4-step sleep recovery plan for exhausted parents
Updated: Jan 11
Sleeping difficulties and insomnia postnatally and throughout parenthood are very common. We go through such a huge life change: hormonally, emotionally, relationally, financially…. everything changes, pretty much over night. That’s enough to lose your sleep over, let alone the physical demands of feeding and consoling your baby through the night, and endless early mornings.
I remember when my daughter was about 4 months old, we took a trip to Sweden in the depth of winter for a friend’s wedding. The night before the flight, I lay awake all night with the most agonising toothache, which ended up in a root canal. I was so worried about whether I should go to Sweden or not, with my daughter, and what to do about my tooth, I was losing hour upon hour of important sleep. The whole thing was just too much to deal with!
The next morning I got on the plane like a zombie, unable to make a rational decision about what I should do at that moment. Prioritising my own health and mental health didn’t seem like a possibility. I didn’t have the strength to make that decision, so I just continued as planned.
I came back from the wedding that night very, very early - as soon as I could - to be with my baby. As she slept in her cot, I lay awake staring at the ceiling, overwhelmed with love for her and unable to get a moment of shut eye to soften the experience.
Step-by-step sleep recovery when you are running on empty
It wasn’t until I hit rock bottom that I was able to finally prioritise sleep and rest in the way that I needed to. I had to set about re-building my sleep and recovering my energy brick-by-brick.
Here are the things that massively helped me: yoga nidra and changing my attitude to what it means to be productive, effective and valuable.
1. Yoga Nidra
Yoga nidra really worked for me. I think it was the fact that I was doing something while doing nothing at all - a win-win situation! Being an over-active, over-thinker, the idea of taking naps has always been an anomaly to me and some forms of meditation make me fidgety.
Yoga nidra made sense to me, it was only positive: it took me from a wired to rested state, without me needing to do anything, and met my exact needs for effortless recovery.
In a very practical way, in the short term, the yoga nidra soothed me when I woke up at 5am, following vivid, anxious nightmares, and couldn't get back to sleep. It gave me something for my busy mind to hook onto, while it relaxed by body and helped me let go of all that tension I was holding onto.
What I most appreciated about yoga nidra at that time was there was no pressure to get it ‘right’. There was also the realisation that whatever my experience, whether I fell asleep or not, I was getting some rest just by listening and that would benefit not only me but also my family
Yoga nidra helped me to fill up my cup so that I was able to care for myself and for others. When we are deeply exhausted and depleted, it can be a challenge to know where to begin. Yoga nidra gave me the rest and recovery that I needed to be able to ask for help, to be able to recover and to be able to respond effectively to the situation.
2. Revisiting my beliefs
Ultimately, I realised that I had to take a long hard look at some of the beliefs that I'd been carrying with me so far. I had to lower the expectations I had set for myself and let go of my to-do list. I had to remember that it’s ok to look after myself, and that at this moment in time, it’s actually essential that I do so. I had to tune into my own intuition and try to put comparison to one side.
3. Prioritising rest
When my second child was born I was determined not to fall back into the same hole as the first time and to keep on the positive path I had found.
In the first months, I made it an absolute priority every day to do a yoga nidra practice during his first nap time. One thing that really helped me to commit to this was to not have a cup of tea until after the practice. This somehow extended my morning until after the practice and gave me a ritual to celebrate my daily practice with. Instead of my day beginning at 5.30am or 6am, it began at 10am once he had had a nap. I’d done my yoga nidra and had a much deserved cup of tea.
4. Understanding sleep
Sleep is one of the most natural and nourishing things that we can do for ourselves, but is often so unappealing! When we have a problem to solve, we want to work hard to figure it out rather than going to bed. When we’ve been taking care of others all day, we want to stay up late, not have an early night. It doesn’t feel nourishing, it feels inconvenient.
But, what I love about sleep is that it gives us back in buckets what we offer in spades. Small adjustments to our daily routine really do help us sleep better and just a bit more sleep can truly transform our experience of parenting and life in general.
Some of the quick wins and essentials for getting a good night’s sleep include: cutting back on screen time, taking a moment to process your day and unwind before your head hits the pillow, creating an evening routine, practicing sleep mantras - all of these little things add up.
Once I had recovered some energy using these practices, I could set about putting other bits of my life back into place: healthier habits, new attitude, accepting big emotions, an evolving sense of self and talking to others about what I was going through.
We all react very differently to motherhood and I know that not everyone goes through what I did, but I also know from talking to many parents about those early day, many did but they didn’t always share or know where to go for help. I’m honoured when I can be there to support people when they need it.
About the author
Dot Zacharias is a mother of two, Integrative Adult Sleep Coach, iRest Meditation teacher (a modern form of yoga nidra) and Co-Active Life Coach. She offers 1-2-1 sleep coaching and yoga nidra through Restfully and via The Nourish App.
Dot specialises in helping busy parents recover from sleep deprivation and to get their sleep back on track as soon as possible. Her approach is to combine sleep science, psychology, coaching and the restorative, healing benefits of iRest yoga nidra.
On the Nourish app, Dot offers meditations to calm the nervous system, to take a relaxing break, to fall asleep and reconnect with yourself. Download the Nourish app today!