How to get More Sleep after you’ve had a Baby

Recently, I stayed up far later than normal to watch a movie that, if I'd thought about it much, was not really worthy of losing sleep over. Clearly, I wasn't thinking about getting through my morning fitness class when I was stretching my bedtime! The workout turned out to be far more difficult than it would have been if I'd gone to bed at the proper time.

I come from a family of women who complain about being tired ALL THE TIME, no matter how much sleep we've had. My mother, my grandmother, my aunts, my sisters and I have all complained about not feeling rested enough. Over the years though, I've found I feel a little less tired when I'm exercising regularly. This was especially true in my blurry and sleep deprived years of babies and young children.

When you don't get enough sleep:

  1. Your muscle tissue takes longer to repair since you're getting less of the deep sleep required to deliver the appropriate amount of oxygen and nutrients to heal your muscles.
  2. Your energy levels are lower since your body isn't functioning optimally.
  3. Your midsection holds more fat around it due to higher levels of the stress hormone, cortisol.
  4. Your cognitive and emotional facilities can become compromised.
  5. Your desire to be intimate with your partner is lessened.

I wanted to help my new mammas set themselves up for better sleep habits now that they’ve had a baby, so I asked Erin Junker from The Happy Sleep Company to help me out. We both agreed that exercise is one of the most important things you can do to help you get a better night’s sleep, so here are some of her suggestions to add exercise into your day when you have a baby:

  1. Time your workout to correspond with your baby’s nap. For some people, it can take up to 6 hours for your body temperature to fall after exercising, so your baby’s nap is the perfect time to work on maximizing the positive effects of exercise on your sleep.
  2. Go for a walk every day, not a stroll in the park, but a brisk walk, one where your heart rate increases for the duration of your outing. It’s not necessary to exhaust yourself to get a better sleep, but moderately intense aerobic exercise, such as walking, will go a long way to getting a good night’s rest.
  3. Being a new mom can be SO tough! Any kind of moderate exercise will help boost your spirits and reduce any stress and anxiety you may be feeling. High levels of stress and anxiety can interfere with getting a restful sleep. Regular exercise has been proven to help reduce the effects of stress, anxiety and depression.

Here are a few other things to consider when focussing on getting enough sleep:

  1. Sleep when your baby sleeps. Wasn't this the first piece of unsolicited advice you received as soon as you announced you were pregnant? It might sound annoying, but it can be very helpful for some new moms.
  2. Commit to a regular exercise routine. It will help you fall asleep faster and will help create smoother transitions between your normal sleep/wake cycles in the night, meaning you won't wake up as easily in the night. Try a FITMOM class to help you get in the habit of exercising every week. There are a number of classes on the schedule, so if your baby's nap time begins to coincide with daytime FITMOM and Baby or FITMOM Stroller Strength classes, you'll be ready to try an evening FITWOMAN class instead!
  3. Restrict caffeine, especially later in the day. This may seem counterintuitive when you're so tired, but it truly helps! Remember that there's caffeine in many drinks and foods that we forget about - tea, chocolate, soft drinks and coffee flavoured foods, such as yogurt and ice cream, to name a few. Too much caffeine can wreck havoc on your sleep at night.
  4. Go to bed earlier than you normally would - even half an hour earlier can make a difference for the next day.

For me, not getting enough sleep on any given night means I'm irritable the next day (which impacts others!). It means that I'm really tired and generally quite unproductive. It means that I feel like I have no energy to exercise and I'll likely talk myself out of it every time. It means I hit the mid-afternoon slump hard. If it goes on for more than a night and it's combined with stress, it means I'll suffer from headaches that I can't get rid of until I actually sleep them off.

In my pre-children days, my greatest worry about having kids was not getting enough sleep. Of course, it happened, but I was surprised at how well I managed during those early years, by implementing some of the suggestions above. Even today, when my kids are great sleepers (with a lot of help from sleep training), I still employ many of the same strategies to get enough sleep, as I prefer the feeling of being awake and alert and not sleepy and unproductive (don't we all!). Which means I’ll think twice about staying up half the night reading a good book or watching a not so great movie these days.

Erin Junker is a Professional Infant & Toddler Sleep Consultant, and owner of The Happy Sleep Company. She works closely with tired parents to help them help their little ones get the healthy, restful sleep they need. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter, and get your family the healthy, happy sleep you deserve!