We’ve all been there. We’re awake with the kids for what feels like an entire night and then we have to get up for work. Whether that work is at home or elsewhere makes little difference, and knowing the sleepless nights won’t last forever doesn’t help. Keeping your eyes open is a challenge.
Here we take a look at some useful things to do to help you get through this difficult time.
Eat a healthy breakfast
Breakfast gives you the energy to start the day, and helps your body to realise that now is the time to be awake. Missing breakfast can also mean that you end up snacking on less healthy foods later in the morning, giving you short term energy highs that soon see you crashing back into fatigue again.
Avoid overly processed foods and takeaways
Processed foods are full of sugar, salt and fat. When you’re sleep deprived and unable to think clearly enough to put either a shopping list or a meal plan together, they do seem tempting. However tempting they are though, your body will thank you if you eat a balanced healthy meal instead.
Healthy meals don’t need to be time consuming. One quick and easy meal option is a jacket potato cooked in the microwave with a small tin of tuna and some mayonnaise. You could also try cooking and freezing some meals ahead, at the weekends or when you have more time. Or you could stock up on healthy ready-meals in the freezer for those times when you simply don’t have the time or energy to cook.
Avoid sugary foods
When you’re tired, it’s very tempting to reach for the sweet foods, which may taste good but which can actually make you feel even worse. When you eat sugary foods your blood sugar rises quickly, but it also falls very quickly too, leaving you feeling more tired and hungry than before. It’s a good idea to eat little and often when you’re feeling tired, but choose healthy foods such as fruits, yoghurts or a handful of nuts and you’ll feel a lot less sleepy.
Dehydration can make you feel very tired. Make sure you’re drinking plenty throughout the day – this should be around six to eight glasses of fluid a day, and while teas and coffees do count, water is obviously the best choice.
If you’re breastfeeding you may want to limit your caffeine intake too. There isn’t a great deal of information about breastfeeding and caffeine intake, and in the UK there’s no limit set, but in the US breastfeeding mums are advised to keep their caffeine intake below 200mg. This is the same as two cups of tea or two cups of instant coffee a day.
The best way to ensure that you’re not dehydrated is to look at the colour of your urine. If you’re well hydrated it should be straw coloured or pale yellow. Anything darker than this could mean you’re not drinking enough.
This is easier said than done, especially with little ones around. Often, finding time to eat, or even remembering to eat, can seem impossible, but keeping yourself topped up – little and often – can help you to stay more alert, have more energy, and if you’re breastfeeding, to keep the nutrition getting through to your little one too.
Remember that overeating can end up making you feel sleepier too, so grabbing dinner and eating it quickly while the baby is asleep for ten minutes may not be doing you any favours either.
Exercise is still important
If you can, try to exercise every day, preferably outdoors in the daylight. This will help to reset your body’s internal clock and remind your body that it’s daytime. Daylight hours are shorter at this time of year, so it’s even more important to try and make this a priority at lunchtime. Getting outside will also help your body to make vitamin D, which many of us lack, especially in the winter months. Vitamin D helps us to absorb calcium, which is important for healthy bones and teeth.
Regulate your sleep through light
We’re naturally set to sleep at night, so try to keep the lights dim at night and bright in the daytime. Darkness promotes the release of a hormone – melatonin – which tells the body that it’s time to sleep, whereas bright light (preferably daylight) tells our body it is time to be awake. So keeping the lights as dim as possible at nighttime when you are both awake can help to start getting those sleep patterns sorted.
Regulate your sleep through diet
For many, getting to sleep at night isn’t an issue, but new parents can sometimes be anxious and this can stop them falling asleep easily. Chicken, turkey, tuna and soybeans are all high in tryptophan, an amino acid that helps to make serotonin and melatonin in the brain, both of which are very important for sleep regulation. So make sure you have a dinner containing some protein foods at least two hours before going to bed.
Increase your fruit and veg
When you’re sleeping less, getting less quality sleep or taking sleep in shorter periods, your immune system may be compromised. At this time of year there are all sorts of bugs around and it is worth trying to include plenty of fruits and vegetables in your diet, increasing your intake of immune boosting vitamins and minerals and helping to combat colds and other germs.
Planning your meals for the week can help you to stay healthy, to remember to eat, and to save on buying food that you never get around to eating.
Once you’ve planned your meals, you can make a shopping list, and many new parents find shopping online and having their groceries delivered helps ease the stress of carting babies and toddlers around the supermarket and coming away with everything but what you went in for!
Written by Jennifer Low, PgDip Dietetics, MSc Nutrition, BSc Psychology. Registered dietitian and spokesperson for the British Dietetic Association.