SLEEP HYGIENE 101: HOW TO HONOR YOURSELF THROUGH IMPROVING THE QUALITY AND QUANTITY OF SLEEP, INCLUDING DURING THE POSTPARTUM PERIOD
There was a time not too long ago that I couldn’t even take my own advice: take time for yourself, sleep, exercise, and recalibrate while you can, while the baby is sleeping, while the kids are at daycare and you left work two hours early, while at Grammy Mimi’s house and she is watching them, while your husband has them out at the park…but, as the laundry piled up and the floor went un-swept, my sleep deprived baby brained mind steered me in the direction of tightening up the ship. When you feel like you’ve lost all control, all sense of self, who you once knew you were (pre-baby), and haven’t quite figured out that your new self (post-baby) still matters, still has needs, and still deserves care, well, this is what happens. In retrospect, I remember reading this advice in all of the articles and books on raising children: “Let those dishes sit!”, “Rest, rest, rest!” So, how can I convince you to take that advice and not look back in six or nine years and wish that you had?
Let me explain the repercussions of sleep deprivation from a professional and personal standpoint:
Lack of sleep for a night or two is tolerable, going three nights and beyond becomes risky. A new or seasoned mother is no undemanding job, let alone if mom is also working outside of the home, and keeping up with her role as a daughter, sister, wife, or whatever! In the absence of adequate sleep, a mother can find herself weepy, moody, angry, resentful, disengaged, detached and feeling like “no one understands how tired I really am”, “everyone else gets to sleep all night without being interrupted”, or “my husband gets to sleep, go to work, and eat his meals uninterrupted”. On the severe end of the sleep deprivation spectrum, a mother can experience hallucinations ranging from visual to auditory in nature, in the absence of any major mental illness. This is scary and eye-opening, no pun intended! Add additional vulnerabilities (i.e., mental illness, psychosocial stressors, financial, single motherhood, etc.) and you’re in for a very rocky road. Have you ever gone to lay your head on your pillow in a silent darkened house, while everyone is “sleeping like a baby”, and no sooner you hear the cries of your infant? You get up and go check on him/her and…it’s completely silent, baby is bottoms-up, cheek pressed into their crib mattress, eyes a-flittering as they’re in dreamland and you shake your head as you walk back to bed. Only the same thing keeps happening? This is not only common, but it’s ok, you are not losing your mind or going crazy, you are not an unfit mother, you are simply exhausted and your brain is trying to tell you so. But, how do you control it? How do you make that stuff stop? How do you just…go to sleep?
It all starts proactively (not, reactively):
Remember how it’s never a good idea to try to reason with someone who is screaming at us? Because reasoning during an irrational time is not productive. The same thing applies to self-care: if you try to tell your brain to “just go to sleep” during a misfiring of your brain (i.e., hearing baby cry when baby is not crying), it does not work. You must practice: answer your body’s needs when they’re calling you (bathroom, hungry, thirsty, headache), take 15-minutes while baby is playing in their playpen (all babies and kids benefit from quiet self-play time) and do a mindfulness, meditation, progressive muscle relaxation (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Progressive_muscle_relaxation), you get the idea! Take a 30-45 minute nap when baby is sleeping. Chores will always be there, your mind may not! “I’m losing my mind!” many mothers’ exclaim!
Now let me tell you how to improve the quality and quantity of your sleep (aka, “sleep hygiene”):
When baby is in a good pattern and reality allows:
Get into a routine: day and night (go to bed around the same time every night)
Do not drink beverages past ____; you set the time (i.e., 8:00pm if you go to bed at 10:00pm)
Do not turn the TV on to fall asleep to (even if it’s on mute)
Use the bed for sleeping and intimacy only (so your brain associates bed with sleep)
Do not use your phone in bed (research shows that “both mental activity and light exposure promote wakefulness”, www.sleepfoundation.org)
Turn any digital clocks facing away from you (so you do not constantly wake up to check the time and count down to how much more time you have to sleep before you have to be up)
Do not exercise too close to bedtime
If you can’t sleep for 15-30 minutes, try getting out of bed and doing something low-key without bright light or noise and return to bed when you feel tired
If keeping a baby monitor on your nightstand means you’re checking it every two minutes, give it to your husband
Do not jump out of bed at every noise your baby makes (allowing him to fall back asleep on his own is good for baby and mama)
Lastly, try listening to your breath (literally, tune your ears in to the sound that your breathing makes, in and out), and notice how you cannot multi-task, it’ll tune out racing thoughts for you, it’ll promote “thought stopping”, it’ll slow down your heartrate). If feeling up for the challenge for additional payoff, add a visual to your imagination (i.e., waves crashing, a leaf [your bad thoughts] flowing down a stream [and going away]).
- You are good enough
- Mistakes are normal
- Chores will always be there
- Sleep and self-care matter so that you can be the best mom that will make you feel good (when you don’t take care of yourself, good feelings don’t coincide and regrettable behaviors (think: yelling all the time, slamming doors, fighting with partner, crying constantly) often follow suit.
- You can’t turn back time or erase guilt
- It’s hard to make change and believe that self-care is important but it’s better to endure temporary stress in your efforts to make this change happen—than to endure lifelong guilt and memories (or worse) for not making this change happen.
You can do it, you do matter, and think of the role-model you’ll be for your children.