The Secret to Sleep

Sleep and you

Sleep and anxiety go hand in hand. But sleep and newborn babies do not combine well.

You are, no doubt, ruthlessly researching baby sleep techniques and have perhaps been left confused, unsettled and exhausted. However the aim of this blog is not to focus on your baby, but on you. By keeping you functioning to the best that your situation allows, you are helping your little one get all they deserve.

Without sufficient sleep your mind and body suffer. Extended periods of insomnia are associated with an increased risk of Alzheimer’s and cancer, as well as anxiety. That’s why getting back into a healthy sleeping routine post birth should be a top priority, for you and your family. Obviously that’s easier said than done, but there are some simple top tips to help you maximise your sleep as you move through those early, sleep-deprived years.

The first few sleepless months

They’re crying, you’re crying and nobody appears to be moving anywhere! Your sleep will be disturbed, of course it will. You will either be one of the lucky, chosen ones, whose baby falls swiftly into a six hour sleeping routine within two months or…….you’ll be like the rest of us!

Either way, there isn’t much you can do about this early time except to prepare yourself and your partner. Accept that it will be tough. Very tough. Batch cooking, tag teaming and being kind to each other all help. Just know that sooner or later, it will end. So try not to bend yourself too far out of shape in the meantime.

Your emotions will be sensitive, your attention span will be limited and, despite your overwhelming joy at having given birth to new life, your outlook may be overshadowed by a depression you cannot explain. Your lack of sleep undoubtedly plays a significant part in this. Stick with it and look forward to it getting better.

mother and baby lying on a bed

Getting back into a routine

So your baby is sleeping through, or at least 6 hours straight at night – firstly, congratulations! This is when you need to start analysing your own current sleep pattern and routine. It’s time to lose the bad habits that you have inevitably developed in the plight to get yourself to this place.

Yes you have been functioning on 3, 4, 5 hours sleep but now this needs to be upped, your mental and physical health depend on it. Look at the tips below and start setting the conditions to slowly bring your sleep up to between 7 to 8 hours a night.

Binge sleeping at the weekends is not something that mitigates the negative effects of a week of poor sleep. Be consistent and do not feel guilty about spending time on understanding yourself and your needs, it will benefit everyone around you.

Are you an early bird or a night owl?

There really is truth in this and, by now, I’m sure you know which one you are. But whether you are up with the dawn chorus or prefer a more casual start to the day, it’s all about setting a routine for the body so it knows when to expect sleep and when it needs to get going.

Set a bedtime alarm as well as a wake-up alarm (at least 8 hours later!) and be rigid with it. This means no lie-ins! It is also important to allow a ‘sleep pressure’ to build up through the day. To do this you should avoid napping, especially after 3pm.

woman lying on a bed using a smartphone

Beware the blue light!

Darkness induces melatonin which is released by the body as a trigger for sleep. In the evening keep the lighting dim and avoid ipads and phones at least two hours before you go to bed. Not only do they prevent the brain from relaxing, but they emit a frequency of light that prevents the release of melatonin.

Keep it cool

The body needs to drop slightly in temperature in order to enter sleep. Try to keep your room cooler rather than hotter. A warm bath and shower before bed helps you to drop off. Not because it is relaxing, although that clearly helps, but because as you get out the body tries to lose heat and so drops slightly in temperature.


Will you pass out with alcohol? Absolutely! Will you get a good night’s sleep? Absolutely not! You will wake up early, needing the toilet and likely be unable to get back to sleep leaving you tired, with a short fuse and dehydrated for the rest of the day.

Alcohol is also a powerful REM sleep suppressor. REM sleep helps us deal with our emotional issues and traumas by rationalising and processing them. Without these stages of sleep, the mind will feel stressed and anxious as it has been unable to carry out its internal emotional processing. It will also cause you to pile on weight and often causes a cycle of addiction. One early evening drink is probably enough to relax you but not trigger any unwanted sleep effects.


Instead of thinking of caffeine as something which ‘wakes you up’, instead think of it as a sleep inhibitor. Because that is exactly what it does. We all metabolise this drug at different rates, but it’s often best not to drink any caffeine after 3pm to ensure it does not impede your sleep. And remember chocolate and hot chocolate both have caffeine in.

tired mum drinking coffee

The bed and bedroom are for sleeping!

Sex is probably the last thing on your mind, but that’s the only other thing allowed in your bedroom apart from sleeping. By this we mean try to avoid working, eating, watching TV or reading in your bedroom, or at least in your bed. Come to see it for what it is, a sanctuary for you to get your straight-8 in. That’s its purpose. Embrace it.

The benefits of exercise

Just do it! You can always come up with an excuse: you’re too tired, you don’t have time, it’s raining. But do not underestimate the power of exercise for your mental health, physical health and your sleep. Take the baby with you in a running pram, do a garden workout during nap time or tag team with your partner. But whatever you do, make sure you get into a routine and set yourself realistic goals that you’ll stick to.

Fault Finding

A bad night’s sleep; we’ve all experienced it, even without the help of our littles ones. Nights when you simply cannot get to sleep, or you wake up in the middle of the night and cannot drift back off.

In fact, a significant proportion of the population report regularly not being able to obtain a sufficient amount of sleep. What we all need is a little more relaxation. Anxiety about sleep, or not sleeping, is particularly detrimental to this relaxed state. It quickly creates a cycle. Worrying about not being able to sleep throughout the day manifests itself as a racing and ‘stressed’ mind that, despite it’s exhausted state, cannot switch off at night. This then feeds anxiety the next day and the cycle repeats. You have to break this.

If you are seriously struggling with your sleep, do visit your GP for a referral to a specialist in sleep hygiene or a course of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. There are even a number of online courses you can take, including the app Sleepio.

It is also important to proactively calm and relax the mind, and apps such as Headspace can really help.

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