by Narelle King
About to become a mum? How exciting! There are so many amazing new things that come with newborns. It comes with some pretty big challenges too, one of which is the rollercoaster of change to your sleep. Strap yourself in, it’s time to get prepared for changes to your sleep, and learn how to maximize your Zzzz’s in those first few months.
It can be a huge adjustment to get your head around having little control over the amount of sleep you get each night. It’s something you can't get around, and have to accept there are going to be some big changes. Newborns wake throughout the night, so you need to adjust to getting up throughout the night and having your sleep broken up. It takes a few months for your newborn to establish a day-night cycle. This can be the trickiest stage for new mums. You might be used to a daily routine, staying on top of your housework, meal prep, socializing or taking time out for you. Routines go out the window with newborns, but that doesn’t mean saying goodbye to self-care.
With a new baby, I found myself sacrificing sleep for more time. It was a quick-fix, but the lack of sleep created more problems than it solved. But why is sleep so important, and what can you do to maximise quality sleep as a new mum?
When you sleep, your body goes into recovery mode. A good night's sleep leaves you revitalized and well prepared for the next day. It can help with mood regulation and maximizing social experiences. Good sleep even helps you consolidate memories and behaviours. If you skip out on good sleep, you’re not giving your brain the chance to put everything together from your day.
A lack of sleep has physical impacts beyond just low energy levels. It can raise your core body temperature, leading to physical problems like inflammation-related conditions, autoimmune disease and allergies. It can weaken your immune system, leaving you susceptible to bugs. Lack of sleep contributes negatively to mental wellbeing and anxiety. It makes overcoming the challenges of a newborn baby much harder.
There’s no quick-fix for getting sleep as a new mum. But while your priorities have to change, your health and wellbeing is still an important priority. A little bit of quality sleep goes a long way during those first few months. Here’s some ways to do it:
You might feel like you have a million things to do and they should get done when your baby is asleep. It’s very tempting to try and do chores, wash dishes, do laundry and clean floors when your baby is asleep. One thing I’ve learnt is to accept that your house might not be perfect, or you might have to put off some items on your to-do list. Sleep and self-care is more important!
It's OK to have some sleep when your baby does, because once they are up, you have to be up too. Broken sleep is better than none, and naps can help you catch up on some sleep. While the easiest and best sleep time is overnight, taking any window during the day to catch up on lost sleep will really help. Early afternoon is a great time of the day when your body naturally wants to go to sleep.
Sleep during the day doesn’t come naturally to all of us. Make sure your bedroom is set up for sleep – blocking out light with heavy drapes helps, as does making it quiet and comfortable. Eye masks and ear plugs are a cheap way to block out light and loud background noise. Keep your phone off, or at least out of arm's reach, so you're not tempted to distract yourself from sleep.
Create your own sleep ritual. It can be hard to turn on and off sleep to fit your newborns schedule. While your sleep ritual may have to be flexible, it’s still a great way to get your body ready to rest. One or two hours before you plan to go to bed, start by turning off your phone and TV and dimming the lights. Do relaxing activities away from screens like having a bath, reading a book or listening to calming music.
You can build cues that your body associates with sleep. This can be an activity, music, lighting or a relaxing scent. Use the power of essential oils to create a relaxing atmosphere. It’s also a way to begin to associate the relaxing scent with bedtime. When you smell lavender, your body will subconsciously begin to wind down. You’ll be off to sleep in no time!
Your food intake can make a big difference to your sleep. Maintaining a healthy diet can seem like a huge challenge as a new mum, but there are little things you can do to improve your health. Try not to substitute sleep with food. When you can, take the opportunity to get that quality energy from sleep. Food can’t replace that energy.
A big challenge is to watch your sugar intake. If you tend to rely on sugar hits to get you through the day, start replacing your sugary snacks with more energy-efficient snacks like nuts, yoghurt and whole foods. This is particularly important in the afternoon and evening. You don’t want a sugar-high stopping you from getting to sleep!
Stop having caffeine after 12. Caffeine can make your mind more active when it’s time to switch off. When the productive part of your day is over, give your body a rest and leave the caffeine for another time.
If you love to be as organized and efficient as I do, this step can be hard. I know asking, or accepting, help from others may feel challenging. You don’t have to go through the big changes of new motherhood alone, there are plenty of people to help you with the adjustment. Whether that’s family, friends or outside help, it can free up some time for you to take care of yourself. If your body is screaming out for sleep, but you can’t find the opportunity to rest, someone else might be able to free up that opportunity for you. I’m sure they’d love to help.
Nidra Yoga is a sleep-based, conscious guided meditation. Don’t let the word yoga put you off! There are no yoga poses or physical exertion. You’re lying in a comfortable position and covered with a blanket. Your body sleeps while your mind is awake taking in the guided instructions. It’s complete REST for both your mind and body. You get all the benefits of meditation, as well as sleep.
Yoga Nidra encourages rest by using breathing, triggering the relaxation response. Your nervous system is calmed and your thoughts slowed down. The hormone serotonin is released to help you feel more relaxed. Practicing Yoga Nidra for just 20-minutes is the equivalent rest of an extra 2 hours of sleep. Getting to sleep and staying asleep is also improved with a regular Yoga Nidra practice. It can be a great tool to have as a new mum, and can be used any time when you have a few minutes to yourself!
Yoga is known to be a relaxing, healthy and spiritual practice that can improve flexibility and strength. As a new mum, it can be a way to take time for yourself and reconnect with yourself. Yin Yoga is a quiet practice that slows down movement and focuses on a spiritual connection with your mind and body. Instead of flowing through active movements, Yin Yoga involves holding deep poses for longer periods of time. A pose may last a minute or two, or even up to 5 minutes.
By slowing down your mind and body during Yin Yoga, you are gifting your body with gratitude and relaxation. Yin Yoga releases stress, worry and unease. This can have lasting benefits with your mental wellbeing, well beyond the end of the practice.
Yin Yoga is also physical. By holding deep strengths, your body’s tissues lengthen and release, leaving your muscles feeling as though they have been relaxed or massaged. This practice can improve your range of motion and help strengthen and heal reoccurring injuries. The deep breathing you’ll learn during the practice is also a powerful trigger for the parasympathetic nervous system. This is connected to a number of benefits including improved blood pressure, digestion, sleep and immune function. What better tool to have as a new mum?
Interested in exploring yoga nidra and yin yoga practices? Why not try from the comfort of home over 5 days with Simply Happy? Only 10 minutes each day when it suits you. No experience needed and safe for new mums to try. You can slow down, relax and rest using Yin Yoga shapes & nidra yoga recording. Click here for the link.
Narelle King is a mum to two children, wellness coach and Yin & Nidra Yoga instructor for Simply Happy. She helps mums to implement routines to save them time so they can start to use tools like Yin & Nidra Yoga to help them rest and heal from constantly living in stress mode.