If you’re a parent, you don’t need to be told that you need some more sleep. Sleepless nights and tired eyes are a stamp of parenthood – and forgetting where you’ve put your car keys is a long-standing tradition. A good night’s sleep is the obvious remedy – but this is much easier said than done! Coping with sleep deprivation as a new parent can seem like a mountain that you don’t know how to start climbing. However, you can learn how to cope with lack of sleep, and even look forward to bedtime again.

What Are the Effects of Sleep Deprivation?

If you have four or five consecutive nights of disturbed sleep, you’ll feel sleep deprived. When you have a newborn baby, it’ll be perfectly normal to go weeks, or even months, without more than four hours of unbroken sleep each night. If you’re sleep deprived, you’ll have slower response times and may find concentrating difficult, so it’s not a good idea to drive when you feel like this. You may find yourself giving up on tasks before they’re complete, or you may struggle on but put little effort into it.

Apart from extreme tiredness, signs of sleep deprivation can include:

  • Feeling grumpy, stressed, or more emotional than usual
  • Clumsiness or disorientation
  • Having problems communicating with others
  • Being either less or more hungry than usual

Getting through the day when you feel as if you’re moving through quicksand isn’t easy, so we’ve got some tips for coping with sleep deprivation.

Sleep When Your Baby Sleeps

A good way to make up for lost sleep is to try and sneak in pockets of rest when your baby settles. It can be tempting to get some housework done while your baby sleeps. However, “power-napping could help you recharge your batteries, boost your mood, and reduce stress levels”, according to Ana Noia, Senior Clinical Physiologist in Neurophysiology and Sleep. She suggests that napping for twenty minutes “will help improve your alertness and mood”, and warns that, if you sleep for longer than this, you may hit the deeper stages of sleep and feel groggier when you wake up.1

Don’t Hit the Snooze Button

Sit up as soon as your alarm goes off and gather your thoughts before you get out of bed. Don’t let yourself slide back under the duvet if it means you’ll be late for work or an appointment. Turning on the radio can be a good way to stay awake. Keep a glass of water next to the bed and take a few sips to help you to wake up. If your partner is there to look after the baby, jump straight into the shower and choose an invigorating shower gel to wake up your senses. It’s also tempting to rely on caffeine for an immediate boost. Even though the first cup of coffee may kickstart your day, too much caffeine throughout the day can keep you awake at night, so limit your caffeine intake. If you’re breastfeeding and avoiding caffeine, or you just want to cut down, a glass of sparkling water or a caffeine-free herbal tea can perk you up, too.

Adjust Your Bedtime

Keep a sleep diary to monitor your baby’s resting patterns. You might find that they have repetitive habits, like waking up very early in the mornings. If this is the case, adjust your own bedtime so that you can get up with your baby, and still feel like you’ve had some sleep. Bringing your bedtime forward can help this. If you struggle to nod off when you’ve moved your bedtime forward, try a meditation app or some mindfulness exercises – which you can read more about here. Doing this will really help distract you from any irritating thoughts that are keeping you awake.

Go for Morning Walks

Getting outdoors could be the best way for you to stay awake during the day. Taking regular walks and getting some fresh air will keep you alert, especially if it’s sunny as sunlight provides vitamin D. You can take your baby with you, too, as this will tire them out as well and they’ll enjoy a new environment. If going for a walk is the last thing you want to do, try a few star jumps or run around the garden – or even up the stairs a few times. A fun way to exercise is to turn up your favourite music (or plug in your earphones if your baby is sleeping), dance, and shake out that tiredness.

Prioritise Your Tasks

Prioritise tasks so that you get the most important ones finished first. Write a list of things that need to be done every day – but be realistic. Even if it’s just one thing, like vacuuming, it’ll give you something to focus on and help you to prioritise. However, if you don’t manage to complete that one thing, don’t be too hard on yourself. Sometimes just functioning is an achievement. Shopping for food online is a great way to save yourself time for other tasks, too.

Improve Your Environment

Resting in a cool, dark room with no distractions can help you drift off quickly when you’re sleeping between feeds. Get as comfortable as you can and leave your phone on the bedside table, as the blue light emitted from its screen can keep you awake. Staying away from screens altogether – such as laptops, tablets, and TVs – is a great way of coping with sleep deprivation, as sound will also keep you alert.

Ask For Help

When you become a new parent, it can be tempting to put on a brave face and avoid showing any signs of tiredness or struggle. Everyone’s scared of criticism or feeling like a failure, especially new parents. However, parenthood is challenging and a huge learning curve, and there’s nothing wrong with seeking help if your sleep issues are becoming a burden. If your tiredness is preventing you from carrying out everyday tasks, or affecting your quality of life, you should visit your doctor. They can discuss sleeping habits with you, and find a solution that’ll help you sleep.

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Footnotes

  1. https://www.rte.ie/lifestyle/living/2019/0517/1050107-6-tips-for-managing-sleep-deprivation-as-a-new-parent/
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