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Handling Your Mental Health With Limited Sleep

Updated: Apr 29, 2022

by Sophie Harris Pregnancy & Postpartum Psychotherapist

Having a new baby can bring so much joy to your life. However, you are likely to experience some really tough times too. Most parents will agree that long term lack of sleep is one of the biggest problems you may face during the newborn stage. Research shows that lack of sleep is a major contributor to postpartum mood conditions such as postpartum anxiety and depression.

Being responsive to your baby's needs is generally a 24-hour job. This responsiveness is likely to be beneficial for both you and your baby in the long term. Unfortunately, during this baby phase, lack of sleep may contribute to you not feeling like yourself, and often you may struggle with your mental health.

Sleepless nights can leave you feeling lonely and isolated. You may feel exhausted from being awake for long periods during the night and tired out 'out of it' all day. This means that you can feel more prone to being anxious or irritable.

As a Pregnancy & Postpartum Psychotherapist, I help new mums navigate the more challenging times whilst managing long-term lack of sleep. In this post, I will share with you some helpful ways to look after your mental health whilst still meeting your baby's needs.

Tip #1 - Accept average in other areas of your life.

What you are going through is huge. No one is meant to function on little sleep for such a long time. But we do! Therefore you must go easy on yourself in the other areas of your life. It is ok to 'get by' for a while.

Try asking yourself what shortcuts you can take in other areas of your life?

What support is available to you?

Perhaps you may have a friend or family member who could come and spend a few hours supporting you each week. This can help you get the crucial rest you need. Alternatively, you could invest in a meal delivery scheme. Or you may be able to hire a professional cleaner to help.

It is important to allow your standards to drop in other areas of your life. Your house may be messy. Your laundry piles are likely to be high for a while. You might not be able to make as much effort for friends during this time.

It is okay to be average for a while and accept support.

Tip #2 - Be kind to yourself.

When you inevitably can't meet the high standards in other areas of your life, give yourself compassion. It may be easy to beat yourself up or feel like you are 'failing' if you find things hard.

However, you are struggling because it is hard. I find it helpful to remember that new mums basically spend six weeks in bed in many cultures around the world, whilst family members look after them.

I like to remember this because it shows that you are finding it hard, because our culture has such unrealistic expectations of new mums, not because there is anything wrong with you.

It is helpful to learn to speak to yourself with compassion during hard times. Try talking to yourself with the words that you would offer a friend. This may sound like, "I'm sorry that you feel this way. This is really tough. What can I do to help?" Speaking to yourself kindly can help you face challenges with a sense of compassion towards yourself.

Tip #3 - Build a sleepy tribe.

The only thing better than being alone and sleep-deprived is being sleep-deprived with other parents who 'get it'.

Creating meaningful connections with others, you can share experiences with can help you feel like you are not alone. Studies show that just talking about the difficulties you are facing with sleep can help you feel better.

Aim to connect with at least one person each day. This connection may be friends or family via phone or video call. Or you may try to meet up with a mum friend from an antenatal or baby class. It is easy to feel like you are too tired or it is too much effort to see people. However, even a tiny moment of connection with someone who cares about you can help boost your mood.

Tip #4 - Release physical tension.

Your body is likely going to be carrying physical tension from lack of sleep, feeding, and meeting your baby the general needs of your baby. The physical impact of this strain on your body is likely to contribute to stress and anxiety. This stress, in turn, causes a vicious circle of more tension.

Try to find ways that will help you relieve the physical stress in your body.

The easiest way to do this is to breath. Breathing helps deliver oxygen to all parts of your body and can help ground you in the more stressful moments.

When you breath, aim to inhale for 4 seconds and exhale for 8 seconds. Repeat this as many times as you like. Aim to practice doing this multiple times throughout your day.

Breathing in this way will help regulate your stress levels and relieve physical tension in your body.

Other ways of managing stress in your body are stretching, eating a nutritious diet or treating yourself to a massage.

Tip #5 - Balance your circadian rhythm.

Circadian rhythms are the body's internal clock which helps it carry out essential functions. Lack of sleep is likely to negatively impact your circadian rhythm and, therefore, how your body functions and manages stress. Studies show that this can lead to feeling low in mood and more prone to anxiety.

Try spending some time outside each day. Ideally, this will be in nature as this will help create balance in your body and improve your mood. If you cannot get outside during the more difficult days, it can be helpful to sit near an open window. This may trick your body into thinking that it is outside!

If possible, avoid using your phone during night feeds. This can help lessen the negative impact of blue lights from our electronics. Using an electronic reading device like a kindle may be a helpful alternative to avoid the blue lights whilst giving you something to keep you awake!

If you feel unable to avoid using your phone completely (I get it!), try limiting this where possible. You could consider using protective filter glasses, which will help lessen some of the damage caused by your phone's blue light.

Tip #6 - Seek professional support.

As a therapist, I am biased, and I think that all mums can benefit from therapy to help make the transition to motherhood.

Therapy may be particularly helpful if you are experiencing low mood or anxiety that stops you from enjoying your postpartum time the way you would like to.

If this is you, consider reaching out for professional support.

Postpartum therapists like myself can offer specialised support to help you manage low mood, anxiety, and other postpartum-related issues.

Alternatively, your local NHS provider may be able to offer you some free support to help. If you think that you may benefit from this, then you can request support from your local GP>

Tip #7 - Remember this is just a chapter

I know this is a cliche and maybe even a bit annoying when people say it. But honestly, it won't last forever.

Most mums with older children can remember a time of feeling absolutely exasperated with the chronic lack of sleep. However, this gets easier. Your baby will eventually sleep through the night. You won't always need to feed them. You will start getting some sleep again!

You are giving your baby what they need to thrive. However, this can come at a cost to you. This cost means that you need to be gentle with yourself in this chapter of your life.

Keep going. You've got this. You are amazing!

If you would like some extra support, then you can come and join my community of supportive mums on Instagram…

Or check out my website to find details of how to work with me…

Sophie Harris is a psychotherapist specialising in helping new mums during pregnancy and postpartum. Through her work, she aims to normalise big emotions during the more difficult times, help mums improve their emotional well-being, and celebrate motherhood. She believes that supporting and valuing the role of a mother should be made a priority for a happier and healthier society.

Lucy here!

If you are worried about anything regarding your little ones sleep, and are struggling then hop over to my contact me page and drop me a message and we can discuss working together to make any changes you need. Or have a look at my packages to see what I offer.

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