Tips for sleep deprived moms

I was never a big sleeper, but now that I’m a mom of two girls under the age of three I would give [almost] anything to get 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep.

Last week my 4 month old, Naomi, was going through a sleep regression which meant I was getting less than 5 hours of broken sleep.   One night was manageable, however a week of consistent sleep deprivation caught up with me.  I couldn’t function, nor did I want to.

You know what it’s like right?  Being a mom is a 24/7 job so you need to be ON  All. Day. Long.   You can’t just randomly decide to take a nap at 10:15am because you feel like it.

The reality is that 54% of moms are sleep deprived, meaning they are getting less than 6 hours of sleep every day.  As you’ll soon find out below, this is not a good thing for any mom or anybody.

Sleep when the baby sleeps?

I’m sorry, but I have to call BS on this advice which I tend to get from parents who had little ones years ago.   I love you all but I think you forget what napping was like.   Let me refresh your memory.

I spend about 10 to 20 minutes getting my baby down for what I hope will be a two hour nap (ha!).  Then when I lay my head on the pillow ever so delicately trying not to make a sound, I hear her whimper.  Back at it again.  Once she’s down I know I have a 20 to 45 minute window to get some sleep; so then it becomes a race against time.   I lay there telling myself “Hurry. I must fall sleep.”   I’ve also got my business, my babies, and what to have for dinner cycling through my brain.  So napping when the baby naps becomes an anxiety trigger more than anything, at least for me.   I don’t know about you but moms do not need any more stress in our lives!

Baby sleeping in crib - sleep deprivation

Just lay there and do nothing.

This is advice I received with my first daughter, Sienna.  Someone once told me that all I had to do was lay down and do nothing while she napped.  Don’t try to sleep.  Just grab a book, a trashy magazine, or nothing at all.  Removing the pressure to fall asleep made all the difference.   In some cases I even nodded off because my brain wasn’t working in overdrive.

If you are like me and you can’t nap, do what you can to get your sleep at night.  Here’s why:

4 reasons why you need to get your sleep…tonight.

Since most of us need more sleep, here’s my simple way of remembering these 4 reasons.  MAMA.

1.  MEMORY

Decreases cognitive function by negatively impacting our working memory and ability to juggle multiple tasks.  Yikes!  Multitasking is a requirement for any mom (ever tried playing hide and seek and bouncing a crying baby while making dinner?  That was me last night).   Taking that a step further, our short and long term memory takes a hitThis could explain why: “People who are persistently sleep deprived are more likely to have high blood pressure, diabetes, and narrowed blood vessels. Each of these can decrease blood flow inside the brain. Brain cells need a lot of oxygen and sugar, so blood flow problems could affect their ability to work properly.”

2.  APPETITE

Suppresses leptin (the appetite hormone that tells you “I’m full”) and increases ghrelin (the appetite hormone that tells you “I’m hungry”).  So you want to eat more on the days that you sleep less, especially foods that are calorically dense or high in carbohydrates.  One study found that losing just a few hours of sleep a few nights in a row caused people to pack on an average of about two pounds” and “the foods they requested when they were sleep deprived added up to about 600 calories more than the foods that they wanted when they were well rested.”

3.  MOOD

Impacts mood and can cause more intense negative emotions. Research shows that moms with babes who have sleep problems at greater risk of postpartum depression (PPD).

4.  ABDOMINAL FAT

Increases cortisol (stress hormone) which is lipogenic meaning that it holds onto body fat, especially around the hips (muffin top anyone?).  So it can be blamed for the difficulty in dropping back to pre-baby weight.  Cortisol is damaging is so many other ways; simply put, it alters immune system responses, suppresses the digestive and reproductive system.   Wondering if your cortisol is out of whack?  Let’s find out.

How much sleep do we need?

According to most of the research I’ve seen, we can optimally function for 16 hours a day.  After that we need to shut it down and get some shut eye – for approximately 8 hours if you do the math.  To make things even more complicated, we can also get TOO MUCH sleep.   The optimal range is 7-8 hours because anything less or more than that is linked to increased mortality.   I’m just the messenger.

Knowing what I know about sleep and how important it is, I needed to do something about it.  So I hit the sack early the past few nights, put on my ear phones and listened to a few podcasts (conveniently one was about sleep).  My goal was to be in bed by 9pm but I couldn’t make it work logistically.  Being asleep by 10pm tacked on 2 extra hours of shut eye compared to the previous nights.  It helped that Naomi slept in 3 hour chunks again – up at 2am, 5am and 8am.   Not ideal, and likely not to be repeated tonight, but I’m still celebrating.

I felt those extra hours this morning.  My energy levels were up and I pretty much bounced out of bed.  I feel like a different person.  I WAS a different person.  For one, I’m back at my computer writing a blog post.  I’ll let you be the judge on whether it’s even a good one, but it feels good to write without brain fog.

Sleep tips from one mom to another

I spent my first year as a mother chronically sleep-deprived and I would never want another mother to have to.   Let me leave you with this:

  1. Go to bed early.  At least 30 minutes before you should be asleep. Let your significant other or someone else watch the little one.
  2. Turn it off.  Your PC, phone, TV, and stop working (anything that stimulates your brain) an hour before bed.  As much as I’d love you to check out my Instagram or Facebook post, it’s not the time.
  3. Don’t force yourself to nap when the baby naps.  Just lay there, relax, and do nothing.  I give you permission.
  4. Aim for 7-8 hours of sleep per night.  No less and no more (unless you need it).
  5. On the days you don’t sleep well, forgo any intense activities (i.e. working out) and avoid stress.  Your cortisol is already elevated, so we don’t want it to get any higher.
  6. Cut out coffee (easy to say for a non-coffee drinker) and eat sleep-inducing foods.

Lastly, you don’t have to suffer just because you’re a mom.  Get help from a health practitioner who understands YOUR life as a mom and your needs.  That’s where I can help!   My “Survive and Feel Alive” package was created for exhausted moms like you (and the old me) who need more sleep, more energy and less stress in their hectic lives.   My complementary 15 minute consultation is always available if you just want to chat (no strings attached).

Good night and sleep tight.  xo

Energy boosting and stress-busting solutions for moms