“Now for a good twelve-hour sleep, I told myself. Twelve solid hours. Let birds sing, let people go to work. Somewhere out there, a volcano might blow. I couldn’t stop it. I was going to sleep.”
― Haruki Murakami, Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World
Oh the joy of that first newborn baby. How prepared are/were you for those sleepless nights?
When my daughter was born I did everything I was told to do in order to take care of her and myself. She and I were in a world to ourselves and it was bliss except where sleep was concerned. Very quickly I learned that a bad night’s sleep can wreak havoc on every single part of the rest of my functioning life. I slept when she slept because I could and that part was fine but the nights were another matter. It was easier in the beginning when she was brand new because she either needed a diaper change or she was hungry but as she got older and I started weaning her off the breast she would wake for reasons like losing her pacifier during the night or just wanting to be held for a while. It was impossible to get her into a routine of sleeping through the night.
If you are like me you feel like pulling your hair out because the mystery that has become sleep is overwhelming. There are pages and pages of information through Google to help parents search about how to get a better night’s sleep with a baby in the house. At the top of the list is establishing a routine as early as possible. I did not do this because from day one my daughter slept through the night. Sleep became a problem as she got older. Of course the routine will change and evolve over time as it should but staying firm to the structure is a great place to start. Years later I can tell you that eventually the babies grow and learn to love to sleep. See, there is hope but until then……
Not too long ago I was working with a client who is a new mom and going through these elusive sleepless nights. As fate would have it I have a coaching colleague who specializes in sleep disorders. Dr. Kevin B. Handley, Ph.D. was more than willing to offer up some great inside information and advice when it comes to getting the sleep we all need in order to have a happier, healthier life. I hope this brief interview will be of help to you:
By way of introducing you to my readers please briefly talk about how you recognized a passion in working with people with sleep problems?
“A couple of things came together at the same time to help me recognize this passion for sleep. After the birth of our first child, my wife and I were generally surprised at how little people knew about how sleep works, especially in infants and children. At the same time, I had begun teaching at the college level and was surprised by how many people in my classes suffered with sleep problems. I knew the statistics, but it was still shocking when two thirds of a college class raised their hands when I asked “how many of you have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep most nights of the week?” Lastly, when I began to focus on sleep enhancement in my clinical patients, it was obvious that sleep was a linchpin that led to better results in less time.”
I know that insomnia is your ideal client specialty but I am wondering if there is one common question or issue that clients bring to you regarding sleep outside of insomnia.
“The most common question is “why am I tired all the time.” There is an epidemic of willful sleep deprivation in the United States. People simply do not value sleep and do not believe that they need more sleep than what they are getting. Unfortunately, this begins in childhood. A close second would be parents’ awareness that their children aren’t getting the sleep they need and they don’t really know how to help them.”
How important do you think it is, especially for moms with infants, to get GOOD sleep? What does GOOD sleep look like to a specialist like you?
“It is essential that new mothers get good sleep. But unfortunately, new moms have poor sleep habits that were in place before the birth of their child. Mothers with infants do get referred to me, but sadly, it’s often after a period of extended sleep deprivation has already driven a mother to the point of exhaustion and often depression.”
“Good sleep means that you get enough sleep, at night, and on a regular schedule. People need to sleep a minimum of seven hours straight and preferably, with a standard wake up and bedtime. There’s also a functional aspect to it. You know that you’re getting good sleep when you wake up refreshed, stay alert all day long, and have the energy and focus you need to get done what you want to get done in your life.”
How does a mom with an infant even begin to incorporate the habit of good sleep and what do you suggest as a starting point for establishing a routine?
“When you are a new mother and you start to lose sleep, your problem-solving skills aren’t what they should be and you can easily get overwhelmed. People can even get overwhelmed by listening to too much advice about how things should work.”
“The key is to make small changes over time, but make certain that the changes you make are actually good ones. The good news here is that a few simple changes will enable your baby to sleep through the night without much effort because that’s what babies are designed to do. Most babies are born with the ability to sleep on a schedule. Unfortunately, we parents fail to honor that schedule. Newborns are not going to sleep through the night, but when they are biologically ready to do so, it isn’t that hard to achieve a regular sleep schedule. When you put in place a few simple principles that help baby fall asleep and stay asleep, the baby’s tendency to sleep on a schedule will kick in and everyone will sleep better.”
When your children were infants, did you have sleep issues to deal with regarding yourself and/or the baby and if so how did you solve those issues?
“We’ve never really had sleep issues with our children, but that is only because we went into it with a full understanding of how sleep works. We also were able to organize our life in a way that honors a child’s natural sleep schedule. This is difficult for most households with working parents, but it can be done. Of course we were tired from getting up in the middle the night to feed, but we dealt with that by changing our sleep schedule and planning to get more sleep.”
“And this is the part that most people miss: People get tired and then get stressed about how they’re going to get everything done. The choice to deprive yourself of sleep is never a good one. It simply does not work. It starts with a mindset shift. You have to believe that more sleep for yourself will result in more sleep for your child and that everything will get done more efficiently when you’re well rested. In fact, our commitment to our children’s sleep helped us diagnose our second child with medical problems that had not been detected. With all of our standard procedures for getting him to sleep not working, we knew that something else was wrong. It turned out that he had severe reflux. We would not have known that this was a problem if we didn’t have a good sleep process in place that should have promoted him going to sleep easily and without fussing.”
Is there a magic bullet or magic spell that could be used across the sleep issue spectrum to help people sleep better with infants or start to sleep better overall?
“I wish there were! But I think the closest thing we have is the realization that getting sleep isn’t as difficult as people think. I think the best place to start is to realize that the benefits of sleep will come, but it takes a little bit of time. Over time with adequate sleep, people can enjoy better health, better mood, and even weight-loss! I think the best place to start is to create good sleep hygiene:
*Rid the sleeping environment of anything that might keep you awake.
*Start by creating a sleep environment that is cool, quiet, and very dark.
*If you use electronic devices all the way up until bedtime, try turning them off about 15 minutes before bed.
*As far as a sleep schedule goes, choose a standard wake up time and get up at that time every single day, regardless of how you slept the night before. You will be surprised at how quickly you can resolve most sleep problems by simply getting up at the same time every day.”
“My mantra is “if not tonight, then tomorrow night.” People tend to worry about getting enough sleep, but they forget that they can do an awful lot under conditions of sleep deprivation. With infants, it’s important to remember that infants are programmed to sleep on a certain schedule and if we make just a few small adjustments, that schedule will kick in and they will sleep like champs!”
Digging a bit deeper uncovered this information from the WebMd archives, “Everything can wait to get your attention except the baby. It is very tempting to want to spend that quiet time getting chores done or reading a book or catching up on correspondence. The fact is that no amount of cleaning or “catching up” is going to keep the house clean or caught up for very long. When the baby is up so are you so taking advantage of the time to rest your mind and body are just as important if not more so than cleaning the house.”
“People who say they sleep like a baby usually don’t have one.” –Leo J. Burke
So what can moms do to get their sleep on?
Get help right away. Don’t play the martyr. Ask for help from anyone that is willing and able to give it. My husband and I were so tired after the birth of our 2nd child that we both came down with the flu. I had to ask my mom to take the kids for one whole day and an overnight so that we could medicate and sleep. It was the one and only time in my whole life, then and now that I slept for one whole day straight. It felt so good and so necessary.
Prioritize your time. Seriously consider all that you want to get done in the course of your day and then pare that list down to what you know for sure you can get done, allowing for flexibility with the baby dictating the flow of the day.
Consider keeping a journal of your sleep times and circumstances so that you can find patterns that you can capitalize on. For example when is the best time for you to nap when baby naps? What foods sit solidly in baby’s stomach that makes for the best night’s sleep? What daylight pattern seems to work best for baby and you?
Count on things changing because they will. We get so caught up in the day to day that we gloss over the changes that take place in our schedules, routines and children. As they get older, although they are still changing all the time, the changes are less noticeable. When they are little they change so fast and furious that it seems impossible to keep up. My daughter completely stopped napping at age 1 and my body was not ready for it but motherhood calls so I had to be awake and ready. I promise that when your child walks down the aisle it won’t matter at all that the dishes didn’t get done for a week when he/she was 3 years old.
Rule out sleep disorders like sleep apnea or anemia that could leave you feeling overly tired. Not enough sleep can lead to depression so pay close attention to your mood swings and overall well-being. Your moods affect the baby so take care of you. A 20 minute nap during the middle of the day should revive you enough to get through until bedtime.
In another interview I did with a coaching client and new mom, Stephanie Read had this to say regarding her experience with sleep issues:
“It took me a full year to regain a sense of self and motherhood because I was so tired. It helped that I had a husband/partner that was willing to do whatever I needed when it came to sharing the schedule of taking care of our son. HOW I asked for his help was as important to our relationship as his physical help. It is hard for husbands to bond and get that baby time when mom is breast feeding so I learned early and quickly that the tone of voice I used, the way I phrased my questions, and the way I needed his help was a key component to his ability and love of helping and bonding. Following a schedule that he and I made together was the best overall action step.”
Do not eat too close to bedtime. I played around with this one for many years and what I have found to work for me is to finish eating for the day by 7pm.
Eliminate as much light as possible when going to sleep.
Try not to drink too much before bedtime. Stop at least 2 hours before bedtime.
Put an end to cardio workouts at least 3 hours before bedtime.
Keep the room cool to at least 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
Sleep in loose fitting clothes or nothing at all.
Try to get 7-1/2 hours of sleep each night. This means going to sleep by 10p or 11p the latest. Get your partner or extra hands caregiver on board to help with this. A happy, rested mom creates a happy baby.
Eat healthily, sleep well, breathe deeply, move harmoniously.”
― Jean-Pierre Barral
In doing these interviews and learning ways in which to help moms sleep better I thought to myself, what if the tiredness mom’s feel isn’t solely based on their baby’s sleeping habits and erratic night patterns? What if it is a sense of having to be all and do all now that they are moms? I thought about this because that was me playing at perfectionism.
On a hilltop station in Rajasthan, in the Aravali hills of India Mount Abu sits. It is a quiet place known for its ancient heritage and regarded as a scared destination for spiritual rejuvenation and empowerment. Here is where you will find the spiritual headquarters of Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University and well renowned spiritual teacher Dadi Janki. Her perspective on sleep and tiredness really truly resonated with me because I saw myself in her words when I was a new mom. I would like to share her letter to her students with you:
Om shanti. Sometimes when we are together, you ask me why I don’t seem to get tired when I travel from India or give programs into the evening. Tiredness is a kind of sickness. When we work with honesty and love, everything happens without tiredness. When we know how to take cooperation from others, there is no tiredness. It is not a matter of how long we sleep that determines whether we feel tired. It is waste and negative thoughts and actions that create tiredness. Create positive thoughts and elevated actions and you will take strength from that, and your tiredness will leave you.
Work for money and you will count your hours and your salary. Work for love, and you can work sixteen hours a day with happiness and without getting tired. Serving others brings energy. You will then feel your happiness accumulating.
When I reflect on high creative moments in my life I remember the energy that existed there. I remember feeling alive and in flow with my purpose. Creative things like cooking a good meal or baking a great dessert for my family, choosing carefully the books I would ultimately buy for my children because our bedtime ritual always included one story each, purposefully setting time aside from “have-to’s” in order to create time and space for “want-to’s” like blowing bubbles outside for the kids to catch. It is in this flow state, where time and space and life all around me seems to disappear that I become one with my souls’ purpose. When I emerge from this flow state I am revitalized, happier than I’ve ever been and I naturally pass on those positive, life giving feelings to others. In hindsight is when I realized that my children were better in their overall well-being because I was better in my overall well-being.
Where can you let go of stress and worry and exist from a place of pure love, kindness and inner peace?
Call to Action
All of the advice in the world is not going to present itself in the flesh at 2am when you are tired and again, still, trying to get the baby to sleep. There is however a bit of comfort in knowing that you are not alone. You are safe among a score of mom’s who are also sleep deprived. To this I say, this too shall pass and although I don’t miss those sleep denied nights I do miss my children being so little with so much of life still ahead of us. How can you appreciate each moment, good and bad right now, remembering all the while that there are no do-overs.