Exhausted and constantly battling against the enemies of sleep? Here’s some reassurance from Rachel Tompkins that you’re not alone – and some tips about how to tackle it…
The beauty of being able to do everything from your smartphone these days means that the fact you didn’t manage to change out of your PJs and leave the house today doesn’t actually matter. Because you can do ALL your shopping online. The downfall of his however, is that when you finally collapse into bed at night and suddenly realise you’re out of nappies/wipes/coffee, you reach straight for your phone to do an internet shop.
Soon an hour has passed and you’re still not asleep. We all know that experts are constantly warning of the impact that mobile phones by bedsides has on sleep, but rest assured that you’re certainly not the only mum who keeps hers there. Making a list of what you need and then placing the order the next morning can help, that way you can mentally tick it off your list and avoid wasting precious sleep time.
Phantom crying is a common occurrence for many mums and is most likely caused by your brain’s inability to switch off from such a demanding new role.
Sod’s law is it always seems to happen when you’re in the shower or just as you’re about to drift off into a deep sleep. The hormone oxytocin is released in new mums, and it can cause changes to the nervous system, heightening hearing. Using a baby monitor can help overcome this, because that way even if you little-one is safely downstairs with your partner while you’re trying for a daytime nap, you don’t feel like you’re needing to listen out for their crying.
Babies means visitors! Some mums are wising up to the overwhelming influx of guests in the first few weeks and issuing posts on social media to inform everyone that they’ll be in touch when they’re ready to see people.
This means that the first month or so can be blissfully peaceful, and then all hell breaks loose as you reach your second month and everyone wants their newborn cuddles!
Although it can be nice in small doses, it means that instead of being able to sleep whilst your baby naps, you have to entertain the masses.
We all know that sleep deprivation is one of the hardest parts of being a new mum, so if you don’t want to turn down guests, you could try letting them know beforehand that you’re only up to an hour or so of entertaining, or that you need to nap when the baby does. That way you won’t feel awkward about disappearing upstairs as soon as your little one drops off. Alternatively ask your guest to take the baby for a walk around the block in the pram so they get some baby-time and you get half an hour sleep!
You’re about to drift off after that third night-feed and you suddenly remember that you forgot to wipe the kitchen worktops before going to bed. And once you’ve thought about it, you just can’t stop. Before you know it the birds are starting to sing and you realise your sleep window is over.
No one likes a dirty house but try and give yourself a break. For the last two months you’ve been keeping another human being alive, and anyone who comes around to visit will be far too busy focusing on that than the mug rings on your kitchen side!
What no-one warned you when you gave birth was that in the first few months of your baby’s life the admin, or ‘baby-min’, is endless. You pass your six-week check and get signed off for exercise, your baby has their eight-week injections meaning they’re ready to embark on baby-swim groups and suchlike. With your baby becoming increasingly more alert you might be signing up for baby music classes and even thinking of nursery applications too. Which means that when you’re lying in bed trying to get to sleep, the mountains of paperwork are either literally, or mentally stopping you. Instead of letting it keep you awake at night, try getting it done in the day when you’ve got visitors. They’ll often be grateful just to hold the baby and give you time to get on with it. Or simply ask your partner to help out, they can often feel pretty helpless in those early days so having a job to do will make them feel involved.
Countdown to wake-up
You finish another night-feed and your baby eventually goes to sleep in their Moses basket. But you aren’t quite so fortunate. Because all you keep doing it looking at the clock and counting down how many hours you’ve got until they’ll be awake again. The more time that passes, the more frustrated you become – and so a viscous circle of sleep-deprivation ensues.
You can try and combat this by resisting the urge to keep checking your clock or phone to see what time it is, and try listening to the radio or a podcast instead. Often having something else to focus on will take your mind off it and you’ll be asleep before you know it.
Sadly, most men haven’t yet developed the ability to produce breast-milk in the middle of the night! Which means that if you’re breastfeeding your nighttime sleep is still very broken for feeds. If marrying a humanoid robot or affording a night-nurse aren’t an option, you could try expressing one bottle of milk before bed if you’re breastfeeding, so that your partner can at least do one of the night feeds. Or if your baby is formula-fed, getting your partner on night duty with you sleeping in another room so that you can at least get a few hours of uninterrupted shut-eye.
Baby group chats
Where would new-mums be without group chats? Your new mum friends are usually the first port of call for questions about anything and everything in those first few months, whether it’s the black poo or the annoying husbands! And while these groups can be a lifeline, it can also mean that your phone is beeping away with responses and trivia all through the night. Try turning your phone on silent or “do not disturb” mode and only checking it when you’re doing a feed, then turning it upside down when it’s next to your bed so the light doesn’t keep illuminating the room when a message pops up. Or simply turn off the notifications so that you’re free to go into the app and check it at your leisure the next day.
Being a mum comes with a whole world of worry that you never even imagined possible, and most of it rears its ugly head at night. The combination of interrupted sleep, hormone changes, and the fact that your body and brain are tying to take on board all the new sh*t that’s being thrown at it mean that it can be impossible to shut off these niggles and sleep.
At this time of your life you’re more at risk of mood changes or more serious post-natal depression. If you feel that this might be an issue, talk to your partner, family or the doctor who will be able to put steps in place to help.
Or if you’re simply struggling to stop worrying about the new challenges of motherhood, you could try other methods to help you relax, such as writing a list of what you’re concerned about, or listening to a relaxation app or podcast. Alternative therapies such as acupuncture or EFT, or exercise or yoga can also help.
We wouldn’t recommend any mum of a newborn going on an actual diet, but rather looking at what you’re putting into your body to see if that could be to blame for being a sleep thief. Coffee for example (aka the lifeblood of most new mums) might be what gets you through those knackering days, but having too much at it close to bedtime could be impacting on your sleep. Vitamin D ‘the sunshine vitamin’ is thought to influence sleep quality and quantity, and although most of it is made through exposing our skin to sunlight, it can also be found in oily-fish, eggs and fortified foods, so it could help upping your intake of these. Or if you sleep better having a bar of chocolate and a cheeky drink before bed, do what works for you – in moderation, of course, and remember never to co-sleep if you’ve had any alcohol. It’s still such early days that the truth is we’re all winging it one way or another, and none of these phases will last for long.