Oh sleep! It’s the biggie. You now truly understand why sleep deprivation is a form of torture.
You want to scream at anyone who tells you to sleep when the baby is asleep because you’ve tried, and you just can’t. You can only dream of the days when you used to fall into bed at midnight and sleep for as long as you liked. 🛏 You have never before in your life felt this level of weariness.
You don’t need us to tell you how important sleep is. We understand. Coping with a lack of sleep makes everything in our daily lives seem so much harder. There is no getting around the fact that a lack of sleep is one of motherhood’s greatest challenges.
We know we can’t solve all your sleep issues. But we see you, tired mama. We have all been there. And some of us are still suffering. So we want to share with you some nourishing tips and techniques, that might help get you through this a little more easily.
What was your experience? What was your real deal? Are you still struggling with sleep deprivation now? How do you cope? Let's get the conversation going and #LetsTalkAbout #MotherhoodTheRealDeal.
Below we've shared our personal stories and coping tools on this topic.
Being tired makes me feel crap.
Not just physically drudgy, like dragging your body through thick treacle, but actually low!
I had a wobble this morning, that low feeling felt like a flashback to a time not long ago when that feeling wasn’t just a moment, or a day, but a suffocating year.
So I gave myself a pep talk and I thought it might be helpful for you too if you’re feeling tired, hormonal, stressed or burnt out.
Tiredness (and hormones, and overwhelm) depletes our emotional and physical resources making it harder to respond to things in the way we might usually do. Harder to bat intrusive thoughts out the park, tougher to rationalise thought spirals, more effort to swallow down knee-jerk reactions and make sense of emotion. Trickier to halt the shout in your throat threatening to lurch out at the kids, easier to start arguments and lean on unhealthy coping mechanisms. More challenging to summon self-compassion when you’ve done something wrong. Tougher to coach yourself to breathe through the rising wave of anxiety.
The more I understand about how tiredness and sleep deprivation affect mental health, the more I can make sense of the fact that chronic sleep deprivation due to Charlie’s silent reflux enflamed my PND like petrol thrown at a fire.
If you’ve experienced extended periods of low mood, depression or anxiety, tiredness can find you into fearing you’re ‘back there again’, when really you just need a chance to rest and slow down (I know this is easier said than done). I guess what I’m saying is, sometimes you’re just bloody knackered and you need to lower your expectations of yourself. You need to schedule in some sort of rest, even if it’s not feasible to squish in 8 hours sleep (bliss). You need to be kind to yourself, give yourself this pep talk, and remind yourself that there’s a huge, known link between tiredness and mood. And maybe you’re not going mad after all, or turning into the grinch, maybe you just need to slow down.
I used to think I was tired after a hard week at work. On reflection I don’t think I knew what tiredness was until I had Edie. Before Edie, I completed marathon des sables, a 7 marathon in 7 days challenge, where you have to carry everything you need, navigate and run through the Sahara. It’s often termed ‘the toughest race in the world.’ I’m confident that a Mum didn’t coin that phrase as I can easily say the first two weeks post birth was more trying than that.
For two weeks she was up every hour, cluster feeding I think they call it. Ummm... not sure why I didn’t know about this before?! I was so dopey, wasn’t really hungry, it felt like it took me ages to do anything. I swear doing some washing took me a whole day. Sometimes I don’t think I could string a sentence together.
I would prep for bed like I was about to play the Wimbledon final! I changed my mindset from thinking ‘oh hopefully she’ll sleep through’ to ‘you aren’t sleeping tonight so make the most of it’. I kept the radio on all night as this meant that I felt like I was with people even when I wasn’t. It also kept my mind on something else other than not sleeping. Thank you BBC world service.
I tried to sleep during the day when Edie slept. F*ck the washing, food, cleaning that all worked itself out. I would make sure I had a bath every day (by myself) with some nice oil. I was tired, but I was clean.
Kate's top tips
Radio 4 was my life saver. October 2018 – January 2019 I was a current affairs wizz kid. It sounds silly but it felt like I wasn’t up all night alone.
My Mum also said to me, “every time you’re up in the middle of the night just think you’re not alone as how many other mums are doing exactly the same thing with their babies around the world”. Sounds corny, but it’s really true and in my dopey state it took ages for me to comprehend so at least it gave me something to think about!
I found the physical rehab resources on the Nourish app the most useful. I was desperate to get back to exercising and was confused with what was going on with my body so these really helped me understand how to start moving again safely.
I remember the first week home from the hospital with each of my three babies, and barely sleeping a wink. But I didn’t really feel the exhaustion then, as I’m sure the adrenaline off the back of their births and the deliciousness of the new baby bubble, saw me through. However, by week eight, the lack of sleep hit me like a ton of bricks and that’s when it really started to affect my ability to get through each day.
When you’re sleep deprived, just doing normal daily tasks feels like wading through thick mud. Your mind slows and you can’t think clearly. My memory was foggy and I continually made small mistakes, like endlessly misplacing my keys or forgetting to get the food out of the freezer for dinner. But worst of all, I found it very difficult to regulate my emotions. I felt incredibly irritable at everyone around me and would regularly snap at my family, or dissolve into floods of tears without reason. But rather than rest to try and combat the exhaustion, I feared the symptoms were a sign I wasn’t coping, so fought harder to continue as normal in a bid to prove I wasn’t failing. And so the vicious circle began until I wore myself down so much I was diagnosed with postnatal depression.
When you become sleep deprived you have to rest. None of my babies were brilliant sleepers, and the cumulative effects of regular night wakings meant that for a period of time I just couldn’t continue as normal, no matter how much I wanted to. And that was more than OK. Being kind to myself, and becoming less judgmental, was the key to climbing my way out of the sleep-deprived hole that I found myself in.
Gemma's top tips
It’s not always easy to sleep when the baby does, but you can rest. Ignore the temptation to do a “Challenge Anneka” style tidy of the kitchen during naptime and prioritise this time for you instead. Read the book that’s collecting dust on your bookshelf, flick through your favourite magazine or catch up on some guilt free TV. Whatever it is, ensure you switch off and I promise you’ll feel calmer and more ready to face whatever family life throws at you.
Give yourself an early bedtime at least once a week. My youngest is 21 months and even now I regularly head to bed straight after putting the kids down. Put on your favourite PJs, slaver on the face cream you never use, and watch some TV before hitting the hay nice and early. It doesn’t sound too rock ‘n’ roll, but these are some of my favourite nights and before you know it you’ll be paying off some of that sleep debt and feeling much better.
Most importantly, ask for help. From your partner, family and friends. Take the night in shifts to ensure you get a good block of sleep. Ask family or friends to help out during the day with childcare or housework. Treat yourself with kindness and compassion. If you need to rely on ready meals for a few weeks, so what? Relinquish the guilt and accept help when offered.
I absolutely love the coping skills catalogue on the Nourish app, particularly the mantras by @suzyreading. These are a great way to interrupt those negative thoughts and find a moment of calm when you’re feeling sleep deprived and frazzled. If you’re suffering from insomnia or difficulty switching off at bedtime, there is also a great section on relaxation and mantras for sleep.
Sleep deprivation was brutal and the truth is I couldn’t ever imagine a time I would get a full nights sleep ever again! I remember the first feeling to arise was resentment, with a whole narrative about how they ‘should’ be sleeping through, or managing teething pain, not hungry or xyz. Then would come frustration when it wasn’t obvious why they were awake, and I didn’t feel equipped to get them back to sleep. Finally would come resignation and I would settle into a cuddle or rocking or whatever I needed to do to get them back to sleep - but unfortunately by then I would be so agitated I couldn’t get back to sleep!!
My girls were born 13 months apart, and just had this incredible knack of taking it in turns to wake up, either through the course of a night or they would cleverly alternate nights. For a period of roughly two years, I was irritable, prone to anger, easily overwhelmed and just found myself unable to manage your basic day to day stuff.
I didn’t really cope very well at the time. I wasn’t very good at taking naps when they did, or resting. I just tried to keep going. In hindsight I would have gone to bed earlier and rested more during the day but my self-care was woefully lacking in those days!
Jo's top tips
Really acknowledge how tired you are and how brutal it is to be woken from sleep and have to tend to someone else. Allow yourself to rest during the day if you can, and try your best to get into bed early. Ask friends, family, neighbours to help out for a bit if you need to get some time for yourself.
Even more importantly, find time in the day to create space for yourself to calm your nervous system, so when you do go to bed you are not too agitated and you can fall asleep more easily. A body scan meditation is great for this, especially right before bed. You can find the Body Scan together with Deep Rest Nidra and Full Body Relaxation on the Nourish app.
Don’t believe that there is anything you have done in the day to cause your kid not to sleep, it’s not a science and most of the time it’s totally out of your hands! That might help you to be more relaxed during the day and not to be too hard on yourself.
And remember the golden rule: This too will pass! You will one day in the future sleep through the whole night and this time will be but a distant memory. I promise!
I’m a mum of two kids under four and I feel like I haven’t slept properly for the last four years. Seriously. I had insomnia through both pregnancies from around five months so my sleep routine was affected early on. I wish I was someone who could get by with six or seven hours sleep but I’m not. I need a solid nine hours to feel human. The sleep deprivation that comes with having children has been the hardest thing to deal with. Sometimes it feels like a form of torture. There is no ‘normal’ for us when it comes to sleep. Some nights both kids sleep through and it is glorious; other nights they will both refuse to go to sleep, have meltdowns in the night, wet the bed, demand cuddles at 3am, crawl into our bed and wake up at 5am. It’s utterly exhausting. The days feel long and my patience levels are low. I tend to be grumpy and snap at my husband over nothing if it’s been a bad night.
We’ve learnt a few coping techniques, although they don’t work all the time. We take it in turns to get up through the night and alternate who does the early shift in the mornings. Personally I find it hard to get back into a deep sleep once everyone’s awake, but I make the most of the chance to have some quiet time and stay in bed. If I’m the one up at 5am with the kids, I have two things that get me through: tea and TV. I’m not ashamed to admit Peppa Pig and Postman Pat play early in our house. The kids will happily sit and watch TV for that first 30 minutes and it gives me time to have a cup of tea, curl up on the sofa and wake up properly. I just need that time to get myself in to mum-mode. Then we’ll play games or read books together until my husband appears. We swap at that point.
If it’s a weekend, I force myself to go for a run. Most of the time I’d prefer not to but I always feel better when I’ve been out in the fresh air, had some space and done some exercise. We’ve also learnt to incorporate naptime in to our weekends and plan activities around it. Midday is now the chance for us all to have some down time. It’s limiting sometimes and means we don’t have full days out often, but we find we need that time to reset. We all do.
When we have bad nights during the week, I allow myself an hour sometimes to have a nap if I’m working at home. Otherwise, I find I’m completely unproductive. The weekdays I’m home with the kids, I try to sleep when they nap. I used to have that time to do jobs around the house or work, but I’m a much happier and nicer mummy if I have a nap with them. My lifestyle has completely changed since having kids. I go out once a week with friends if I can and sometimes to yoga. I tend to say no to late evenings because I know getting through the next day isn’t worth staying up late for. The priority these days is always sleep.
Sara's top tips
Find a self-care ritual that works for you. I’m a big believer in taking time for you. I know it may seem impossible to take time when the to-do list is never-ending but you really need to. It’s always possible to make time and put yourself first. When you’re sleep deprived, overtired, anxious, stressed or overwhelmed, this is actually the time you benefit most from taking time to yourself.
Now I religiously carve out time to be at home and do things just for me. I call it Monday me-time as I tend to do it on Monday evenings after the kids are asleep. I use that time to press pause, forget about the washing and the endless jobs, and really just focus on relaxing. I choose mood-boosting activities like having a bath with a scented candle, listening to a podcast, reading a book or magazine, giving myself a facial, watching my favourite film or sometimes just having an early night. Choose something that makes you feel good and most importantly, makes you feel like ‘you.’
I love the meditations on @thenourishapp from Mindfulness Expert Nikki Wilson @tenofzen. 10 minutes of zen is the perfect way to relax and feel calm. Nikki has such a soothing voice and I could listen to her for hours. I listen to this whenever I’m feeling stressed and overwhelmed with exhaustion. If you do one thing today, make time to listen to Nikki’s ‘relax in to your body’ meditation. It will soothe your mind, help you relax and really boost your mood.
Sleep deprivation: for anyone that has suffered with it, you'll know only too well the effect it can have on your mental health. Chronic sleep deprivation for 2.5 years with my son was the catalyst for my PND & brought my mental health crashing down. So what do you say to a mother who is struggling with sleep? How might your words effect her? Here's some (fairly honest) home truths from me...
Back then, meeting up with mums I knew usually lead to the subject of sleep. Whilst I was teary eyed & shaking from the physical and mental weight of it all, the mum would think it helpful to tell me how brilliantly their child slept, "He's been sleeping through the night for months", "He still naps for two hours". Firstly, I'm really pleased you're not going through the nights my family are having. I wouldn't wish it on anyone. But I wish you hadn't just told me that. My day just got a little harder and the dread I have for tonight is now weighing heavy on my mind. I can't begin to describe the anxiety these comments cause - the tightness in the chest. The physical heartache and longing for just a few hours uninterrupted. The frustration. The guilt, The shame. The relentlessness of it all. Please celebrate your sleep wins with a mother that gets it. Not with a mother who longs for it.
Secondly, I know it comes from a good place, but a desperate mother has tried every trick, gadget, routine and read every book on sleep ever written. What a sleep deprived mother needs isn't sleep advice. Please refrain from giving it unless she specifically asks for it. Everyone has an opinion. This only adds to her exhaustion. What she needs is space to breathe. Space to be heard. Space to feel angry, sad, frustrated. Space to feel normal.