5 ways to beat sleep deprivation (without getting any more sleep)

"In my pre-baby days, I thought sleep deprivation was limited to the newborn haze of the first few weeks. Ha!"
"In my pre-baby days, I thought sleep deprivation was limited to the newborn haze of the first few weeks. Ha!" Photo: Getty Images

It's no secret new mothers are tired. But in my pre-baby days, I thought sleep deprivation was limited to the newborn haze of the first few weeks. Ha!

There's no failsafe way to get 8 hours sleep (sorry) and no substitute. But here are five things other busy mums do to feel more rested.

Start your day with solar power

Gold Coast mum Kym Campradt successfully juggles multiple roles – as Mum, Health Information Manager, and freelance writer. She relies on fresh air and sunlight to lift her energy.

"Sunlight helps to refresh my mind and makes me feel less tired. When my babies were small, the first thing we did was go for a walk in the sunshine to the shops to pick up a loaf of bread. This helped set my mood for the day. As they have grown, I have now found that sitting in a sunny spot for a few minutes, tends to help my mind feel fresher, sharper and more able to cope with the rest of the day."

Kym wasn't just imagining it - sunlight regulates our melatonin. Getting sunlight early in the morning tells our bodies when to turn this "sleep hormone" off, and when to turn it back on. This keeps us alert during the day and helps us fall asleep quickly at night.

The flip side is that we need to avoid artificial night at light to nod off easily. TV, tablets and smart phones can all suppress our melatonin and keep us awake.

Use shortcuts to good nutrition

As well as being a mum, Fiona Sutherland is a Melbourne dietitian and co-director of Body Positive Australia. She believes in - and practises - prioritising good nutrition for yourself, just as you do for bub. "Your nutrition doesn't need to be perfect but makes a difference to energy levels when you need every little bit."

Nutritious food replaces nutrients lost during pregnancy and breastfeeding. It also pays to go for unprocessed, low-glycaemic index foods. When you're busy and tired it's tempting to throw a toasted sandwich or a chocolate biscuit in your mouth. But after raising your blood sugar and your energy, these fast-digesting foods soon cause them to crash.

Fortunately, healthy foods can be easy. Fiona says that if anyone offers a meal, accept it instantly and enthusiastically. She cooks extra for lunch the next day or to pop in the freezer, and swears by her slow cooker. "It saves lots of time and energy and you can make a range of delicious meals which can then be frozen for an extra meal." You can also use your freezer to stock vegetables and berries which can make an almost instant stir-fry or smoothie.

On days when shopping is as appealing as climbing Mt Everest, Fiona has fresh food brought to her door. "Thank god for fresh produce and supermarket home delivery, that's all I can say!"

Look after your own bedtime routine

You've read stacks of advice about getting your baby to sleep but don't forget to soothe yourself. We all sleep better with a consistent routine. It might include a cup of herbal tea, a few stretches, reading a novel, writing in a journal or listening to relaxing music.

Also consider your sleeping environment. "I always focus on getting better quality sleep through creating a great sleeping environment....so at least I know that the sleep I AM getting is deep and restful," says Adelaide mum Sarah Hausler, a women's health occupational therapist at Bloom Wellbeing.

Sarah creates a cool, dark and quiet space, with no electronic devices in her bedroom and the household wi-fi turned off. "I call it sleeping like cave woman." Make your own room a cave with an eye mask, block out curtains, a white noise machine or air-conditioning.

Do nothing for two minutes

The baby's asleep so now you can tidy up. Or not!  It's a law of motherhood that kids wake up as soon as you stop cleaning to rest. Instead, make it a habit to do something restorative for yourself the minute they go down.

For Melbourne mother Bec Derrington and founder of SourceBottle, a quick break means turning on the kettle. "Whether it's physiological or psychological, a strong cup of tea always helps me push through," she says. You can even combine your cup of tea with the benefits of sunlight by sipping it outside.

Other ways to take a break when you don't have time include mindfulness exercises. Sit with closed eyes and see how many different sounds you can count (you'll be surprised). Or open your eyes and count the number of different shades of blue, or green, around you. If you like yoga, hold one or two restorative poses, like "legs up the wall" or child's pose.

Reset your expectations

Knowing sleep deprivation is normal makes it easier to bear. "I dealt with it by reminding myself that it was such a short period in my life and that it would pass...which it did!" says Rachel Writes, who juggles motherhood while helping other mums work from home.

Most importantly, follow the golden rule of parenting - don't expect to be able to do it alone. Accept and ask for help. Sometimes you'll need practical help, but often it's just someone to remind you that exhaustion is ALWAYS replaced by overwhelming joy. Eventually.

Need more help?

In extreme cases, sleep deprivation can contribute to depression, anxiety and relationship problems. If you are finding it hard to cope, or believe your child's sleep issues are outside of the normal range, see your GP. 

You can also call the Pregnancy, Birth and Baby helpline for free, 24 hour advice and support from qualified counsellors on 1800 882 436.

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