to sleep in the day. Instead, take some time out, read a book, practice mindfulness or phone a friend. Anything that you find relaxing can be just as energising as sleep itself.

Remember – the housework can wait, your mental health can’t.

Time to go to bed

Don’t be tempted to go to bed too early. It might seem like a well-engineered plan to go to bed at 9pm, leaving your partner to do the late feed, but remember most of us are not designed to go to bed that early. Even if you are exhausted, if your body clock isn’t set to sleep at 9pm then you are unlikely to drop off and get quality sleep.

Try staying up a bit later and enjoying the time you have for yourself or your partner and go to bed a bit later.

Sleep is about quality, not quantity. We don’t need 8 hours every night to be healthy and enjoy life.

Bedtime routine

Just like your baby, you need a bedtime routine too. Before you had your baby your routine probably consisted of eating dinner, watching TV or reading a book and then going to sleep when you were tired.

Your new routine looks more like hoovering up your dinner while trying to settle the baby, folding the washing, cleaning bottles, barking orders at your partner, before dashing to bed and trying to get a good night’s sleep.

Your body won’t recognise the new routine and the result is you won’t get good quality sleep. You are better off staying up later and winding down which will result in falling asleep quickly and getting deeper sleep rather than having light fractured sleep as your mind is not rested and quiet.

Put your phone down

If you do get some down time, don’t waste it on your phone. You don’t need to see pictures of how well everyone else appears to be coping with their new baby when you may be finding it hard! The blue light from your screen will also make it harder to sleep well.

Worry and sleep

Spending lots of time in bed wide awake can create a negative association between bed and sleep; your bed can actually become a trigger for not sleeping as you are spending so much time in it, awake and worrying.

Acknowledge the worrying thought, recognise it for what it is – just a thought. Then let it go. Try making notes about everything that you are worrying about and then put the pen down and go and do something you enjoy.

Learn the difference between being sleepy and being tired. Sleepy means you need sleep, tired means you need to quieten your mind by relaxing.

Finally, remember this won’t last forever. Having a baby is tiring but you are designed to cope with this, however much you may feel you are not. Be kind to yourself, take time to relax, do some exercise and get some fresh air when you can rather than just trying to get more sleep. In just a few short months things will change again and you will be able to sleep normally.

A little bit more about Kathryn Pinkham

Kathryn Pinkham is the founder of The Insomnia Clinic, the UK’s largest insomnia service which provide 1:1 treatment and a Sleep Well, Live Better Online Course. The Insomnia Clinic are experts at working with people who suffer with poor sleep to help them understand and improve their sleep, which in turn improves daytime functioning, physical and mental health.

Click here to find out more about your sleep and to take the sleep quiz.

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