Silentnight's sleep expert, Dr Nerina, offers the
following advice to mums, to help you get through those early weeks
with a newborn baby.
The following are tried and tested strategies that
she has used herself as a new mum.
1.MAKE REST A PRIORITY
This is one of the hardest things for new mums to do
but resting during the day will lessen the effects of sleep
deprivation and improve the quality of your sleep at night.
It's always too easy to say "I'll just tidy this
room. I'll just get some chores done." And before you know it, baby
is awake and needing your attention again. But it's important that
you stop and rest; sometimes even a break of 5-10 minutes can be
sufficient to enable the body to renew energy physically and
mentally. Drink a glass of water or eat a piece of fruit, stretch,
breathe deeply from your diaphragm, lie down, close your eyes,
listen to music or nothing at all. Use the time to recharge
physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.
2.WHAT TO DO IF YOU WAKE UP DURING THE NIGHT
It is inevitable that you will be woken, sometimes
repeatedly, during the night in the early days of your baby's life.
However, there are a few 'tricks' that you can use to get yourself
back to sleep more easily each time you are woken.
First of all, be prepared. Try to have
everything on hand for a quick feed or nappy change and if you have
to put a light on, use a low-level bedside lamp rather than a
bright overhead light. The less time you are up and exposed
to light, the easier it will be to get back to sleep again.
Each time you wake up, avoid checking the time.
If you do this, you are more likely to start worrying about how
little sleep you will get if you don't fall asleep again.
This then reduces your chances of getting back to sleep even
3.IF YOU REALLY CAN'T GET TO SLEEP…
There are a couple of options here. One is to
use the time to relax. In other words, abandon all attempts
to sleep and allow yourself to just rest. In fact, don't even
use the word 'sleep'. Tell yourself 'it doesn't matter if I
don't sleep tonight; I'm just going to use the time to REST.
It's a bit of trickery but you might be surprised how quickly you
then get to sleep - particularly if you use the technique
If you really can't get to sleep, then get up and do
something relaxing. Read a book, have a cup of camomile tea
or warm milk, or even do some ironing as this can tire you. Don't
lie in bed tossing and turning and making yourself frustrated and
4.HYPER-SENSITIVITY TO NOISE
Many new mothers find that they hear every slight
noise that baby makes and they even start to imagine they can hear
him crying. You may find it helpful to use some white noise to
block out the sound of every tiny sob and whimper. You can
buy white noise machines or use a fan to create some even
5.WIND DOWN FOR GOOD SLEEP
Your wind down routine sets the tone for how you will
sleep throughout the night.
Try to get into a bedtime routine to prepare your
body and mind for restful sleep. Human beings respond well to
familiar rituals that tell our brains that it is time to step off
the treadmill and prepare to rest. Check the windows are closed and
the doors are locked, the oven is off, read a book, listen to
relaxing music and sip a milky caffeine-free drink. Allow
yourself to relax in a bath for at least ten minutes and use some
relaxing essential oils such as lavender to help promote
sleepiness. Avoid anything over stimulating such as sending
emails or surfing the internet - both of these activities tend to
cause increased REM sleep. If you watch TV before going to
bed, try to watch something funny, inspiring and uplifting rather
than depressing or gloomy and avoid falling asleep in bed while
If you are really wound up you might find it helpful
to delay going to bed for twenty minutes or so to allow yourself to
wind down - you are more likely to be able to access efficient,
deep sleep if you have allowed the mind and body to relax than if
you rush to bed feeling anxious about trying to get good sleep. You
are more likely to feel rejuvenated if you have had five or six
hours of efficient sleep than seven or eight hours of shallow,
6.GET SOME EXERCISE
One of the hardest things to do when you are a new
mum and you're exhausted is to find time for exercise, but this is
one of the strategies that will give you huge benefits in terms of
relieving stress and helping you to sleep and relax more
Regular exercise is good for you but in terms of its
relevance for new mothers and their sleep, exercise helps to reduce
levels of adrenaline and other stress hormones, it boosts the
production of hormones which 'repair' the body thus making your
immune system and overall health more robust. You will spend
more time in deep sleep and it certainly helps to alleviate that
'tired but wired' feeling that can stop you relaxing and falling
Remember, it doesn't mean having to go to the gym or
go out running. Even a 20 minute brisk walk is great exercise
and can boost the production of the energising feel good hormones,
7.MIND RACING, TOO MUCH TO DO!
For deeper, more peaceful sleep, get 'to do' lists
out of your head and onto paper before you go to bed.
You will no doubt have lots of things to do swimming
round in your head but try keeping a notebook in the kitchen (not
in the bedroom) and write down your to'do list before you go to bed
as part of your wind down routine. Doing this keeps the gremlins
away from sleep both physically and metnally.
8.CAFFEINE AND ALCOHOL
Caffeine and alcohol are stimulants - use sparingly
if you're a new mum and your sleep is already being disrupted!
Caffeine has a direct impact on reducing sleep
quality. The half-life of caffeine is approximately five
hours. This means that it can take up to 10 hours to
completely remove all of the caffeine from your body if you drink a
cup of tea or coffee. If you are having problems sleeping or
are waking up feeling tired no matter how much sleep you get,
minimise caffeine and increase your fluid intake by drinking more
water, herbal teas and dilute fruit juices.
Alcohol is the most commonly used sleep and relaxing
aid in the world as it initially has a sedative effect that
can help you drop off to sleep. However - alcohol stops you
getting good, deep sleep and it can increase REM sleep so that the
next day you end up feeling not only physically tired but also
mentally fuzzy. If you are regularly drinking alcohol to help
you sleep, ask your doctor to help you find an alternative.
9.LEARN HOW TO POWER NAP
Every new mother should power nap and anyone can
learn how to do it! A power nap is is a short sleep lasting 5
to 15 in which you might be sitting or lying comfortably in a
well-ventilated room, progressively relaxing muscles and breathing
deeply from the stomach. You will approach a near sleep state
without actually falling asleep and will be aware of your during
this time. Incorporating visualisation techniques into your
power nap - relaxing scenes, for example - can make it even
more effective. If you are really exhausted you might find it
helpful to use a stopwatch or alarm clock to stop you falling into
a deep sleep. The more you practise it, the easier it will get to
rouse yourself after the required time and the more relaxed and
rejuvenated you will feel afterwards.
10.IS EIGHT HOURS THE NORM?
I have encountered many individuals who have become
anxious about their supposed sleep deprivation because they feel
they might not be achieving the 'normal' amount of sleep.
Although, in my experience, new mothers are less likely to get hung
up about this - they know they are going to be sleep-deprived -
it's worth knowing that sleep requirements vary from person to
person and also depend largely on whether the above strategies are
being practised regularly. For most of us, living in this age
of information overload, the challenge is to achieve efficient deep
sleep rather than a certain quota of hours.
11.YOUR SLEEP ENVIRONMENT
Keep your sleep environment free of clutter and
baby's toys. The ideal temperature for good sleep is slightly cool
so keep windows open or have a fan in the room. The white
noise from the fan can also help to create a white noise effect
that cuts out distracting background noises and use aromatherapy
oils to promote relaxation and sleep. Place a few drops of lavender
in a cup of hot water on the windowsill 20 minutes or so before you
go to bed. Keep all mobile phones and computer equipment out
of your room too. Your bedroom should look and feel like your
12.NUTRITION AND SUPPLEMENTS
In order to get good sleep, we need a good balance of
the naturally produced sleep-inducing hormones serotonin and
melatonin in our system. Adequate amounts of vitamin B6 and
tryptophan are needed to boost these hormone levels and they are
found in chicken, cheese, tofu, tuna, eggs, nuts, seeds and
milk. So drinking a glass of milk before going to bed can
help to induce sleep. Other sleep-inducing foods are oats and
lettuce. Avoid skipping breakfast as this is vital to
stabilising your blood sugar levels and helping you to produce the
Melatonin that will enable you to sleep later on. Make sure
your breakfast includes a source of protein eg nut butter on your
toast or ground almonds on your porridge.
Herbal nightcaps - it is best to resort to sleeping
aids (natural or pharmaceutical) only as a last resort. They
should be used when other avenues have been exhausted and then only
occasionally. Valerian (tablets, tincture or tea bags) is
sometimes called nature's Valium and can aid sleep for most
people. Passionflower and hops also have mild sedative
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