Are you a mum to a new born and have a few questions about sleeping? Silentnight’s sleep expert, Dr Nerina, offers the following advice to mums, to help you get through those early weeks with a newborn baby.
The following are tried and tested strategies that she has used herself as a new mum.
Make Rest A Priority
This is one of the hardest things for new mums to do but resting during the day will lessen the effects of sleep deprivation and improve the quality of your sleep at night.
It’s always too easy to say “I’ll just tidy this room. I’ll just get some chores done.” And before you know it, baby is awake and needing your attention again. But it’s important that you stop and rest; sometimes even a break of 5–10 minutes can be sufficient to enable the body to renew energy physically and mentally. Drink a glass of water or eat a piece of fruit, stretch, breathe deeply from your diaphragm, lie down, close your eyes, listen to music or nothing at all. Use the time to recharge physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.
What To Do If You Wake Up During The Night
It is inevitable that you will be woken, sometimes repeatedly, during the night in the early days of your baby’s life. However, there are a few ‘tricks’ that you can use to get yourself back to sleep more easily each time you are woken.
First of all, be prepared. Try to have everything on hand for a quick feed or nappy change and if you have to put a light on, use a low-level bedside lamp rather than a bright overhead light. The less time you are up and exposed to light, the easier it will be to get back to sleep again.
Each time you wake up, avoid checking the time. If you do this, you are more likely to start worrying about how little sleep you will get if you don’t fall asleep again. This then reduces your chances of getting back to sleep even further!
If You Really Can’t Sleep…
There are a couple of options here. One is to use the time to relax. In other words, abandon all attempts to sleep and allow yourself to just rest. In fact, don’t even use the word ‘sleep’. Tell yourself ‘it doesn’t matter if I don’t sleep tonight; I’m just going to use the time to REST. It’s a bit of trickery but you might be surprised how quickly you then get to sleep – particularly if you use the technique regularly.
If you really can’t get to sleep, then get up and do something relaxing. Read a book, have a cup of camomile tea or warm milk, or even do some ironing as this can tire you. Don’t lie in bed tossing and turning and making yourself frustrated and tired.
Hyper-Sensitivity To Noise
Many new mothers find that they hear every slight noise that baby makes and they even start to imagine they can hear him crying. You may find it helpful to use some white noise to block out the sound of every tiny sob and whimper. You can buy white noise machines or use a fan to create some even background sound.
Wind Down For Good Sleep
Your wind down routine sets the tone for how you will sleep throughout the night.
Try to get into a bedtime routine to prepare your body and mind for restful sleep. Human beings respond well to familiar rituals that tell our brains that it is time to step off the treadmill and prepare to rest. Check the windows are closed and the doors are locked, the oven is off, read a book, listen to relaxing music and sip a milky caffeine-free drink. Allow yourself to relax in a bath for at least ten minutes and use some relaxing essential oils such as lavender to help promote sleepiness. Avoid anything over stimulating such as sending emails or surfing the internet – both of these activities tend to cause increased REM sleep. If you watch TV before going to bed, try to watch something funny, inspiring and uplifting rather than depressing or gloomy and avoid falling asleep in bed while watching TV.
If you are really wound up you might find it helpful to delay going to bed for twenty minutes or so to allow yourself to wind down – you are more likely to be able to access efficient, deep sleep if you have allowed the mind and body to relax than if you rush to bed feeling anxious about trying to get good sleep. You are more likely to feel rejuvenated if you have had five or six hours of efficient sleep than seven or eight hours of shallow, restless sleep.
Get Some Exercise
One of the hardest things to do when you are a new mum and you’re exhausted is to find time for exercise, but this is one of the strategies that will give you huge benefits in terms of relieving stress and helping you to sleep and relax more effectively.
Regular exercise is good for you but in terms of its relevance for new mothers and their sleep, exercise helps to reduce levels of adrenaline and other stress hormones, it boosts the production of hormones which ‘repair’ the body thus making your immune system and overall health more robust. You will spend more time in deep sleep and it certainly helps to alleviate that ‘tired but wired’ feeling that can stop you relaxing and falling asleep.
Remember, it doesn’t mean having to go to the gym or go out running. Even a 20 minute brisk walk is great exercise and can boost the production of the energising feel good hormones, endorphins.
Mind Racing, Too Much To Do!
For deeper, more peaceful sleep, get ‘to do’ lists out of your head and onto paper before you go to bed.
You will no doubt have lots of things to do swimming round in your head but try keeping a notebook in the kitchen (not in the bedroom) and write down your to’do list before you go to bed as part of your wind down routine. Doing this keeps the gremlins away from sleep both physically and metnally.
Caffeine And Alcohol
Caffeine and alcohol are stimulants – use sparingly if you’re a new mum and your sleep is already being disrupted!
Caffeine has a direct impact on reducing sleep quality. The half-life of caffeine is approximately five hours. This means that it can take up to 10 hours to completely remove all of the caffeine from your body if you drink a cup of tea or coffee. If you are having problems sleeping or are waking up feeling tired no matter how much sleep you get, minimise caffeine and increase your fluid intake by drinking more water, herbal teas and dilute fruit juices.
Alcohol is the most commonly used sleep and relaxing aid in the world as it initially has a sedative effect that can help you drop off to sleep. However – alcohol stops you getting good, deep sleep and it can increase REM sleep so that the next day you end up feeling not only physically tired but also mentally fuzzy. If you are regularly drinking alcohol to help you sleep, ask your doctor to help you find an alternative.
Learn How To Power Nap
Every new mother should power nap and anyone can learn how to do it! A power nap is is a short sleep lasting 5 to 15 in which you might be sitting or lying comfortably in a well-ventilated room, progressively relaxing muscles and breathing deeply from the stomach. You will approach a near sleep state without actually falling asleep and will be aware of your during this time. Incorporating visualisation techniques into your power nap – relaxing scenes, for example – can make it even more effective. If you are really exhausted you might find it helpful to use a stopwatch or alarm clock to stop you falling into a deep sleep. The more you practise it, the easier it will get to rouse yourself after the required time and the more relaxed and rejuvenated you will feel afterwards.
Is Eight Hours The Norm?
I have encountered many individuals who have become anxious about their supposed sleep deprivation because they feel they might not be achieving the ‘normal’ amount of sleep. Although, in my experience, new mothers are less likely to get hung up about this – they know they are going to be sleep-deprived – it’s worth knowing that sleep requirements vary from person to person and also depend largely on whether the above strategies are being practised regularly. For most of us, living in this age of information overload, the challenge is to achieve efficient deep sleep rather than a certain quota of hours.
Your Sleeping Environment
Keep your sleep environment free of clutter and baby’s toys. The ideal temperature for good sleep is slightly cool so keep windows open or have a fan in the room. The white noise from the fan can also help to create a white noise effect that cuts out distracting background noises and use aromatherapy oils to promote relaxation and sleep. Place a few drops of lavender in a cup of hot water on the windowsill 20 minutes or so before you go to bed. Keep all mobile phones and computer equipment out of your room too. Your bedroom should look and feel like your sanctuary.
Nutrition And Supplements
In order to get good sleep, we need a good balance of the naturally produced sleep-inducing hormones serotonin and melatonin in our system. Adequate amounts of vitamin B6 and tryptophan are needed to boost these hormone levels and they are found in chicken, cheese, tofu, tuna, eggs, nuts, seeds and milk. So drinking a glass of milk before going to bed can help to induce sleep. Other sleep-inducing foods are oats and lettuce. Avoid skipping breakfast as this is vital to stabilising your blood sugar levels and helping you to produce the Melatonin that will enable you to sleep later on. Make sure your breakfast includes a source of protein eg nut butter on your toast or ground almonds on your porridge.
Herbal nightcaps – it is best to resort to sleeping aids (natural or pharmaceutical) only as a last resort. They should be used when other avenues have been exhausted and then only occasionally. Valerian (tablets, tincture or tea bags) is sometimes called nature’s Valium and can aid sleep for most people. Passionflower and hops also have mild sedative effects.
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