There are times in your life as a parent where a good night’s sleep is as distant as the peaks of Mount Everest. You get out of bed without feeling like you were ever really in it.
Your eyes feel like sandpaper and your feet are weighed down by blocks filled with honey.
Sleep deprivation is the absolute pits. You might not be able to make your baby sleep more, but there are a few things you can do to feel better when you’re tired.
Most parents are told to “sleep while your baby is sleeping”. And while it doesn’t work for everyone, it was the answer for Lana Sussman from The Parents Village. She started practicing towards the end of her pregnancy, when it was uncomfortable and difficult to sleep at night.
“There’s always going to be washing and things to do and cooking, but I made sure - particularly my daughter's first year of life when there's at least one or two day sleeps - I tried to lie down to make up for that lost sleep at night time. Napping was a huge, huge plus for me and made me cope quite well with sleep deprivation.”
2. Eat the colours of the rainbow
Coffee and chocolate are always going to be in the sleep deprived parent’s arsenal. But if you’re looking for a longer burn, a lift that will last into witching hour … then vegetables are your answer.
Heidi Sze from Gather and Grow Nutrition is passionate about the wellbeing of mothers. She says it’s important to have a balanced diet, and that while the occasional coffee or piece of chocolate’s not the end of the world, it’s important to make good choices when it comes to food.
“When we are sleep deprived we need to incorporate veggies, protein rich foods and foods that are full of healthy fats. We need to have a real balance. High fibre and carbs are going to help us be more sustained and give us the energy we so greatly need.”
Heidi also recommends being aware of food that makes you feel good, and eating the colours of the rainbow when it comes to fresh produce.
For practical tips on coping with sleep deprivation listen to The Promise of Sleep podcast:
3. Talk to someone
Getting stuck in your head after a sleepless night, confined to four walls and a baby who still doesn’t speak proper English, can be challenging.
Melissa Hughes says that the isolation of being at home with a baby when you’re sleep deprived can make you feel a lot worse. She’s a psychotherapist at Baby and Beyond Counselling.
“Isolation impacts hugely on your state of mind because when all you have is your own thoughts in your head, if you never externalise that internal monologue, it gets bigger and bigger and bigger.”
Melissa says speaking to a counsellor or calling a trusted friend can make you feel a lot better.
4. Feeling tired? Get inspired!
This is the mantra of The Parents Village. Lana says it’s all about finding your passion, to give yourself the shot of energy you need to get through the day. If you’re a people person, that might be meeting up with friends. If you like to be outside, make sure you go for a walk.
“You can get energy from doing things that make you feel good. It's all about nourishing yourself from the inside. We often can't change what's happened during the night, but what you can change is what you make out of your day ahead.”
5. Change your expectations around sleep
Another way to feel a bit better about sleep is the way you think about it. Don’t count the hours you lost in a night.
Lana says, “I like to see sleep in 24 hours. Seeing it in 24 hours is really helpful, you can always make up for lost time. It's the same with the baby, you know - babies don't do huge long stretches. They get the required amount in broken up parts.”
It's important to remember that as adults, we can too.
6. And try not to talk about it too much
Have you ever noticed that when you speak a lot about something that is upsetting you, it makes you more upset? Lana says that talking about not having enough sleep can make you feel worse about feeling tired.
“I think sleep becomes this huge thing. People kind of joke about it a lot as well, like, 'I haven't slept in seven months'. Well you have, you just haven't had as much as you used to.”
Lana says that parents can get obsessed about sleep, and start comparing with our friends. This kind of chatter then puts more pressure on parents to get their baby to sleep 'better' – when many parents are at a time of life when their baby is just not going to sleep for eight hours straight.
7. Don’t compete over who is having less sleep
When there are two of you, it can sometimes feel like a competition. If you’re getting up to feed the baby, you may feel like your partner doesn’t have the right to complain about lack of sleep.
Psychotherapist Melissa says that’s just a race to the bottom.
There’s no point getting into a fight over lack of sleep when both of you are feeling tired and scratchy.
8. Single mums: make time for massage
Melissa says it’s important for single mums to carve out some time to talk to someone, and to get a massage. While that might sound extravagant, she says it’s really important for parents doing it on their own to recharge and to talk to someone about the challenges they’re facing.
“These days people are choosing to be single parents. When I’m talking with single parents I talk about the importance of touch, because when you are a new parent, you're giving all the time. It’s exhausting and people end up feeling empty, so non-sexual touch is really important.”
9. Cut yourself some slack
Delwyn Bartlett from the Woolcock Institute says that babies turn our worlds upside down, and it’s important for parents to acknowledge that.
“It's full-on feeding all the time and it's a lot of hard work. We don't talk about those things enough. You expect that you can still do everything. You expect that you can feel great. You can go out and have a walk and you can do this and you can do that, but sometimes if you actually have a shower once a day, you're doing well.”
Delwyn says parents need to lower their expectations. Don’t try to get everything done. Accept that what you’re experiencing is really challenging. After all, we’ve all heard about the use of sleep deprivation as torture.
Be kind to yourself, and maybe try something from the list above.
And remember, sleep deprivation won’t last forever.
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