Don’t Forget Mum – Pt 4 – Sleep

Sleep is Key to Good Health and Body Function

There are many reasons why humans need or benefit from sleep. Here are just a few of the key ones that may be relevant to Mums:-

  • People who sleep well tend to retain information better — explains why baby brain starts while you’re pregnant (when good sleep begins to elude you) and doesn’t improve until your start getting better quality sleep when bub starts sleeping through the night.
  • People who sleep better can focus and concentrate better.
  • The body uses sleep to actually consolidate your memories from the day, to longer term memory
  • The body works to rejuvenate and repair tissues and to grow muscle.
  • The body also uses sleep to produce essential hormones — we as women don’t need another reason for hormone fluctuations!
  • lack of sleep is also associated with an increased risk of depression.

I recently read an article1 that looked at the effects of sleep deprivation on hormone levels. Studies have found that sleep deprivation can alter hormone levels from their normal levels, this included:

  • hormones that control appetite (leptin and ghrelin), both were found to be altered in a way that would lead to increased appetite.
  • Thyroid and stress hormone levels were also found to be altered. Both of these can impact on your glucose tolerance i.e. your body’s ability to breakdown glucose and control your blood’s glucose levels, increasing the risk of developing diabetes.

The study also found that while hormone levels were altered during the period of sleep deprivation, levels did return to normal once the study subjects had recovered, so the negative effects aren’t permanent.

So lets look at ways to keep our health and wellbeing on track by working to get more sleep.

According to the Sleep Health Foundation2, adults between the age of 18-64 years, need 7-9hrs of sleep each day (with no less than 6hrs and no more than 11hrs).

Tips for Pregnancy

If you are pregnant here are some tips that may help you leading up to and after the birth of your baby:-

  1. Lower your expectations – Get used to the idea that you can not do it all, something needs to give and it can’t be your health and wellbeing or your baby’s. So that leaves domestic duties and other commitments that aren’t absolutely essential.
  2. Ask for help – Unfortunately most Mums can’t afford a house keeper or a cook. If you are someone who really struggles with asking for help, start practicing now. You are pregnant and as the pregnancy progresses the more tired you will become and the harder it is to do things. Scrubbing and cleaning the bathroom, cleaning the floors (especially if you have pelvic issues like I did, vacuuming and mopping can almost incapacitate you!) can be awkward, at best, with a big belly. Start asking for help now. Sure you can probably do things a lot slower and pace yourself, but why not get used to asking family and friends for help before you really need it. That way when bub arrives and you are desperate for sleep but are torn between sleep, cooking dinner and about to go crazy because of the pile of washing that needs doing, you will be able to ask for help and get the sleep you and your bub need you to have.
  3. Get others to help with feeds – Even if you are breastfeeding, look at expressing milk and having someone feed bub by bottle.
  4. Sleep when baby sleeps – Easier said than done I hear you say, and now I will refer you back to points 1 and 2. Ask for help and lower your expectations.
  5. Slowly work to adjust baby’s body clock – Babies are not born with the wake during the day, sleep at night body clock. In fact its the opposite, which doesn’t work well for us Mums. As I mentioned in my earlier post, Get out and About, sunshine can help regulate your baby’s body clock and sleep patterns. Some experts also believe changing the way you interact with you baby during the day vs at night can also help adjust their clock. This would include having more awake time and stimulation (careful not to over stimulate them, especially when they are only a few weeks old) including tummy time, interacting with Mum/Dad/siblings/family between feeds and sleeps during the day. While at night, feed times would be just feed times, once the feed is done, they are put back to sleep. Stimulation of the baby is kept to a minimum during night feeds. With sleep also calling you during the night feeds, this would probably happen naturally anyway. Some babies are more easy to adjust than others, don’t get caught up on forcing this to happen. Remember, this phase will pass eventually.

Tips for Beyond the Baby Phase

  1. For the ones who’s mind is always racing – Don’t use technology close to bed time, it stimulates the mind — even if you’re watching crap on TV that you think is helping switch off. This includes TV’s, Phones, tablets or any other technology!
  2. Try reading a book – For some people reading a book can help you fall asleep. Find a book that interests you as it will engage you and once you are engaged you will become absorbed in the story. Personally I find fiction the best way to “get lost”, I stop thinking about my world and all that I have to do. Non-fiction doesn’t really help me switch off. I find non-fiction will often have content that I often try to start relating back to my life and as soon as I start doing that, I’m thinking about everything I need to do or worse yet, finding things to add to my to-do list — the last thing I need.  Sometimes this can backfire though, I have read half a novel in one night on a few occasions, just because I wanted to know what happened next.
  3. Try lying down in a quiet room – This maybe considered a pipe dream for some people — a quiet space that is uncluttered and calming for the mind, while having a family in the house could be difficult. I find that I need one place in the home to help quiet my mind. Try laying on the floor or bed, breathe in deeply and slowly, focus on how your body moves while you are breathing. When you start thinking about something, bring your focus back to your breathing and body.
  4. Stretching before bed – Stretching will help release built up tension in your muscles and joints. It will also help reduce production of stress hormones and releases endorphins. It also focuses your mind on your body for a few minutes, putting aside what may be running through your head from the day that is drawing to a close. Try any stretches or yoga poses you are comfortable with. Stretching the whole body will provide the best benefit for releasing built up tension.


1The Metabolic Consequences of Sleep Deprivation Kristen L. Knutson, Karine Spiegel, Plamen Penev, Eve Van Cauter
2Sleep Health Foundation