My first-born arrived as a screaming bundle of energy the day before his due date.
“Thank heavens” after two days of huffing, panting, pacing and very little rest I could finally get some sleep!
Ok…I can imagine all the sniggering and eye-rolling coming from all you seasoned mums out there.
My newborn lay sleepily in my arms as the nurses wheeled us on to the ward, turned their backs and left us alone. Gently I placed him into the bassinet and wearily lay down listening to him gently stir and snuffle. The snuffle turned into a whine and within seconds the whine escalated into the kind of heart wrenching cry that catapults you to your baby’s side before your brain even has time to tell your legs to move.
Leap forward a month or three, not sure how long it actually was as I had lost all concept of time by this point, and my ability to get quality sleep was on a downward spiral. I felt as though my son’s bottom sent a wake up call to his vocal chords every time it touched something that wasn’t my arm. I had become a person I hardly recognized, bursting into tears at the doctor’s office, the grocery store, even when I was surrounded by well meaning family and friends. My emotions were taking a ride on a run away train and they had left me bewildered on a deserted platform.
In an age of competitive parenting where it is considered medal worthy to say your baby “sleeps through the night” to admit any desperation is virtually taboo.
Sleep deprivation can leave you feeling incapable of remembering the smallest detail, anxiety ridden, alone and often resentful of your child. So why does this intense lack of sleep thrust many of us into a dark tunnel with no light at the end of it? To be honest why wouldn’t it? We need sleep like we need food and without it our brains cannot function efficiently. We loose our ability to be creative or multi task (important now you have a newborn and a marriage to take care of) and we become clumsier and suffer dramatic mood changes.
Statistically a new mother has a much higher risk of developing depression. This affects her ability to fall asleep even after her baby has finally drifted off. In extreme cases woman can suffer from acute paranoia and even begin to hallucinate.
Many of us suffer in silence, as I did.
I don’t want this Blog to be a downer so let me reassure you that are not alone. In fact you are in great company! Four out of five families will struggle with their child’s sleep at some time during those early years. There is help out there and it doesn’t involve leaving your baby to cry alone in a room!
Here are a few simple suggestions to get you on the road to better sleep.
- Cut yourself some slack. Becoming a parent is a huge life change, its physically and mentally exhausting. So if you eat cereal for dinner occasionally, so what!
- Make sleep a priority. We cannot be happy and healthy without it. The dishes can wait.
- Ask for help. Doing it all on your own doesn’t make you a superhero it just makes you exhausted.
- Work on healthy sleep habits for your children. Look out for my blog on newborn sleep hygiene. It’s not selfish to get help for your older child either. You have to consider the wellbeing of your entire family. Healthy sleep habits last a lifetime.
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Adults need a bedtime too. Dim the lights at least one hour before you go to bed. This helps set our circadian rhythm (the fancy name for our body clock). If you struggle to get up everyday and spend half of your day yawning try to get to bed just 30 minutes earlier. That’s an extra 3 ½ hours a week. It’s money in your sleep bank.
Close the computer. The light your screen produces confuses the brain, preventing the release of melatonin. This is the chemical that helps us get to sleep. (This is one tip I have to work on!)
None of this is easy but it’s worth the effort. When we get more sleep we become more productive whether at home or work. We are more patient and present with our children. Life’s challenges seem a little less challenging.
It turns out there is light at the end of that sleepy tunnel after all.
Gentle Sleep Coach