Since sleep plays such a major role in our mental health, I met with Leanne Ford, Registered Social Worker and Psychotherapist at Rebirth Wellness Centre here in London, Ontario, to learn some strategies that I could share with parents who are working to implement healthy sleep habits for their little one (and, in turn, their entire family!) but maybe are not seeing the results as quickly as they would like.
I regularly talk to parents who are doing everything “right” but their little one needs more time to reliably bring these new sleep skills together. This means that these parents are working hard to get more sleep but continue to feel discouraged and sleep deprived. If this sounds like you, this blog post is for you!
How the sleep-deprived brain works
Leanne explained that when we are sleep deprived, our frontal lobe (the part of the brain responsible for emotional regulation, judgement, problem solving and more) is not “online” so we cannot reason what it is we need for ourselves. If we can follow the “NEST” model, we are more likely to have improved mental health through increased self care.
The NEST Model
NEST is an acronym that stands for Nutrition, Exercise, Sleep, and Time for yourself.
Nutrition- a balanced diet, rich in protein and Omega 3s, helps improve mood.
Aim for 30 minutes a day to improve mood and decrease symptoms of anxiety. Exercise also improves sleep! Remember that ANY time outside, even just 10 minutes to sit on your front porch or go for a light walk, will help.
Leanne recommends trying your best to get a stretch of 4 consecutive hours of sleep. With little ones, especially newborns, this can be challenging. If you are struggling with sleep and your little one is waking often, have your partner, friend, or a support provider take over one of the nighttime feeds. Keep in mind that the way things are right now are temporary. Having someone take over a nighttime feed can be temporary, too. You will not be sleep-deprived forever. This too shall pass. Catch up on sleep when you can. If you are having trouble sleeping, laying down (you do not have to sleep if you are unable) is still restorative.
Time for self
Keep connected with loved ones, friends and reach out when help is needed. There is sometimes a sense of shame that comes with asking for help, but this needs to change, please do not hesitate to ask for what you need! Consider a post-partum doula- let me know if you need amazing recommendations! You need respite, even if it just means walking away and laying down to rest.
If you have concerns about your mood, contact your family doctor, a health nurse, midwife, or registered social worker. If you are looking for a registered social worker, I highly recommend Leanne, she is wonderful!
A note for loved ones about mental health:
Since a sleep deprived parent may not be able to reason out what it is that they need for themselves, be there! Offer to hold the baby so mom can sleep, offer to give a bottle so that mom can get sleep that is not fragmented, stay with the baby so the parents can go for a walk or coffee or get their hands dirty in the garden. Please watch for signs of anxiety and depression because when we are not sleeping well, we are more likely to suffer with these.
Fragmented sleep can really get to us, it breaks us down and makes it difficult to take care of our mental health. When our little ones are not sleeping, it is a phase, it feels as though we will be sleep deprived for life, but it does not have to last forever- it is a season. If you would like support with you little one’s sleep, I offer a free 15-minute initial consultation. We will use this phone call to talk about your little one’s sleep and what you can expect when we work together to make big improvements!
Hang in there, you’ve got this!
To schedule an appointment with Leanne, Registered Social Worker and Psychotherapist at Rebirth Wellness Centre in London (Hyde Park location), you can call Rebirth Wellness or use the Mind Body app.