It’s a magical thing to have a baby in your life, but no one will blame you for feeling disheveled when it’s three in the morning and you can no longer remember what it was like to get some decent shut-eye.
But while sleep deprivation is a reality for most parents with young children, the sleepless nights don’t last forever. As mum-of-two Gill Crawshaw, a blogger who runs A Baby On Board, put it: “There is a light at the end of the tunnel.”
She said one of the most important things for parents to know is that they need be realistic about their expectations and that it’s normal for babies to sleep badly for some time. “There’s a perception that newborn babies sleep badly but that they start to sleep well [after a while] but actually they can sleep badly into toddlerdom,” she told HuffPost UK. “My children definitely did.”
Crawshaw, who has a six-year-old girl called Eliza and a three-year-old named Florence, said her eldest did not sleep properly until she was two or three. While she and her partner did not have strict routines with their children, she had one for herself to help tackle her own sleep deprivation.
“Making sure every morning I got up and had a shower and got dressed really helped me to feel like myself and get out of the sleep deprived funk,” she explained. “And leaving the house as soon as possible even to go to the shop or the park - getting fresh air makes everything a bit smother and helps you and the children.”
Laura Misselbrook, who works in communications, said having a routine was important to her when she was at home with daughter Mia, who is now two. “Mia would only breastfeed and wouldn’t take a bottle. It was quite restrictive so I was up three or four times a night and then going to work,” she told HuffPost UK.
She said her sleep deprivation felt like a state where you’re simply “existing and getting stuff done”, but agreed that getting out of the house for a walk or some exercise each day was vital.
While many people will tell you to nap when your baby naps, Misselbrook said that’s not always possible as it can often be the only time you can make yourself food or shower or clean up. One thing you can try is to make sure your partner gets enough sleep so they can support you. “There’s no point in having two really tired people because you’ll just fight and be grumpy,” she said.
Outside of this, Misselbrook said making sure she spoke to friends who were going through the same thing and to support networks as much as possible helped with the lost sleep, as did being realistic about the situation: “Give yourself a break and try not to get everything done.”
Many mothers recommend drinking a lot of water during the day to get through the effects of losing sleep, and nutritionist Caroline Blackmore says that while it’s easy to reach for the coffee and biscuits, going for a healthier option will be better.
“Firstly make sure you are correctly hydrated,” Blackmore, who has three children, told HuffPost UK. “Lemon in hot water will make you feel better than large quantities of caffeine where you will crash later on.”
Protein will stabilise blood sugar and stop energy fluctuations throughout the day, she said. “Have a handful of nuts with that apple, peanut butter with your jam sandwich or tuna fish with a jacket potato - eating little and often will help with energy slumps more than large meals”.
And for parents who need to maximise their naptime, Chris Brantner, a sleep science coach at SleepZoo, said try not to nap for too long or too late in the day, or you’ll wake up feeling groggy and could struggle to sleep later on.
“Get in the light,” is another tip. “The sun is crucial for signalling to your body that it’s time to wake up and get moving,” he said. The sun helps to regulate the body’s circadian rhythm. “The more you can expose yourself to sunlight, the more awake you’ll feel and the better chance you’ll have of resetting your sleep/wake cycle and get a better night’s sleep the following night.”
And if all else fails, laugh. Lucy Werner, who runs a PR agency and the blog London Famille, said she got through her sleep deprivation with baby Rafael by declaring anything said between her and her partner between the hours of 10pm and 6am “doesn’t count”.
“Exercise will do wonders for your broken mind,” she added, saying she also plays a laughter game with her son to lighten the mood for everyone struggling with bed time.
“Laugh at your baby and encourage them to laugh back, then rinse and repeat for at least five minutes. You know that at least you can have the last laugh.”