When you bring your newborn home from the hospital, you know that those long lie-ins on a Sunday and 10-hour kips will be long gone.
But the sleep deprivation in that first year of having a child, may be far greater than you expected.
“Fragmented sleep for weeks, if not months, following the birth of a baby can leave new mums feeling bad tempered, tearful, forgetful and depressed,” Lisa Artis, from the British Sleep Council told HuffPost UK Parents.
“Sleep is as critical to a healthy lifestyle as diet and exercise and lack of sleep leads to reduced energy levels, poor concentration and memory, mood changes as well as health problems.”
Rachel Burrows from parenting site Netmums told HuffPost UK Parents: “Looking after young children can be tough, but when you’re sleep deprived and exhausted it can be a serious struggle.
“Medical experts have shown lack of sleep affects almost every function from eyesight and brain processing, to mood and appetite – so if you are tired cut yourself some slack and recognise things won’t be perfect.”
Artis said there is no “ideal quota” for hours per night, although seven to eight hours is the norm. However she emphasises that it’s not as simple as “one size fits all”.
“The best way to determine if you’re getting enough sleep is to look at how you feel the next day,” she said.
“Being tired doesn’t mean you’ve not had enough sleep. However if you feel sleepy, exhausted and unable to function then chances are you are not sleeping well.”
Burrows said parents should remember it doesn’t last forever: “Try to keep your situation in perspective and realise no matter how hard it is, it’s just a phase and it won’t last forever.
“When your children are teenagers you’ll struggle to get them out of bed – so you can lie in all you like then!”
How to cope with sleep deprivation
1. Deep breathing techniques
You might be in the situation where even when your baby is sleeping, you struggle to nod off yourself.
Whether it is anxieties about being a mother, or just thinking about the million of other things you could be doing, Artis advises doing deep breathing techniques to help you calm down.
“If your mind doesn’t stop buzzing, write your thoughts down,” she added.
2. Adjust the environment you’re in
“If you’re having difficulty actually getting to sleep, one of the first things to look at is your bedroom,” Artis said.
“You need the right environment to get a good night’s sleep and that means a bedroom that’s cool, quiet and dark.
“It may be worth considering investing in dimmer light to avoid bright light waking you up.
“Make sure the room is gadget free and your bed is comfortable. It’s difficult to get deep, restful sleep on one that’s too soft, too hard, too small or too old.”
3. Adjust your thinking, too
It’s mind over matter (as the old saying goes), so if you’re constantly thinking negatively about your baby not sleeping, and yourself not getting enough sleep, it will make it even worse.
“No matter how tired you are, it pays to remember that babies are programmed to wake up in the night,” suggested Burrows.
“It’s nature – it’s unlikely you are doing anything wrong.”
She also suggests that a case of the green-eyed monster when your other friends babies are sleeping through the night can make sleep deprivation seem even worse.
“Stop wishing your baby would snooze for longer and take each night as it comes, rather than putting extra pressure on yourself to get on a schedule.
“Find a friend who is as sleep deprived as you and make a pact to be there to support each other when the going gets tough, as having someone to relate to can be a great morale booster.”
4. Mummy “me” time
Don’t underestimate the power of rest. Not necessarily sleep, but rest.
Artis said winding down with a warm bath, a good book, or listening to music is a good routine to have, whether it’s before you head off to the land of nod, or when you have some time to yourself.
5. Eat for energy
When you’re super tired, cooking proper meals can feel like too much hassle, but Burrows said making the extra effort to have a healthy, nutritionally balanced diet can work wonders for your energy levels.
“Avoid high carb or sugary foods that give you that mid-morning/afternoon crash and try not to eat so you’re full,” advised Artis.
“Excess eating leaves you sleepy. Ditch the chocolate and crisps and keep healthy, easy-to-eat snacks around such as nuts, fresh fruit or raw vegetables.
“And stay hydrated: Being dehydrated can make you feel sleepy and dizzy so keep a cold bottle of water to drink close by.”
6. Sleep when your baby sleeps, or just make the most of nap time
Artis said a 20 minute power nap can give you “as much energy as two cups of strong coffee, but the effects are longer lasting”, and she suggests trying to take naps when your baby sleeps.
But if that’s not possible, you should still make the most of your baby’s nap time.
“If you can’t nod off – no matter how tired you are – do something that helps you unwind such as having a bubble bath or vegging out in front of the TV,” suggests Burrows.
“This will provide the rest you crave – the dishes can wait!”
7. Take help when it’s offered
“Don’t try to be Supermum and do it all yourself,” said Burrows. “If your partner – or a trusted friend or family member – offers to look after your baby, so you can grab some sleep, the accept the offer.
“You’ll cope much more easily after some rest and even a 30 minute nap can help refresh you.”
8. Go outside
Stepping outside where there is fresh air and natural daylight will make you more alert and is a good distraction, Artis explained.
She said: “Expose yourself to natural daylight. Your body’s internal clock (its circadian rhythms) is regulated by your exposure to sunlight. This means you can trick your body into believing it should be awake even when it feels tired.”
It’s also worth noting that keeping cool is another way to stay more alert. This can be done by going outside or splashing your face and running your wrists under cold water.
And coping with sleep stealers…
New mums and dads also suffer from sleep stealers – those annoying niggles in your mind that are constantly stopping you from relaxing and drifting off.
Artis suggested the following cures for each sleep steal…
Fear you won’t hear your baby cry.
“Mums tend to be attuned to their baby’s crying and as a mum-of-two, trust me you will hear your baby cry. However if you are concerned you won’t hear them, buy a baby monitor and keep it near you.”
Piles of laundry to do.
“Accept that some things won’t get done. Housework should take a back seat. Remember it’s more important to sleep and be able to look after your baby’s needs than it is to do the washing or hoovering!”
Endless visitors to host.
“Everyone wants to visit when you bring your newborn home but be firm and make sure you stagger visitors. Your welfare, and the baby’s, comes first. Use the visitors to your advantage too and accept their offers to help.”
“Sleep loss can lead to mood changes and new mums are at risk of baby blues or the more serious postnatal depression. It’s normal to feel emotional after the initial few days but if you continue to experience these symptoms, talk to your doctor to address them. Mood changes may be made worse by sleep deprivation.”
Older children to look after.
“If this is your second, third or fourth child, the reality of ‘sleeping when the baby does’ is out of the question. So instead why not factor in some quiet time with your other child/children. It’s a good opportunity to spend some one-on-one time with them doing something a little more relaxing, like reading together.”
If there’s one thing to remember, it’s that one day your child will sleep through the night and, although you probably will regret admitting it, you may even miss those 3am cuddles…