This week we’ll explore how to get sleep and rest (they are different! Read on for more!). This continues to be a challenging area in my life between work, kids, and everything else, but I notice that when I am able to prioritize giving my body and mind a break it makes all the difference. I have more patience for Aiden's 2-year-old-ness, more energy to share Caroline, and more kindness toward myself.
I hope you’ll take the time to read these wise words from Robyn Gordon about prioritizing sleep and rest.
We'd also love to hear how you make time for sleep & rest during pregnancy, early days with a newborn, and well into years of parenting.
Sleep & Rest
by Robyn Gordon
Sleep is essential to life. When I started acupuncture school, our teachers repeatedly told us to protect our sleep first and foremost, that our health is rooted in getting good sleep. This basic necessity is in high demand and short supply as a pregnant person and new mom. You’ve read elsewhere to expect to sleep in 2-3 hour increments for the first few months, and plan to sleep while the baby sleeps.
Sleep when the baby sleeps? Even though it is REALLY hard and you want to do a million other things, please take this advice seriously. Everything else can wait. The first few years of your baby’s life is necessarily at odds with getting enough sleep, so it’s even more vital that you let go of everything that is not essential to life to ensure you are getting at least adequate sleep.
We dip into our energy reserves during pregnancy. Pregnancy means we are building another human being in our body with our body; birthing that being through our body; and growing and caring for that being with milk produced from our body (or getting up and making bottles of formula). All of this takes an enormous toll on our energy reserves. We have no energy to waste during this time in our lives.
The way we conserve our energy is to take time to rest and to get enough sleep. Rest and sleep are two different things. Resting throughout the day is equally essential. You will soon find out that babies and toddlers sleep better at night if they nap and/or rest during the day. Adults are the same. If we don’t get enough rest during the day, or if we ignore our sleep cues once the sun sets, we will have more trouble falling asleep and/or sleeping through the night.
Here are a few practical tips:
If you find yourself lagging or needing caffeine: drink more water, put your feet up for even just 15 minutes, and/or take a nap. If you are concerned a nap will interfere with your nighttime sleep, practice going to bed earlier.
If you find yourself waking up in the night or too early - have a small high protein, high fat snack before bed - like a handful of nuts, or avocado or nut butter on a piece of whole grain bread or cracker. If you regularly wake up in the early morning hours, it could be that your blood sugar crashed and woke you up. This is not uncommon during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Your body is using calories even while you sleep. Make sure to have enough to eat for dinner and throughout the day, as well as a small snack before bed. Eating before bed doesn’t affect weight gain nearly as much as not getting enough sleep.
If you find yourself having trouble falling asleep and your mind racing: make sure you are eating enough during the day, particularly protein, whole grains, leafy green vegetables. Cook with a cast-iron skillet. You could potentially be anemic or "blood deficient" (a term for anemia and pre-anemia in Chinese medicine.) If you needed iron supplements during pregnancy, chances are you may still need them postpartum for a period of time.
Need more support? Acupuncture and herbal medicine treatments can be very helpful - there are some great herbal supplements that are safe and effective during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Mindfulness and yoga practices can help you rest and improve sleep as well.
Take this seriously. How you treat yourself during pregnancy and postpartum will set the stage for your health through menopause and beyond. Your future self will thank you. And your adult children will thank you for being around and being healthy enough to enjoy their children!