We have all experienced it at some point in time, the inability to sleep. Our brain wakes us up at 3am in the morning –“did I lock the front door”, or “OMG, I forgot to put the bins out”, or we wake up, look at the clock and then cannot for the life of us get back to sleep.
Sleep deprivation can be caused by many factors which can include:
- Being a student
- Becoming a new parent (and then as a parent when your children need you to comfort them),
- Environmental factors – such as being a shift worker or jet lag,
- Social factors such as drinking too much caffeine or alcohol or even night time pollution – iPad, TV, tablets, phones and blue light in the bedroom.
So, what can we do to assist ourselves, when our eyes are hanging out of our head and we wake up tired, moody, clumsy and feeling heavy and not so good?
Here are 5 tips that I used and still do – including recently as for the last 3 weeks, I have been up numerous times during the night due to sick children, a sick partner, children waking us up as they have vomited all through their bed. It’s not just the newborn stage that affects our sleep. Lately for me its been kids, a sick partner, snoring, neighbours making loud noise and then my brain “chatting” to me when all I really want to do is shut my eyes and drift off.
1. CUP OF COFFEE FIRST THING IN THE MORNING OR UP UNTIL 11AM
Coffee is a stimulant and assists us with giving us energy and making our brain function a little bit better. However, if we are sleep deprived, we are also lacking energy and our sympathetic nervous system – the one that is charge of flight and fright responses is switched on. This means that we are running on adrenaline. We are draining our adrenal gland and utilising energy from adrenaline. Too much caffeine added to this mix, drains us even more.
So how can you overcome this?
I had one cup of coffee in the morning to assist me with waking up and trying to switch my brain on. After that either black tea (limit it to 2) or green tea. Green tea still has caffeine in it, but it also boosts your metabolism. Don’t consume coffee after 3pm as it will affect your sleep as well. If your feeling tired around 3pm and baby is asleep rest your eyes (if you can) for 10 or so mins. For me it was 20mins and having a baby and a toddler was hard. My youngest would generally have a 20 min nap at about 4pm. This became Thomas the tank engine time for my oldest and mum very often would have a 10 min power nap….
2. GO OUTSIDE
Being outside in the fresh air gives us an energy boost. Fresh air also “wakes us up”.
In order to regulate our bodies internal sleep clock (our circadian rhythms) we need sunlight. Being out in the sun enables our body to produce melatonin; a hormone which is critical for sleep. As soon as my energy used to slump it would be walk time – girls in the pram and outside we went. We need 20 mins of natural sunlight a day to make melatonin and it also gives us a vitamin D boost.
Being outside is also refreshing and can improve your mood as well. If you are too tired to go for a walk, that’s ok. I have a patch of grass out the front of our house – we live in a walkway, so I took a blanket out, put it down outside the front door and if the baby was sleeping, took my toddler out to sit on the grass and play. Or, I would get her to run up and down the path and burn off some energy while I sat and chatted to her and watched her, still soaking up the sun. In winter when it is cold, rug up – hats, scarves, jackets and take a walk around the block. If it is raining and you can’t go outside, sometimes splashing some cool water on your face is enough to wake you up a bit.
3. REST WHEN YOU CAN
If you have babies like mine – they were FOMO and a sleep for them was 20mins. All the books said sleep when your baby sleeps – how if they nap for 20 minutes????? Are you crazy? What did I learn? With my first, well it’s your first baby – so I only had her to look after. If she fell asleep on me, I let her stay there, both my girls didn’t do well we transferring, so after numerous attempts I gave up and just learnt to be prepared. I would make myself a food bowl – full of good food – carrot sticks, celery, boiled eggs, hummus dip, or an egg sandwich, something that was easy to eat with a baby in your hands. After feeding if she was asleep, I would just sit and either watch TV or close my eyes and try and nap with her. A 20 min power nap can give you more energy than 2 coffees!
If you can’t sleep while your baby sleeps – the dishes can wait. Sit down and watch TV or just sit down and have a cuppa. This way you are “resting” your body. With my second baby, doing this was not possible, so our routine was – feed baby to sleep, try and transfer – yeah right…. ok try again. Ok baby asleep – and my eldest and I would sit and read about 20-40 books on the couch together. I got very good at reading and turning pages with one hand.
Just remember to find a way to rest your body in whichever way you can.
4. EAT NUTRITIOUS FOOD
When we are sleep deprived, we all crave the “bad” food. Our body needs and wants energy – thus we crave the comfort food – high carb food and sugary food. The only issues with this is – we get a sugar high, an increase in energy and then the sugar slump. So how do we overcome this? Plan your meals ahead of time. Have a cooking day on a Sunday and meal plan. Cut up healthy snacks before bed the night before, or make sure that there are healthy options. I used to do hummus and dip, carrot sticks, chees sticks, celery with peanut butter in it. If your breastfeeding you’re also going to be starving so good fats and proteins and carbs are needed.
I always had a protein trail mix – nuts and seeds that I carried with me. You can also make protein balls – these are great snacks and easy to make. Nut butters are also great to put on the celery. Boiled eggs provide lots of nutrients and are packed full of energy, protein and fat – so a balanced meal all in one. Frozen vegetables became a staple in our house as well as its quick to cook and as nutrient dense as its snap frozen. Keep your meals simple and make sure you have protein, fat and carbs at every meal. I also used to make a smoothie for lunch as sometimes trying to juggle 2 kids it was the only way I got to eat. Also – don’t forget to eat! We need food to give us energy!
5. HOUSEWORK CAN WAIT – ACCEPT HELP WHEN IT’S OFFERED!
It is ok to be sleep deprived. It will pass. However, when we are so tired, things can overwhelm us very easily. My advice, the dishes can wait, the laundry pile can wait, the sweeping can wait. If you have 20 mins sit down and rest. For those with newborns, I recommend to my clients to limit visitors in the first 3 weeks. Explain to people that you want to have time to bond as a family and just to adjust to your new life.
You will let people know when you are ready for visitors and my advice – limit visitors – its tiring. If visitors offer to help you – i.e. put a load of washing on, tidy the bench, or take the baby out so you can have a shower or a quick rest – please accept this help and say yes. You will be so grateful for this help! As well as some “you time”.
These were 5 strategies that I used to cope, (and still use) a few other tips include:
Have a drink of chamomile tea or a “sleepy tea” before bed, it calms the sympathetic nervous system down and enables the parasympathetic system. to be switched on which is the “rest and digest” system.
Have a bath or warm shower before bed.
If babies are not sleeping, rub some magnesium oil into the bottom of their feet. Magnesium calms our body down and assist with sleep. Wipe the baby’s feet with a warm wet face washer, then rub the magnesium into their feet.
Magnesium oil on the bottom of your feet will also assist with sleep in adults.
Play some peaceful music in the bedroom, this helps calm us down.
Do some deep breathing before trying to drift off. My favourite is to breathe in through the nose for a count of 4 and out through the mouth for a count 6. The deep breathing brings in oxygen and calms down the sympathetic system.
If you would like some more tips, or you are not coping and would like to book an appointment please call me on 0412 789 772.
I hope this article helps you, remember do what is best for yourself and your child(ren). You are enough and you are doing a brilliant job.
Julia writes from her own personal experience and struggles as a mum and as a working mum.
Written by Dr Julia Bartrop – Chinese Medicine practitioner / Acupuncturist and a busy mum of 2.