We’ve all heard the tales of sleep deprivation from other new mums…the seemingly endless string of midnight, 2 a.m., 4 a.m. and 5 a.m. wake-ups, bleary-eyed mishaps involving leaving your car keys in the fridge.

Sleep deprivation is a very real byproduct of new motherhood, and it can be serious.

Just like nutritious eating and staying fit, sleep is a necessary part of your overall health routine. Without adequate sleep you run the risk of immediate effects such as depression, anxiety and other mood disorders. Sleep deprivation also decreases your body’s ability to fight off illness and can lead to long-term consequences such as obesity and hypertension. Whoa! If you’re starting to feel more stressed than sleepy, take a moment to relax. While you can’t force your baby into a sleep schedule that lets you get plenty of rest, you can fight the fatigue by following a few simple steps.

What can you do to ease new mum sleep deprivation?

1. Change your wake-up/bedtime

Having a baby changes everything – literally. If your pre-baby schedule included waking up at 6 a.m. and going to bed at 10 p.m., you may need to adjust now that you’re a mummy. For example, your baby seems to enjoy waking up at 11 p.m. nightly. Instead of going to sleep at 10 (and waking up an hour later), push your bedtime back until 11:30. This also means waking up an hour or two later, or getting up for an early morning feeding and then going back to bed.

2. Ask for help

You don’t have to be a superwoman now that you’re a mum. There’s no prize for going it alone or doing everything yourself. Ask your partner/spouse to take over a few late-night feedings (if you’re pumping or using formula). During the day you can sneak in a snooze by asking a friend or family member to watch junior while you nap.

3. Set your own schedule

No, this doesn’t mean that you need to schedule your child’s sleep/wake cycle. Instead, create a ‘work’ day, even if you’re at home. Avoid lounging in your pj’s until noon. This just tells your brain that you’re still in need-some-sleep mode. Take a shower, brush your hair and put on real clothes. Why bother if you’re not doing anything but baby duty? Looking like you’re awake helps you to feel more awake.

4. Cut the caffeine

It’s oh so tempting to down double espressos all day long in an effort to stay awake. Yes, caffeinated drinks may perk you up temporarily, but they can also aggravate any anxiety that you’re already feeling. On top of that, drinking coffee or other amped up beverages throughout your day may make it hard to fall asleep when the baby finally drifts off. This becomes even more of a problem if you drink caffeine in the late afternoon, evening or nighttime. You may feel perked up enough to make dinner, but a few hours later you won’t be ready to crash when you actually have time to.

5. Sleep when your baby does

Everyone will tell you this little gem. Mummy friends will write it in your baby advice book at your shower, your own mum will nag you about it and almost every book and blog post about sleep deprivation and motherhood will tell you to do this. There’s a reason that this saying is so very popular – because it’s true! Even though it’s tempting to get the dusting done, clean the kitchen floor or fold laundry during your baby’s naptime, you need to put the chores on hold. No one expects a new mum to have a spotless house. Sleep is a must-do, while neatly ironed jeans are a luxury for now.

6. Stay healthy

Knowing that sleep deprivation takes your immune system’s ability to function properly down a peg means that you need to keep the rest of yourself healthy. Not only can eating well and getting exercise boost your ability to fight off illnesses, but healthy lifestyle choices also keep obesity at bay and make you feel better.

Above all, remind yourself that this is temporary. Ask around – you aren’t likely to find a mummy with a 14-year-old who still struggles with child-led sleep deprivation. Your child will eventually sleep through the night, and so will you!

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