It comes as no surprise that in the 6-12 months (if you are lucky!) after having a baby, mom’s amount of sleep is GREATLY reduced. There isn’t a tonne that can be done about the amount of sleep you get in the early days beyond making sure that you are taking advantage of every opportunity to sleep. What can be helped is the quality of your sleep. It typically takes 90 min after falling asleep to enter into the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) cycle. The first REM cycle is short and they become progressively longer over the night, which is one of the reasons that it is advantageous to sleep uninterrupted for longer periods of time. It is during REM sleep that the brain and body get a chance to heal from the day and stay healthy. If you do not have dreams while you are sleeping it can be an indication that you are not getting into REM sleep. For many new mom’s it is not possible to sleep for long periods of time, as baby is still frequently waking. In the blog post I will focus on how you can get the best quality of sleep even if it is for a limited amount of time.
Negative Effects of Not Getting Good Quality Sleep
- Increased Food Cravings- For high fat and calorie/sugar foods. Lack of sleep reduces the hormone leptin, which helps suppress appetite and increases ghrelin which stimulates hunger. It’s not your willpower…it’s your hormones! Speaking of hormones…
- Increased Cortisol- Lack of sleep puts stress on your body making it release more of the stress hormone cortisol. Higher levels of cortisol make it harder to fall asleep, increase anxiety and increase food cravings.
- Lack of Energy- Our bodies need sleep to repair and regenerate. Without this rest period you can be left feeling like you are always running on empty.
How to Make the Most of Your Sleep
- Avoid caffeine After 12 noon- Caffeine has a half-life of 12-18 depending on how fast you can metabolize it. If you are having a coffee at 3-4 pm it can definitely be keeping you awake at 2 am.
- Blood Sugar Regulation- People who wake up between 1-3 am can be experiencing a blood sugar crash. One way to correct this problem is to have a small protein filled snack before bed. Good options include: handful of nuts and seeds, a small piece of meat or a hard boiled egg
- Stop the Pop- Between the sugar and the caffeine it is a recipe for disaster, and I know what you are thinking but diet pop is no better. Diet pop leaves your body craving the sugar it expected to receive from the sweet taste, and leads to over eating.
- No Strenuous Exercise 3 Hours Before Bed- Exercise is a great thing, but timing is important. Intense exercise can raise cortisol levels (which is ok as long as you do not have adrenal fatigue). Naturally our cortisol levels should be highest in the morning and falling at night. Nighttime strenuous exercise disrupts your body’s natural rhythms.
- Yoga- A relaxing flow or yin yoga before bed can help shift the body into the parasympathetic (rest and digest) state and decrease the amount of time it takes to fall asleep.
- Deep Breathing- Breathing deeply where the abdomen goes out instead of the chest has been shown to reduce cortisol. Try 10 deep breaths before bed.
- Room Temperature- The room you sleep in should be kept cool (under 20°C). This helps the body enter into REM sleep and to produce more melatonin (the sleep hormone).
- Darkness- Even small amounts of light disrupt the body’s sleep cycles. Use blackout curtains, no night lights or alarm clock screens.
- Avoid Screens ½ Hour Before Bed- The light emitted from screens tricks the brain into thinking it is day time, which is not conducive to sleep. Try reading for a ½ hour before bed instead. Ereaders can be used in bed if they are set to look like the page of a book. Reading off of a bright tablet counts as screen time.
- Magnesium Glycinate- Magnesium calms the nervous system, promotes relaxation, decreases cravings (especially for chocolate), increases insulin sensitivity, reduces muscle cramps, relieves constipation and helps to lower cortisol. Dosage: 200-800 mg ½ hour before bed. Start at 200 mg and keep increasing dosage until you reach bowel tolerance (ie. develop loose stools). It is safe for use during breastfeeding at a dosage of 350 mg/day or less.
- Chamomile Tea- Helps to calm the nervous system and promote sleep. A cup 60-90 min before bed can result in a more restful sleep. This tea is safe for use while breastfeeding.
- B Vitamins- Help the body to regulate stress and can help give you more energy during the day. Dosage: 100 mg of each of the B Vitamins. Take in the morning, as it can help to increase energy. This is also safe for use during breastfeeding.
Use these tips to establish a healthy routine that will help you sleep better, even if you are getting less sleep than you used to now that your little one has arrived.
I hope you implement at least a few of these tips into your daily routine and start feeling more rested!
Dr Alexis practices in Stittsville at Living Science Wellness Centre. Call 613.836.7901 to book your appointment.
Naturopathic Medicine is covered by most extended insurance benefits