Tak­ing baby steps to cope with par­ent­hood

Sleep­less nights can be part and par­cel of par­ent­hood — but ev­ery lit­tle helps when it comes to top­ping up on rest, says Liz Con­nor

Irish Examiner - Feelgood - - Health -

EX­PERTS fre­quently ad­vise that we aim to get eight hours of shut-eye per night, but if you have a new­born, it can be nor­mal to go weeks or even months with­out get­ting more than a few hours of un­bro­ken sleep at a time.

“Just like reg­u­lar ex­er­cise and a healthy diet, sleep helps the body to func­tion,” says Ana Noia, se­nior clin­i­cal phys­i­ol­o­gist in neu­ro­phys­i­ol­ogy and sleep.

A good night’s sleep im­proves your abil­ity to learn, re­duces men­tal fa­tigue, and helps form mem­o­ries in your brain, says Noia.

But, hav­ing the best in­ten­tions in the world isn’t nec­es­sar­ily much help for new par­ents, with de­mand­ing lit­tle ones in the mix. So what can they do to help en­sure they get as much sleep as pos­si­ble?

Here are six sleep tips for new par­ents...

1. Sleep when your baby sleeps

A good way to make up for lost slum­ber is to try and sneak in pock­ets of rest when your baby set­tles. “If you’re at home and your baby is napping, try to lie down as well,” says Noia.

“Power-napping could help you recharge your bat­ter­ies, boost your mood and re­duce stress lev­els. Try to nap for 20 min­utes, as this will help im­prove your alert­ness and mood.”

Any longer than this and Noia warns that you may hit the deeper stages of sleep, mak­ing you feel more grog- gy when you wake up.

“It might be tempt­ing to make a start on the house­work, but there re­ally is no need to rush around the house fran­ti­cally while your lit­tle one is hav­ing a nap,” says Dani Bin­ning­ton, who runs the well­be­ing web­site healthy­w­holeme.com.

“There’s al­ways a wash to put on and bins to empty — es­pe­cially with a new baby around — but re­mem­ber: These chores are nowhere near as im­por­tant as look­ing af­ter your well­be­ing.”

2. Ad­just your bed­time

Keep a sleep di­ary mon­i­tor­ing your child’s rest­ing pat- terns through­out the day.

“If your child is an early riser, bring your own bed­time ear­lier to help you get more sleep,” says Noia.“For ex­am­ple, if your child wakes up around 6am, try ad­just­ing your bed­time to around 10pm.”

Bin­ning­ton adds: “Re­search sug­gests that ev­ery hour spent asleep be­fore mid­night is worth two hours spent asleep af­ter mid­night. So, don’t worry about get­ting back to your old sleep rou­tine — go to bed early in­stead for bet­ter qual­ity sleep. And if you strug­gle to nod off, try plug­ging your­self into a med­i­ta­tion app or do­ing some guided mind­ful­ness ex­er­cises, as this can re­ally help dis­tract you from any nig­gling parental wor­ries that are on your mind.”

3. Go for morn­ing walks

If you’re strug­gling to keep your eyes open dur­ing the day­time, get­ting out­doors could be the key to stay­ing awake un­til you’re next able to get some rest.

“Try tak­ing reg­u­lar walks to get some fresh air, as sun­light in the morn­ing [dur­ing spring and sum­mer months] pro­vides vi­ta­min D that will help to keep you alert dur­ing the day,” says Noia.

“When it comes to food, stick to lighter meals and snacks, as these are less likely to make you feel drowsy or af­fect your alert­ness.”

4. Im­prove your en­vi­ron­ment

Rest­ing in a cool, dark room with no dis­trac­tions can help you drift off quickly when you’re sleep­ing be­tween feeds.

“Try to get as com­fort­able as pos­si­ble and power down your phone for an hour be­fore bed, as the blue light emit­ted from your screen can keep you awake,” says Noia. “If you find your­self awake in the night with your baby, avoid switch­ing on your dig­i­tal de­vices and keep any light in the room to a min­i­mum.”

5. Ask for sup­port if you need it

When you be­come a par­ent, it’s tempt­ing to put on a brave face and avoid show­ing any signs of ‘weak­ness’, for fear of crit­i­cism or feel­ing like a fail­ure — but par­ent­hood is chal­leng­ing and a huge learn­ing curve, and it’s al­ways a good idea to seek help if your sleep is­sues are be­com­ing a bur­den.

“While feel­ing tired is nor­mal dur­ing the early days of par­ent­hood, if it is pre­vent­ing you from car­ry­ing out day-to-day tasks and af­fect­ing your qual­ity of life, you should speak with your GP,” ad­vises Noia. “They can dis­cuss your sleep­ing habits and give you prac­ti­cal ad­vice so­lu­tions.”

6. Don’t set un­re­al­is­tic ex­pec­ta­tions

New par­ents have a lot of plates to spin; as well as car­ing for baby, you might feel pres­sure to keep up friend­ships, get back into shape, or mon­i­tor work emails — but tak­ing too much on can quickly lead to burnout.

“Don’t add on un­nec­es­sary stresses when you’re al­ready suf­fer­ing from sleep de­pri­va­tion,” says Bin­ning­ton. “You’ll be back to your full rou­tines soon enough, but un­til then, just al­low your­self to lis­ten to what your body is telling you to do — and that’s usu­ally to rest up.”

Pic­ture: PA

BABY ON­BOARD: If you’re strug­gling to keep your eyes open dur­ing the day­time get­ting out­doors could be the key to stay­ing awake un­til you’re next able to get some rest.

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