My seven-month-old has started crawling! Very exciting for her, and it is certainly keeping us on our toes (how on earth did you get under there?!?!), but along with her newfound freedom has come a period of truly shocking sleep. Shocking both because she’s waking for feeds/cuddles/general crawling practice all night long, and also because I thought once you were past the newborn days it only got better! (lol)
With this in mind, I thought I would share some simple strategies for minimising the impact of broken sleep on your mental and physical wellbeing.
1. Understand that night-waking in babies is normal
Babies don’t sleep like adults, and they aren’t meant to. Baby sleep cycles are about half as long as adults, and this frequent waking has been found to be protective against SIDS. Baby sleep can be impacted by the acquisition of new skills, developmental leaps, teething, you name it!
While it won’t make you any less tired, sometimes simply understanding that your baby’s waking is normal and that you are most certainly not alone out there, is enough to dry the 2am tears of frustration and sheer exhaustion.
An interesting article on managing our expectations around infant and toddler sleep can be found here.
(Note: occasionally, a baby’s broken sleep actually isn’t normal due to physical, environmental or psychological reasons. If you suspect an underlying problem please speak to your primary health care provider).
2. Support your body with a good quality multi B vitamin
The B vitamins are critical components of many important processes in the body.
Crucially, they are needed to turn the food we eat into the energy we need to get through the day – carbohydrates, protein and fats are all metabolized into ATP (energy) in the B-vitamin powered citric acid cycle.
The B vitamins are also essential for the production of serotonin and melatonin – your ‘feel good’ and sleep hormones. This means that adequate levels of these vitamins are required to help you get back to sleep as quickly as possible, and be even a little bit pleasant in the morning.
During times of stress the body really burns through the B vitamins, leaving you struggling to catch up. A B vitamin complex is a simple and cost-effective way to give your body the support it needs while you’re being pushed to the max.
3. Brew some passionflower tea
Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) is a herb specifically indicated for disturbed sleep patterns, and can make the effects of disrupted sleep less debilitating.
Try mixing it with chamomile or licorice for a relaxing, stress busting blend, or any other herbal teas that you enjoy. Drink a cup before heading to bed each evening.
4. Avoid the sugar and/or caffeine rollercoaster
When you’re exhausted, it’s so easy to reach for a quick fix of a sweet muffin, a biscuit, or a chocolate bar. But that hit of energy is only temporary, and sugar highs are followed by crashing lows, leaving you feeling wrecked and looking for the next fix, starting the rollercoaster all over again. All that sugar also wreaks havoc throughout your body, causing inflammation, messing with your immune system, and interfering with the balance of hormones.
Relying on coffee is not the answer either. Excessive caffeine puts strain on your adrenal glands, and can ultimately lead to burn out. Breastfeeding mothers should also consider that a small amount of the caffeine consumed will make its way to baby through your milk, which may impact their sleep quality (and therefore yours!). Everyone has a different threshold for tolerating caffeine – some people may be fine on two cups of coffee per day, while others may be better off moving to a lower-caffeine option such as green tea, or ditching the caffeine altogether with herbal tea (passionflower, anyone?).
5. Eat a diet rich in good quality protein
While sugar sends your energy bouncing out of control, protein provides the steady, slow burning fuel we need to stay energized.
Dietary protein is also used to build the white blood cells used by your immune system to fight pathogens and stop you getting sick, as well as being one of the fundamental building blocks of the feel good serotonin and sleepy melatonin mentioned earlier.
You don’t need to be a gourmet chef to include some protein in every meal, and it’s definitely doable one-handed in the kitchen with your little one on your hip.
Here are a couple of ideas:
Breakfast: bircher muesli with yoghurt and nuts; scrambled eggs; beans on toast
Lunch: leftovers from dinner; have some tins of tuna/bean mix/chickpeas in the pantry or cooked quinoa in the fridge to top up your salad
Snacks: veggies/crackers with hommus; fruit with yoghurt; handful of nuts and seeds with a piece of dark chocolate
Dinner: a good rule of thumb is to visualize your dinner plate as ½ veggies, ¼ protein such as chicken, fish, meat, tofu, or legumes, and ¼ complex carbohydrates like brown rice, sweet potato, or polenta
6. Supercharge with spirulina
I’ve previously written about how much I love spirulina, and why – you can read up on it here. Of particular relevance to sleep deprivation is its positive effect on energy, stamina and the immune system.
7. Build resilience with adaptogens
Adaptogens are plant-based medicines that help the body deal with chronic stress.
Withania (Withania somnifera) is a tonic and adaptogenic herb that is indicated in the treatment of mental or physical stress and anxiety. Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus) is also tonic and adaptogenic, able to increase performance under stress. Medicinal mushrooms such as chaga and reishi are also powerful adaptogens.
Adaptogens can also improve immune function, helping to reduce your susceptibility to illness. This is important, as we all know how easy it is to get sick when you are feeling run down.
Note: if you are breastfeeding, or pregnant, please consult your naturopath before taking any herbs.
8. Use a red night light
I have already mentioned melatonin, the sleep-inducing hormone produced and secreted by the pineal gland at night. Research has found that exposure to light blocks the production of melatonin, with blue wavelengths the most disruptive. Our exposure to screens and electronics, as well as the growing use of energy-saving lightbulbs, is increasing our exposure to blue light.
You can minimize the disturbance to your circadian rhythm when you wake at night by using only dim red light. I have a red bulb in my bedside lamp, and it is the only light we use in the bedroom as we get ready for bed, and if needed throughout the night. I recently read about using red light in the bathroom too, especially if baby’s night time routine consists of a bath before bed.
You can read more about the effects of red and blue light on sleep and melatonin production here.
9. Sleep when the baby sleeps
Yes, I know you’ve heard it before, a thousand times even. That’s because it’s true! Don’t worry about anything else right now, just lie down with your sweet babe, breathe her in, and nap. If you’ve got other children, call a friend or family member to come by and entertain them while you retire for a snooze – think about it, you’d do it for them, right? They’ll be happy to help you out!
Caring for a baby, and the associated sleep deprivation, can be overwhelming. If you ever get to the point of feeling like you can’t cope, please seek help from your primary health care provider.