The close relationship between sleep and mental health is well known. Poor sleep can lead to mental health problems, and mental health problems can lead to worsening sleep. As a parent however, sometimes a lack of sleep is inevitable, especially in the early days.
A lack of sleep can lead to being too tired to find coping with daily life difficult. When you throw a baby in the mix and you have no choice but to be up every hour to feed or settle your new bundle of love, it can make the struggles of parenthood feel so much worse having to cope with your life that has seemingly changed overnight. It's so important for us as parents to look after ourselves so we can turn up to look after our children as our best versions. When you're sleep deprived, looking after yourself can be a task in itself. Postnatal depression affects as many as 1 in 10 women within a year of giving birth. It can also affect fathers and partners. Perinatal mental health illnesses include postpartum anxiety, depression, psychosis, birth trauma and OCD.
How does sleep affect Mental Health?
If you're not getting enough sleep you might:
be more likely to feel anxious and/or depressed
poor sleep can trigger mania and episodes of psychosis
feel more lonely, isolated and not be interested in meeting up with friends or taking part in hobbies you once enjoyed
struggle to make decisions, concentrate or implement basic daily tasks
struggle with relationships
worsen previous mental health problems
Coping with the everyday challenges of being a parent
You can't avoid sleepless nights when you're a parent. Newborn babies are up throughout the night feeding and looking for comfort. My three year old still needs me in the night sometimes to help her back to sleep. If you're feeling anxious it can exacerbate worries you have over your child, worries that we all have as parents which further stop us sleeping peacefully. Depression can lead us to feel like we have no energy. You might be concerned how your mood affects your children or worry about the stigma you face if you were to reach out for help.
"No Parent is Perfect. It's OK to struggle"
It's important to remember that the perfect parent does not exist. Everyone has challenges to face. Here are some things that can help you cope with sleepless nights:
Try and nap when baby naps. I know this isn't always easy, especially for parents who are working- or if your baby doesn't nap! Give yourself some time to rest, try some meditation or listen to calming music.
Don't be afraid to talk and ask for help. I wish I had done this sooner, but I felt like I am their mum, I can do this. I felt I had to prove something, and instead I ran myself into the ground. Family and friends will be happy to watch your little one so you can catch up on some shut-eye. Share the load with your partner if you can, or swap which days you get a lie in on a weekend. Talk about how you're feeling, you may not be the only one feeling this way.
Try and get outside. The benefits to being out in nature are endless. The fresh air reignites your energy, and being outside is proven to relieve stress and help regulate yours (and your babies) body clocks.
Go to bed earlier. It's easy to put the baby to bed and then binge watch TV just so you feel like you've had some time to yourself or with your partner. If you're struggling, try going to bed when the baby does.
If you're exclusively breastfeeding you might be up throughout the night, and it can feel really lonely sometimes. Just because you're up doesn't mean you have to do everything. Ask your partner to help with winding, changing and settling, so once you've fed you can get some sleep too.
White noise can help you too! Babies can be really loud little roommates. Some background noise might help you settle to sleep easier, and stop you from waking at every single grunt or shuffle. Trust me, you will still hear your little one when they need you.
Going to baby and toddler groups and meeting other parents can really help. Knowing your not alone on this journey and having someone to talk things through can benefit you both.
Don't be afraid to reach out to a professional. I couldn't urge this enough. The health visitor, your GP or a mental health practitioner. It takes a lot of strength to ask for help when you're struggling, and it can make so much difference if your mental health has been impacted.
As a parent we all have sleepless nights and we all feel a bit irritable some days. If you, or someone you know is:
persistently feeling sad
has little to no energy
finding it difficult to look after themselves or their baby
having frightening thoughts
consumed with anxiety and worry
You should seek help as soon as possible. A range of help is available.