When I became a mother, the bone-deep exhaustion rocked my world. There is nothing quite like new parent sleep deprivation.
Parents told me I would be amazed at how much I could do on so little sleep, and to be sure to sleep when the baby sleeps. But I found both pieces of advice unhelpful when my daughter arrived. I could do a lot without much sleep, but my mind felt foggy and disorganized.
And when the baby was sleeping, my mind went into overdrive thinking of all the things that I could be doing, making it hard to get any shut eye. As a mom of two and a mental health professional, here are the four things I wish I knew about how to rest or get sleep with a newborn or young children.
Grieve the loss of pre-parent sleep
It took me a long time to accept that sleep might never be the same after kids. Looking back, I was grieving the loss of how I slept and rested before I became a mother. Once I began to accept that recharging looks different as a mom, I felt less resentful. I also expanded my definition of rest to include relaxing activities and naps instead of believing that sleep is the only adequate form of rest.
Build mini-rest moments into your day
As you begin to embrace your new reality as a parent, there are practical ways to get more rest—even during busy or stressful times.
Here are some ways to incorporate small moments of rest during the day:
- If you have a few minutes on the couch, close your eyes and allow them to rest by taking in less light and visual stimulation. You can even enhance the experience by using scented eye pillows. Another trick is to keep a few eye pillows in spots where you can sit or lay down around the house so you do not have to get up when you get an unexpected break.
- Relax into a soothing stretch or yoga pose, such as a child’s pose or legs up the wall. This allows your breathing to slow down and relieves tension in your body. Even if toddlers are crawling all over you, it feels good to move your body in soothing ways.
- Lie down on the floor and let your feet flop open and place your hands on the ground with your palms facing up. Allow your muscles to completely relax and sink into the floor. Repeat, “I do so much to support my children, right now I can allow the floor to completely support me.”
- Release your jaw, roll your shoulders and take a deep breath (exhale longer than your inhale). We hold so much tension in our jaws and shoulders, that even taking a minute to do this throughout the day can make a big difference.
Calm a busy mind when you want to go to sleep
When you have had a doozy of a day with the kids, the stress does not magically disappear once you climb into bed.
Here are a few things to try when you feel nervous about falling asleep:
- Instead of thinking about how much time you are “wasting” in bed not being able to sleep, try a sleep mantra such as,”sleep will come” or, “laying down still helps my body rest.”
- Set a timer on your phone for ten minutes and go wild with your anxious thoughts. Think about dinner tomorrow, that project you need to finish at work, and the dishes in the sink. Jot the thoughts down if that is helpful for you. After your timer goes off, say, “It’s okay to let these worries wait until tomorrow.”
- If you are feeling particularly restless, get up and do something relaxing such as reading or watching a comforting TV show. Doing something relaxing is a form of rest.
Ask for help to get bigger chunks of rest
When creating your recipe for rest you need to add the main ingredients in addition to the sprinkles of rest throughout the day. It is hard to challenge that nagging voice that says you should be able to do it all on your own, but we all need community and support.
Here are the most important things to keep in mind when asking for help so you can get the rest you need:
- Tap into the support network you already have. Many of us have people in our life that want to help, but we do not ask because we fear it will be a burden. Remind yourself how good it feels to help someone you care about, and reach out. Consider swapping kids with a friend on a regular basis, or asking a family member to watch your kids (even if they need to travel to you). If you have a partner, create a schedule of regular breaks for each other to look forward to. And remember, vacations are not just for the family—book a night or more away just for you.
- Do your research and learn about the types of help available. Many mothers are living farther away from family, and some family members are not healthy options to be around you and your children. Use apps such as Peanut, or ask friends about the types of help available to mothers. This might include night nurses, mother’s helpers, babysitters or nannies.
- Overestimate how much help you need. Women tend to underestimate how much support we need because society tells us that asking for help is a sign of weakness. Remind yourself that asking for help takes courage, and go big when creating your rest plan. You will never regret having more support than you need.
If you want more inspiration for how to rest and recharge, my favorite book is Stand Tall Like a Mountain: Mindfulness and Self-Care for Children and Parents by Suzy Reading.
Rest well and take good care of yourselves parents!