I just finished a four week group course with six wonderful, insightful, curious and thought-provoking women in their first year of motherhood. We talked about many subjects that revolve around the idea of lost identity as well as the joy of found riches and love you never knew as a result of having a baby. We talked about having some anxiety, many fears, being overwhelmed, facing relationship issues, the work/home imbalance, and several other common concerns and emotions often endured privately as women step into this new role.
A recurring theme in our work together was sleep and how challenging it is to get much needed rest during the first few years of motherhood. Here are some examples of issues many moms experience that may very well come from sleep deprivation:
– anxiety that seems irrational
– feeling depressed (sleep deprivation feels a lot like depression)
– a busy, racing mind that can’t calm down
– blurred thinking, feeling unfocused
– aching limbs
– fearfulness that grows in intensity
– sugar cravings
– excessive alcohol consumption
– needing caffeine
A great technique for dealing with a major concern is to list what I call the “of course” factors:
– Of course we want to take the best care of our baby that we can
– Of course our baby’s sleep is important
– Of course we want to respect that our partner may be out early to work every day, if we are staying at home with the baby
– Of course we want to put our baby’s needs very high on our list of priorities
Next I like to list the “consider this” points:
– Consider that your need for sleep is as important if not more than your baby’s need, because you are the caregiver
– Consider that if you get more rest and you give time and focus to this, everything you do will feel more integrated and whole and your frame of mind will be more buoyant
– Consider that everybody in your family, no matter what kind of family you’re in, deserves and needs a good night’s sleep
Here are some maybe familiar thoughts or phrases I have heard from new moms:
– No, I don’t have time.
– I can’t nap.
– I can’t “take time away” from the baby to: shower, get out of my PJ’s, see a friend, read a book, etc.
If this is sounding all too familiar, below are some ideas you may want to throw around on your own or with a confidante:
– It’s OK for moms to take some time for themselves
– Happy mothers make happy babies
– You deserve care and attention like your baby does
– It could be that the care and devotion you give to yourself could become like a wheel that spins in a circle throughout your family
Sleep experts have been giving us tips and tricks to better sleep for years. Here are a few of my favorites:
– No TV right before bed
– Only sex and sleep in your bed
– Try not to drink fluids an hour before bed, which may cause you to wake up for a trip to the bathroom
– Black out shades are good for keeping out morning sun (and street lights)
– If you can, don’t watch the clock in the night (except, of course, when you are timing your baby’s feedings)
– Only go to bed when you feel sleepy
– If you’re out later in the day when the sun is bright, wear sunglasses
– Exercise helps boost your mood and sends a message to your brain to rest when needed. Stretching is always good for you anytime of day!
– Relaxation techniques are great: podcasts of guided meditations, meditating on a pillow, sitting quietly for a few minutes with all screens turned off, etc.
-If you notice small things in the course of a day or week that promote a little more sleep for your body, do them
Sleep deprivation has become an epidemic in this country and when you’re a new mom a lot is going on for you…hormones, maybe breast feeding, new feelings, change in routines, new tasks and expectations. I can tell you that this is transitional and you will not be up several times a night with your baby forever and it is true! But also I can tell you that once your sleep has been re-shaped to this degree, you need to let go of the past, be in the present and work with what you’ve got. Coax your body, your mind, your spirit and your heart into a new sleep pattern that will feel satisfying, restful and will help you recapture your energy and perspective. It will not be the way it used to be but you can forge a new pathway towards getting good sleep over time.
Sleep experts have found that if we can relax a bit about not sleeping well, this already helps the brain sleep a bit better. Adding performance anxiety or worrying about not sleeping makes it harder to actually fall asleep.
Here are some bullet points of places that we can go to look for answers to creating a new sleep pattern over time. It isn’t instant – it’s a process that we must tolerate.
– Find patience with yourself
– Let go of the past
– Try to abandon the idea that anything in new mothering is competitive
– Turn to your partner for help in the night
– Learn to take naps
– Approach friends for help with things like taking your baby out for an hour or so, fixing you some food to have at home, hanging out or maybe giving you a manicure if you are too tired to go out
– Try not to drink alcohol and caffeine
– Eat green leafy veggies and berries
Sleep can be elusive for all of us and the good news about sleep troubles in new motherhood is that we know why they happen and we know they will not last forever. Taking the moment to breathe and remind ourselves that we can do some small things to promote some rest and to take care of ourselves through this time is the first step to gaining back rest and peace of mind. With a little more self-care, we can feel like our(new)selves again head to toe!