Tag Archives: sleep deprivation

Wakey wakey… Coping with sleep deprivation

17 Jan

Greetings faithful reader. Let’s play a little game I like to call “Have you ever…?” Have you ever loaded up the car, put the keys in the ignition ready to head out for a play date only to realise that your most precious cargo is still in his cot inside the house? Have you ever hurled abuse at your life partner for hiding the TV remote only to open your handbag and find said remote sitting in the compartment that normally houses your mobile phone? Have you ever stared blankly at a pregnant customer asking for a headache tablet that is safe for her to use? You know that there is some sort of medication she can take; you think it might start with a ‘p’. What’s it called again? Have you ever had an entire conversation with Janet from your mother’s group only to walk away and remember that her name is actually Sarah, you do Pilates together and she in fact has no children? If you answered yes to any of these questions then you are either a few letters short of an alphabet, or more likely you’re a few z’s short of a decent sleep.

Everyone warns you, but no one can truly prepare you for the reality of postnatal sleep deprivation. Having suffered from insomnia for most of my adult life I thought the sleepless nights with a newborn would be a breeze. Sleep deprivation, or the reduced length of sleep due to an externally imposed restriction of the opportunity to sleep, was a whole new ballgame. Many people say that sleep deprivation is like torture. I’m here to tell these people that they are mistaken. Sleep deprivation is not like torture, it is torture – a tactic favoured by the KGB and the Japanese in PoW camps during World War Two. While I’m fairly sure Boy Wonder isn’t working for the Mossad or CIA, his recent night-time activities have transformed me into a perpetually exhausted zombielike being. So why is sleep so important?

As human beings we spend one third of our lives sleeping. The consequences of not getting enough sleep are pretty clear. If you’ve ever pulled an all-nighter or had to deal with a screaming baby at all hours, you would be familiar with these consequences – forgetfulness, grogginess, grumpiness and reduced awareness. As mother Fiona Sugden wrote in a recent post on Mama Mia, “It is a first world problem, but long-term sleep deprivation can be a serious one for many people.” Losing sleep affects mental agility and response time. Studies show that chronic sleep deprivation leads to a decrease in performance equivalent to a blood alcohol level of 0.05%. The Chernobyl nuclear accident, the Exxon Valdez oil spill and the Challenger space shuttle disaster have all been attributed to human errors in which sleep-deprivation played a role. While raising a child may not be the same as running a nuclear power plant, trying to operate a child while sleep deprived is not without its own dangers.

A new baby typically results in 400-750 hours of lost sleep for parents in the first year. While there isn’t much you can do to change the quantity of sleep you get, it is possible to manage the quality of sleep you get. Here are a few things you can do to improve your sleep.

1. Listen to your body

Most bodily processes including the sleep-wake cycle are controlled by an internal ‘clock’ within the brain. To get quality sleep you need to obey your clock.

  • Don’t ignore tiredness. If you find yourself falling asleep on the couch or in the rocking chair in your baby’s nursery, GO TO BED.
  • Create a relaxing bedtime routine. Once you’ve established a regular bedtime routine for your baby, do the same for yourself. About an hour before bed, turn off the TV and put aside the work you’ve brought home. Make a cup of herbal tea or warm milk, take a warm bath, curl up with a good book, anything as long as it is relaxing.
  • Don’t force yourself to fall asleep if you’re not ready. If you haven’t fallen asleep after 30 minutes, get up, go to another room and listen to some soothing music or read until you feel sleepy.
  • Get enough early morning sunshine. Exposure to light during early waking hours helps to set your body clock.

2. Make your bedroom more inviting

Quality sleep is more likely if your bedroom is a restful and comfortable place.

  • Keep your bedroom at a comfortable temperature. To drop off we must cool off, which is why those hot summer nights can cause a bad night’s sleep.
  • Block out light and noise which can wake you from a light sleep. If noise is a problem, consider purchasing a sound machine or even just a pair of earplugs. Don’t worry, you will still hear your baby. Parents are hardwired to hear their offspring’s cries.
  • Use your bed only for sleep and sex. If you are in the habit of paying bills or watching TV in bed, stop. You should associate your bed only with bedtime activities. Remember: Try to clear your mind; don’t use bedtime to solve your daily problems.

3. Just say no!

Some people resort to medications or ‘social drugs’ in the mistaken belief that sleep will be more likely. Here’s why you should just say no:

  • A cup of coffee or a cigarette in the afternoon can delay sleep onset even hours later, and more than a couple of standard drinks may make your sleep more restless. Don’t forget that caffeine may also be found in chocolate, soft drinks, and various medications.
  • Sleeping pills may also be more of a hindrance than help. They may cause daytime sleepiness, and may also have a ‘rebound’ effect whereby falling asleep without them tends to be even harder.

4. Relaaaxxx

Stress often reduces sleep quality.

  • If random thoughts are keeping you awake, keep a notepad by your bed so that you have a place to unload them until the morning.
  • Move your body with some exercise during the day, making sure to finish up at least three hours before going to bed.
  • Give relaxation exercises such as yoga, progressive muscle relaxation and deep breathing a try. Baby Centre has a great article on relaxation techniques for parents.

5. Miscellaneous suggestions

A few more handy hints include:

  • Avoiding heavy meals close to bedtime.
  • Snoozing for a maximum of 15- to 20-minutes during the day to help improve alertness, sharpen the mind and generally reduce the symptoms of fatigue.
  • Turning your clock to face the wall to prevent you from counting the minutes you are still awake.
  • Reminding yourself that this phase of your life will pass and that one day soon you will experience uninterrupted sleep once more.

Well, it’s time to practice what I preach, shut down the old computer and lie down on that thing with the mattress where you sleep. What’s it called again?

Taking baby steps in 2012

5 Jan
A pregnant woman

About a week after giving birth to Boy Wonder I decided it was time to venture out into the big wide world. I was super excited to take him to the pharmacy and show him off to my colleagues. I rummaged through my wardrobe until I found a dress I could actually fit into, herded Boy Wonder and Mr Wonderful into the car and off we went.

“Hey Ren, great to see you. When’s the baby due?” This was the greeting I received from a regular customer when I arrived at the pharmacy. In my delirious, sleep-deprived state I started to laugh. The customer looked at my belly and said “surely not long to go now”. Needless to say, I was beyond horrified. Wasn’t it obvious I had already delivered my precious bundle? Did I still look pregnant? Are you kidding me?

Now I’ve spent time with many a pregnant woman and new mother alike, sisters, friends, customers. I know that in most cases the human body still looks pregnant after giving birth. I know that it generally takes six weeks for a woman’s uterus to contract back to its original size and position. I know that for many women myself included, it takes a good forty weeks to gain all that baby weight. What I did not know was that when I found myself in this intensely vulnerable position, all of my knowledge would fly out the window. Having been somewhat of a featherweight for most of my life, I was suddenly 25 kilos heavier and incredibly insecure.

I returned home that day feeling utterly demoralised. I jumped online to try and find a quick and easy way to lose my baby weight. What I ended up stumbling upon however was a post on Mia Freedman’s website Mamamia showing photos of rock star Pink and Jamie Oliver’s wife Jools just days after giving birth. And guess what? They still had their bellies! These images reminded me that bodies generally don’t bounce back after giving birth. It takes nine months to grow a baby, so why expect to take just weeks to “bounce back”? The vast majority of women take months or even years to lose the weight they gained during pregnancy. Most healthcare professionals, me included, would recommend that you take your time and follow a healthy approach to your weight loss goals. The time had come to practice what I preached…

Five months have passed since that fateful day in the pharmacy and I am proud to report that I have lost more than half of my baby weight. It hasn’t been an easy slog but I’m getting there. I’m not going to lie – I have certainly had my moments. Just ask Mr Wonderful how many tanties I’ve thrown whilst trying to select an outfit for a night out with the girls or even just dinner with the family. Not pretty!

We recently welcomed in 2012. New Year’s Eve is a great time to look back over the past 12 months and forward to the coming year. It’s a time to reflect on the changes we want to make and goals we wish to achieve and resolve to follow through on them. And so I have come to the realisation that there is a new little man in the world thanks to me and my body, and that I need to be a good role model for him and teach him how to be healthy.

How does one begin to achieve this goal of better health after pregnancy? It’s all about taking baby steps…

Step 1. Consider your eating habits

To help you keep up with the demands of being a new parent as well as speeding your recovery from labour and birth, aim to eat a healthy, nutritious and varied diet. Most women find that if they eat for their hunger and eat a healthy diet, the baby weight comes off pretty naturally. Keep snacks such as carrot sticks, apple slices and rice crackers around the house to keep you from feeling hungry and to provide you with much needed energy throughout the day. Just remember that no matter how badly you want to lose the weight, you mustn’t eat less than 1800 calories a day, especially if you are breastfeeding.

The ChooseMyPlate.gov website is a great resource where you can design a personalised eating plan based on your age, activity level and weight loss goals. There is also a special section for breastfeeding mums.

Step 2. Move it mama!

Aerobic and strength training exercises are important after pregnancy to burn calories and keep your bones and muscles nice and strong. Exercise also provides many other benefits to new mothers by helping to both prevent and treat postnatal depression, regulating sleep and relieving stress.

Gentle exercise such as slow walking, pelvic floor exercises and stretching may be commenced as soon as you feel up to it, however you should wait until you get your doctor’s ok before taking up more strenuous exercise. Taking a brisk walk with your baby in the pram is enough to get your muscles working and your heart pumping. You should be aiming for at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise on most days of the week. With a new baby, finding 30 minutes in a row may prove a little difficult so break up the time into 10-minute increments and work your way up. Trust me, you can do it!

While lugging around your growing baby all day is a workout in itself, you still need to add some strength training. Your program should be focused on the re-establishment of good alignment, functional stability, core strength and flexibility. It is often a good idea to enlist the help of a personal trainer or physiotherapist specialising in women’s health. For those of you in Melbourne, I highly recommend the professional, experienced, friendly folk at Be Active Physiotherapy.

Step 3. Get guzzling

There isn’t much point in getting the nutrition and exercise right if you don’t get the hydration right. Why is water so important? If you don’t drink enough water your body goes into a kind of starvation mode and tries to hold on to everything it can. Plus, many vitamins and nutrients are water-soluble, so even if you are eating a healthy diet you may not absorb all the goodness without sufficient water. If you are drinking enough fluids, your urine should be relatively clear and you should be going to the bathroom roughly every three to four hours.

For those of you who aren’t that keen on water (I’m hearing you, I’m not a water fan), try adding slices of lemon or lime to make it a little more appealing.

Step 4. Catch some z’s

I know, I know, impossible right? But being sleep deprived can be detrimental to your health and make it harder for you to shed your baby weight. When you are tired your body produces stress hormones such as cortisol that can cause weight gain. Studies, as well as my own personal experience, show that we don’t feel like taking care of ourselves when we’re tired. People suffering exhaustion are less likely to exercise and less likely to make healthy food choices.

Try and take advantage of offers of help so that you can nap. Let your partner, a family member or friend take the baby for a walk, help with the housework, do some laundry, cook you dinner, whatever. Take that time to rest. You may also have been told to “sleep when your baby sleeps”. This is great advice! Take as many naps as you can during the day and try to go to bed early occasionally. You’ll be amazed what a difference a little shut-eye makes.

Step 5. Take the pressure down

Remember not to be too hard on yourself. Your body has most likely changed after pregnancy and childbirth. It may have matured into a more womanly shape. Your boobs may no longer defy gravity and your pelvic floor may never be the same again, but be proud of your body. It’s done a pretty wonderful job of bringing your baby into the world hasn’t it?

Wishing you all a happy and healthy 2012!

 

To Grandma’s house we go… Is it ok to sedate your baby for travel?

20 Dec

A few weeks ago Mr Wonderful announced that his work Christmas party was coming up and he would be flying to Sydney to attend. Since his parents live in Sydney, I thought why not kill two birds with one stone? While Mr Wonderful was off having a ball with his colleagues, I would take Boy Wonder up to spend some quality time with his grandparents. So, to Grandma’s house we went…

I was overcome by a feeling of calm and serenity. We had successfully completed our maiden voyage to Sydney and back with Boy Wonder when he was just eleven weeks old. He was a perfect specimen of baby back then. About three hours of air travel in total, and not a peep out of him the entire time. Surely travel with a twenty week old would be just as easy? Oh how wrong we were! Yes that’s right folks, my baby had the audacity to cry on the plane. My usually placid, happy child turned into a screaming, crying demon child! I broke into a sweat as I felt all eyes lock on us and saw people nudging each other then pointing in our direction. “Oh my goodness,” I said turning to Mr Wonderful. “It’s happened! We’ve become ‘one of them’. We have the screaming baby on the plane!”

Many parents dread taking their baby on a plane or other public transportation for extended periods. How on earth are you going to change your baby’s nappy in the awkward confines of an aeroplane toilet? What is the nicely dressed man sitting next to you going to do when he gets off the plane and realises he has a little baby vomit on his suit? Will your baby scream the whole way? Are your fellow passengers going to give you dirty looks and try to chase you off the plane with pitchforks and torches?

It’s not unusual for parents to consider avoiding such potential problems by medicating their baby to sleep. A recent survey by NBC’s Today Show and Parenting.com uncovered a startling finding. Of the 26,000 mothers asked about their deepest, darkest secrets, one in five admitted to medicating their child to get through a special event such as a plane flight. One in twelve mums does it just to get some peace and quiet on a regular night. Dr Nancy Snyderman, NBC’s medical expert, said she believes the one in five number is actually low.

Medication is a tempting way to keep your baby quiet for a few hours on a plane.  Truth be told, the idea of sedating Boy Wonder during this short trip to Sydney did briefly cross my mind. So is it ever ok to give your baby medication to get through a flight or even so that you as a parent can get some sleep? This very question caused an uproar on channel 7’s Sunrise earlier this year. Sunrise GP Dr Ginni Mansberg weighed in on the debate stating that sleep deprived parents “need our compassion and not our judgement”. She advocates the use of some over-the-counter medicine every now and then for parents requiring a decent night’s sleep.

While I both sympathise and empathise with parents who are sleep deprived, I believe both as a pharmacist and a new mum that any potential benefits are not worth the possible health risks. According to Australia’s drug regulatory body the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), there have been a number of overseas reports of serious adverse effects among infants and children given over-the-counter medicines containing sedating antihistamines. “These things are not ok for under two-year olds” says Dr Ginni, “because their metabolism is still developing and there have been some severe reactions even at the correct doses”. In fact, as of September 2008 medicines containing sedating antihistamines became ‘prescription only’ for children less than two years in Australia.

With Christmas and summer holidays upon us here in Australia, I get bombarded at the pharmacy with requests from parents for sedating antihistamines for their babies. I try to counsel parents about ways to make travel with a baby a little easier without medicating. Some handy hints include:

  • scheduling flights during baby’s sleep times;
  • choosing an airline that has bassinettes in the bulkhead which allow your baby to sleep well in something other than your arms;
  • trying to feed your baby during take-off and landing to help equalise their ears and for comfort;
  • bringing a goody bag of new books, toys and favourite snacks to keep baby occupied while they are awake;
  • trying to stay relaxed yourself because baby can sense when you are feeling tense and will most likely stress out too.

If you do decide to try sedating your baby for travel, be sure to follow these tips:

  • Discuss your plan with your child’s doctor or pharmacist. Some medications are unsafe if your baby has certain health conditions or is taking other medications.
  • Ensure you understand the correct dosage by discussing with your doctor or pharmacist.
  • Do a test run of the medication before you travel, and monitor your baby for side effects.

The bottom line is, YOU ARE NOT ALONE. I guarantee you that someone else feels overwhelmed by the prospect of travelling with a screaming child (lots of people actually). Someone else will medicate their child, or question their decision to medicate or brave it with no sedation at all. Just remember that no matter what you decide to do, be safe, be smart and be confident in your decision. Ultimately all any of us want as parents is to do our best for our children. Sometimes that means spending four days in a foreign city with our in-laws, but that is a story for another time…

Happy holidays to all xoxo

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