Anyone who’s become a parent knows how much pressure there is to sleep well. Not only do we want to get a good night’s sleep in order to function well during a period of change, but we also have a short window of time to get this good quality sleep in.
Poor sleep due to becoming a new parent has some similar triggers to insomnia, one of these being a poor thought cycle around sleep. Many new parents will find they develop this. For example, when the baby wakes and has been fed and changed, the parent then goes back to bed but feels wide awake, experiencing intrusive thoughts such as ‘I need to sleep,’ ‘I only had two hours sleep and only have two hours left until morning,’ or ‘I’m being a terrible parent because I can’t cope as I’m too tired’.
Not only do these negative thoughts make us feel bad, but they also lead to the development of adrenaline, as our mind and body triggers fight or flight, which is our natural defense mechanism to stress in order to keep us alive. However, the problem is that this isn’t a life-or-death situation, yet now our body is in the opposite state to that of sleep. This then means we start to spend more time in bed awake, but feeling stressed, which then creates a connection between our beds, wakefulness and negative feelings.
Not only does this make nighttime feel difficult, but it also leads to us feeling more tired during the day. This is due to lack of sleep, and also being in fight and flight mode, which is an exhausting state to be in. This then drains our energy levels, leaving us feeling even more drained, both physically and mentally.
Our exhaustion then results in us spending more time in the day worrying about sleep, and likely investing in things such as special pillows, sleep sprays and sleep tracking apps to help, however the reality is that this sleep hygiene won’t solve the problem.
Then, as night comes back around, many new parents will go to bed really early to try and make up for the lack of sleep the night before. However, while this may seem like a logical solution, even if we are able to fall asleep earlier, this will disrupt our body clock. Due to this, it is very common for new parents to spend more time in bed than ever before, whilst actually only getting very few hours of sleep.
While this may make for concerning reading, the good news is there are tried and tested steps you can take to help!
1. Normalise poor sleep as a new parent – while this isn’t what new parents want to hear, the reality is you will get less sleep than before you welcomed your new addition. However, the good news is that we are designed to cope with this! Otherwise, babies would have been born sleeping throughout the night. Think of the women who have 10 kids and live to be 100, despite being sleep deprived! Just ignore all the media reports about the damaging effects of sleep loss and concentrate on positive thinking.
2. Take the pressure off sleep – the more you put pressure on your sleep, the worse it will get. Start to notice any negative thoughts around sleep loss and write these down during the day in an allocated 15–20-minute window. Then look at what you’ve written down and ask yourself whether this is all true, or if you’re engaging in catastrophic thoughts such as ‘I won’t cope’. Ask yourself what coping looks like, what makes a ‘terrible’ parent and what makes a good one, and where you are on this scale even when tired. It’s really important to try and reframe some of the negativity around your thoughts.
3. Don’t go to bed too early – although you may feel tired, it doesn’t mean your body is ready to sleep. Instead of going to bed early, enjoy your evening and build up a stronger sleep drive. Going to bed nearer your usual time will also give you more time to get organised for tomorrow or watch some TV and wind down.
4. Remember sleep isn’t the only way to get more energy – managing your stress levels is essential. Having a new baby is stressful and can be overwhelming, so make sure you take time to practice mindfulness daily. Even short bursts can boost energy levels, so move your thoughts away from sleep and towards the present moment.
5. Get out of bed if you’re wide awake and anxious – this will help to avoid building a negative link with bed and sleep. If you’re struggling to drift back off to sleep when you wake, simply get up and go to another room, read a book or do something you enjoy, and then when you’re feeling sleepy again, head back to bed.
For more techniques around improving your sleep, why not going my FREE Sleep Webinar?
In this webinar you will learn:
1. The only three things you need to know about to sleep well
2. Why sleep hygiene is not enough to cure your sleep problem and how it might be making things worse
3. Tips to fall asleep faster and wake less
4. How I can help you to fall asleep easily and sleep through the night so that you can live your life to the fullest