Sleep and Wellbeing
‘Are they sleeping through yet?’ The phrase every new mother dreads. Sleep is never textbook (for baby or mum!), and can often feel like a struggle, when tiredness and overtiredness is in the mix.
And its not just new mums either. The truth is that mums (and mums-to-be) often struggle with sleep for a manner of different reasons, whether that is being woken up by a baby, struggling to get back to sleep, a full mind, insomnia, pain or another reason.
It can be particularly difficult to have a good night’s sleep with so much on our plates, with different aspects of our lives to juggle, and the ongoing experience of broken nights sleep, which impacts on our body clocks. Before children, most of us take sleeping for granted, and therefore it's a real shock to the system, when despite tiredness, there is a barricade between us and our much wanted sleep.
If you struggle to sleep, frequent night waking or experience insomnia, the below should help you get to sleep and stay asleep. If your waking is due to a baby, we hope these tips will help you get back to sleep quicker. Remember to be kind to yourself, to sleep when the baby sleeps, to get support and to cut yourself some slack.
So why is sleep so important?
Did you know we spend about a third of our lives sleeping? We all know that sleep is vital to our emotional and physical health. Although if you aren’t managing to get a good night’s sleep – don’t panic! Any changes take a long time to come about and can be easily corrected with some much needed shut eye. The effects of sleep include:
- Maintains physical health – sleep is vital in healing and repairing areas of our body
- Maintains a healthy balance of the hormones
- Supports immune function - Ongoing sleep deficiency can change the way in which your immune system responds. Studies have shown that those who sleep less than 7 hours are almost three times more likely to develop a cold than those who sleep 8 hours or more.
- Increases productivity – Lack of sleep often slows down our reaction time and ability to think clearer. A good period of sleep has been shown to improve problem solving skills, enhance memory performance and learning performance as your brain consolidates what it has learnt in the day!
- Improves emotional health – Studies show that lack of sleep disturbs our ability to regulate emotions and allocation of brain resources for rational thinking. When we are tired, the intensity of emotions is experienced as greater as emotion generation is affected. Anxiety and lowness are often felt if we haven't slept long enough
Sleep hygiene involves good sleep practices that can help us get to sleep quicker, get back to sleep after waking and sleep more deeply. We often think these things don't make a difference, but from our experience, if you can start to introduce these practices into your daily life, they really do improve your sleep experience.
1. PREPARE - Try to prepare yourself through sleep throughout the day.
- Exercise each day as even 10 minutes of aerobic exercise is clinically proven to support sleep.
- Avoid caffeinated drinks after midday, as caffeine is a stimulant which has important effects on your brain and its ability to switch off.
- Avoid alcohol (sorry!) as it interrupts your circadian rhythm and blocks REM sleep.
- Naps can give us that important boost, but with any naps you have in the day, aim for them to be before 2pm. If you have no problem getting to sleep but are up due to baby waking, then nap as much as you need to whilst the baby is sleeping.
2. ROUTINE – Stick to a routine if you can
- Go to bed the same time every night, as early as possible if you have a small baby. Even though it may result in more wake ups over the night, the cumulative affect of the extra hours will be more restorative.
- Wake up the same time every morning. Set an alarm if you can. Again if you are struggling with a new baby, you need to be kind to yourself and grab any pockets of sleep you can, so this doesn't apply to you.
3. WIND DOWN – Start to wind down one hour before bedtime
- Avoid screens for an hour before bed as they can stimulate your brain, the opposite of what we are trying to do.
- Quiet time is useful in helping your body slow down.
- Breathing can be especially helpful here as it acts to decrease the sympathetic nervous system which arouse the body and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, activating our relaxation response.
4. SLEEP ENVIRONMENT – Prepare your sleep environment for sleep only
- Complete darkness is vital if you can. Studies show that artificial light disrupts Our Circadian Rhythm, stopping melatonin, a sleep-inducing hormone from being created.
- Silence is also key to a good sleep. Try to avoid listening to anything with words in. If you find yourself finding noise helpful in getting you to sleep, try to choose a timed piece on sounds, such as natural sounds of the sea, or panpipes.
- Coolness also helps our bodies sleep well. Between 16-19 degrees is perfect.
- Remove clocks as although it feels helpful to know the time, it interrupts our ability to switch off, leading to frustration as the time passes as we find ourselves still awake.
Fall asleep faster?
If you have the above covered, you might be wondering how you can fall asleep faster with a busy mind or after baby wake ups.
- Hot shower – This action may feel relaxing but it also tricks you body in sleep, through taking advantage of the way temperature affects circadian rhythms.
- Deep breathing – This activates our relaxation response biologically but it also switches off our mind, as if we are solely focusing on our breathing, we have some headspace away from our busy thoughts. Ratio breathing, where we imagine breathing in and out in the shape of a square, following the sides of the square with each inbreath and outbreath can be particularly helpful for switching off.
- Mental activity – Do sums in your head, do times tables, spell words in your head or even count sleep. The repetitive nature moves our mind away from our thoughts. And if you find your focus moves back to your busy mind, gently draw it back if it wanders.
- Progressive muscle relaxation – This is an exercise where you systematically relax all the muscles in your body. AnxietyBC have a great script if you want to have a go: https://www.anxietybc.com/sites/default/files/MuscleRelaxation.pdf
Still can’t get to sleep?
- Lavender – has a wonderful affect on our nervous system and has been found to improve symptoms such as restlessness, disturbed sleep, and somatic complaints. A recent study showed lavender was as effective as sleeping pills in getting people sleeping.
- Lemonbalm – lots of our clients swear by lemonbalm which again supports our nervous system. Drops can be added to a bath, or you can buy as a tea or a tincture.
- Valerian or valerian root – is a herb used to treat insomnia and often for low mood after birth. We also recommend you check with your GP before taking valerian if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, although you can buy it from most herbal stockists.
- Get support – remember to explain to friends and family the affects of lack of sleep, and ask them to support you. Friends, family and doulas often play an important role in helping mums have a break and get some sleep. If you continue to struggle with sleep, visit your GP, as they may be able to support you further with supplements.
Dr Jo Gee
If you are struggling with sleep feel you need help and support, please see https://www.mummaswellbeing.com/treatments/cbt for more information
If you want to book a relaxation therapy to support yourself, please see details below:
- Ayurveda in Guildford and Godalming - https://www.mummaswellbeing.com/treatments/ayurveda
- Massage in Guildford and Godalming - https://www.mummaswellbeing.com/treatments/massage
- Mindfulness in Guildford and Godalming - https://www.mummaswellbeing.com/treatments/mindfulness
- Reflexology in Guildford and Godalming - https://www.mummaswellbeing.com/treatments/reflexology
Mummas Wellbeing - is a specialist mums wellbeing service, in Guildford and Godalming, Surrey, UK. We offer Arvigo, hypnobirthing, counselling, psychotherapy, nutritional therapy, massage, mindfulness, osteopathy, physiotherapy, pilates, postnatal doula and reflexology for women through fertility, pregnancy, the postnatal period and parenting.
Tel: 07933 343180