Sleep Tips For Anxious Mums
I have always had bouts of insomnia. Sometimes it's linked to my cycle and sometimes linked to different events like uni exam time or other stresses. Sometimes I wake in the middle of the night for hours at a time and my brain just won't stop spinning. Often I'm thinking about entire blog posts I want to write or imaginary letters to people I keep forgetting to communicate with during daylight hours.
Before becoming a mum, I had implemented a thousand different strategies to help myself sleep. Some worked, some didn't. Many worked some of the time. Some worked most of the time, but nothing worked with a 100% success rate.
Once Max came along, things went from bad-ish to most definitely worse. Even accounting for that newborn haze of sleepless nights. Truth be told, in the first 4 months, Max slept brilliantly in comparison to what I was expecting. We had stretches of 5 hours and sometimes he even slept through.
Ok so here comes the confession. I've never been diagnosed with anxiety but I really don't need to be. I know I'm anxious. I probably was before Max without realising it but now I know for sure. I've accepted this about myself though (in fact, I've embraced it as part of who I am) and can mostly manage it with that thing called 'you are not your thoughts'.
That said. Even when Max was contentedly asleep, I would STAY AWAKE to check on him. I'd fall asleep so lightly that if he moved, my heart would race and I'd leap out of bed to make sure he was ok and still breathing. There have been a number of times that I've woken him up from checking on him and fussing over his blankets or repositioning him to make sure he was ok.
This over attentiveness went hand in hand with me also needing some time out for myself. So naturally, to achieve this I would STAY UP LATE watching youtube videos, scrolling Instagram, reading blogs or generally just not sleeping.
By the time Max was 8 months old, I was ready to sleep so things had to change. He started in our room in a side sleeper and then moved to the cot, which he hated so he came into our bed (which I loved). That only worked for so long. Finally, my friend Bonnie told me about her success with her son in a Montessori floor bed. (Basically a mattress on the floor). I ordered a single bed and set it up in his room.
Max would happily fall asleep in my arms and then I could remove myself from the bed and leave him to sleep. It worked a treat and to this day it's still how we do things. For us it's the best solution. When Max wakes up, I can go into him and give him a cuddle until he's happy again. It's the best parts of cosleeping combined with not getting kicked in the head or having 3cm to sleep on!
At first, I found myself falling asleep in there with Max for the whole night. I caught up on some serious sleep! It was so easy to feed him and stay asleep. Even now he's stopped feeding, he still needs lots of cuddles.
And the truth is, so do I. Max wakes at some point every night for a cuddle. It can be anytime from 9pm to 1am. Honestly, I get my best hours of sleep once he's woken up and I stumble in to resettle him. My body goes into relax mode as my brain knows my baby is safe and comfortable in my arms. This means I currently spend half my night in my own bed with Roly and half with Max.
So that's our little sleep story. And as promised, here are the things I've done to make the most of the sleep I get.
- Most importantly, I have dropped the guilt of not having a traditional sleep situation. We do what works for us and now that I have embraced it, we all get much better quality sleep. And I don't get as bothered by the nights that don't go quite right.
- After much mental negotiation with myself, I've implemented a no phones in the bedroom policy. At 9pm, my phone goes on the charger in the kitchen and that's that until the morning. This has probably been the hardest thing for me to do but one of the most significant in improving my sleep.
- I used to have a proper meditation practice but these days I just spend some time acknowledging my thoughts and writing anything down that needs to be remembered. I also try to be proactive about dealing with emotional things that need to be resolved. I don't allow myself to engage in fruitless thought spirals. (I simply say to myself 'that is not a helpful thought right now', which mostly works).
- A lot of sleep recommendations say to go to bed at the same time every night. This doesn't work for me, so instead, I choose to be intuitive. You know those nights where you feel asleep on your feet? I go to bed at 7pm if I need to instead of telling myself it's too early. Having said that, I know I need to be on the 1030pm train at the very latest. So I'm intuitive but strict with myself.
- Following on from the mobile thing, I try not to be on my computer editing videos (or watching them) too late either. Same goes with any TV time. I try to allow myself 30 minutes to read my book in bed. It's a surefire way to become drowsy and drown out any remaining thoughts that might interfere with me actually getting to sleep.
- I rarely drink alcohol these days. Sleep is much too important to me at the moment. I've always struggled to process alcohol and find myself awake at 2am even after just one or two glasses of wine. I also get shockingly bad hangovers a lot of the time so it's best for me to just avoid it. When I do choose to imbibe, it's ALWAYS in celebration and NEVER to destress. If I drink to destress, I'll usually suffer more from the consequences - those 2am wake ups will be crippled with feelings of unexplained guilt (I think this is related to anxiety?) and the hangovers are always worse.
- I stick to one coffee a day and it has to be before 11am. I also recently took 15 days off caffeine and noticed a significant improvement in my sleep and energy. I'm currently coping ok with coffee but as soon as I feel it is starting to interfere, I'll take another break.
- I also avoid too many night time treats. We have dinner quite early at around 5pm-ish as a family. So I will have a protein shake to fill me up before bed.
- Now it's getting colder at night, I have my teacup on rotation. I'm currently enjoying the Welleco Sleep Well tea or a chamomile or something like that. I think it's really helping. It might be the Hygge feeling of cosiness!
- I learned a lot about sleep cues when I was reading up on all things baby so I've also started doing some on myself. I guess you could call this a night time routine - brush teeth, wash face, do a few yoga stretches, write down thoughts, turn off Max's white noise machine, tuck Honey in, read book, turn off lights type thing.
- After dinner clean up, we switch most of the house lights off so that the house is quite dark. I think it helps the sleep hormones to start working.
- When I get up in the morning, I try not to lay in bed wishing I was still asleep. I just get up and often I'll go outside onto the deck and stretch around for a bit in the morning sun to let my body clock know it's time to be awake.
- Finally, a word on naps. I have a nap once or twice a week with Max when I need to top up on sleep. It's important that it's not too late in the day otherwise I can feel falsely awake at 10pm and start bargaining with myself that I can stay up a little later that night. Which is counterproductive! On days when I have a nap, we always take an extra long walk to the park in the afternoon. I think it helps my body feel more tired and my mind tends to follow.
Ok so I think I could actually keep going here but this is a blog post and not a novel so I'll leave it at that - aside from asking, what are some of the ways you help yourself to sleep better?
Lots of love,