Top 10 Tips for Tackling New Parent Fatigue
I was planning my next blog post to be around experiencing fatigue as a new parent. Then today I read this article in The Guardian with the results of a new study that found that new parents experience sleep deprivation for six years after their child is born.
Apart from the demoralising headline (to a sleep deprived Mum of a two year old), what disappointed me the most about the article was the lack of meaningful advice for new parents on how to manage the fatigue.
That inspired me to share with you my tips for managing fatigue as a new parent - grounded in fatigue science that I study in my work as an ergonomist they are all practical approaches that have helped me manage my sleep since becoming a mum.
Know what sleep you need
People vary in how much sleep they need. The average person needs eight hours of sleep a night, some people need more, others less. I have got to know how much sleep I need by observing my performance and emotions after different amounts of sleep. Once you know the amount of sleep you need you can use it to help plan your sleep strategy…
Plan your sleep strategy
Over time, I have started to notice patterns in my little one’s sleep. Based on that “typical’ pattern and my knowledge of how much sleep I need, I work out a worst case bedtime. That is the time that I need to go to bed so I can get the amount of sleep I need, if my boy wakes up a typical amount in the night and then wakes at his earliest time morning. When things start getting rough - that is when I go to bed. It is anti-socially early, but it means I can function the next day.
If you can, nap
The only cure for loss of sleep is more sleep. So, if you get any opportunity to nap - take it, it will all help.
Work on your sleep hygiene
By which, I don’t mean showering before bed. I mean think about creating a sleeping environment that helps you get good quality sleep. Usually this means a dark, quiet, comfortable, and cool place. So think about black out blinds for your bedroom, if there is anything uncomfortable and annoying about your bed - fix it.
Have a good pre-bed routine
While there is plenty of advice out there for setting a good routine for your baby’s bed time - parents bedtime routine can often get forgotten about. The benefit here is that a consistent routine will help you fall asleep more quickly. If you are struggling to come up with a good routine, think about grown-up-ing your little one’s routine - a warm bath, a milky drink and a quiet read before bed.
Avoid screens before bed
Although the literature on this is not as certain as some of the media coverage would suggest, there is evidence that the blue light from tablets, computers, and phones can make it harder to go to sleep at night. Therefore, I try and avoid looking at these devices for half an hour before bed.
Time your eating and exercise
Along with screens it is best to avoid eating and exercising immediately before bed. Both can raise your body temperature which is a cue to say that it is time to be awake. Exercising an hour or so before bedtime, however, can be beneficial for sleep as your body temperature coming down after exercise can help you to drift off.
I am not trying to be the fun police here, but while alcohol can make it easier to fall asleep it also reduces the quality of sleep. I am very much in favour of a glass of wine or gin at the end of a hard day mumming, but when I am struggling with sleep I give it a miss to help improve my rest.
Use caffeine wisely
I have drunk a lot more coffees since becoming a mum, but our bodies quickly get used to having caffeine and so if you want to be able to use caffeine as a pick-me-up, then you need to need to limit the amount you drink at other times. Like alcohol and eating, caffeine is also best avoided close to bed time to help get a good nights sleep.
Don’t be afraid to get help
Sleep is vital for your mental and physical wellbeing, and I know that I mum better on days after a good nights’ sleep. So anywhere you can get the support you need to sleep well is a good thing. Friends and family love you and are a great source of support - don’t be afraid to use it. But also consider getting professional help if you need it - there are all kinds of sleep advisors and night nannies out there, and your doctor or health visitor are also there to help.