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Coping with Sleep Deprivation

Since I have become a blog writer, I read a lot more health blogs and I feel frustrated when I read about the ‘importance’ of getting a good 8 hours sleep in and going to bed early to ensure quality sleep. While I will advocate for this, for a mum, especially with children under the age of five it is typically an unattainable goal. I do not think I have actually slept for 8 hours straight since my son was born, and if he does actually sleep through I am still sub-consciously aware of him so I know it is not a ‘deep quality sleep’. It can only take a couple of bad nights for sleep deprivation to really take its toll on our overall wellbeing.

Nutrition is often the first thing to go out the window when this happens as you crave instant energy, have no mental (let alone physical) energy to spend on food preparation and your mood can really take a dive, taking will power for good food with you.

I was inspired to write this blog after a terrible week of sleep, peaking at its worst on Saturday night – long story cut short after our son was up for over two hours in the middle of the night and all settling attempts failed I ended up pulling couch pillows next to his cot for a make shift bed so I could sleep right next to him, my hand on his back so he knew I was there – desperate times call for desperate measures. I felt though that I had barely slept all night and trust me, on Sunday morning when I ‘woke up’ (child woke up crying beside me) I was not feeling like an omelette for breakfast or carrot sticks at morning tea – I am sure other mum’s can relate.

Knowledge can be power - so know that in making good food choices on a day when you have had little sleep can be the one thing that really helps you cope with the day and recover from a lack of sleep much more effectively – ultimately because it is the fuel you put in your body!

My best advice how to do this is simply to minimise the damage of bad food choices and do your very best to get as many nutrients in as possible – and be kind to yourself while you are at it, you are up against some pretty tough circumstances. When I say minimise the damage, I mean keep high sugar, high energy, low nutrient dense food to a minimum. Although it is what we crave the most, it will only ADD to the cycle of crashing energy levels, not give you the nutrients you need to enable your body to repair (on sub-minimal functioning), increase your risk of sickness (which you will be trying to fight off) and simply make you feel crappy. It’s about finding a balance in the middle which can take a bit of practise, and listening to your body. When you have been up half the night your natural circadian rhythm is going to be out of sorts so you may be more or less hungry at times that you do not expect – this is ok just run with it do not worry about the clock. Try and include as much protein-based options as possible and foods that contains a source of good fats as both will really help with maintaining energy levels and combating cravings.

For example, when I did not feel like I could handle eggs for breakfast, I had a whole-grain piece of toast with organic peanut butter and a nectarine. The peanut butter gave me a source of protein and good fats.

I find dinner often a stressful time of evening and when days are going to be pear-shaped I like to know that dinner is taken care of. It means that whatever happens for the rest of the day, the evening meal is sorted and can be eaten at any time. This is where I would turn to a slow-cooker meal, or a dish I can prepare in advance such as a home-made pie, casserole or similar. This means the prep and work can be done in the morning or when baby sleeps in the middle of the day and food will be there – for all family members to eat when they are ready. Of course some days this just is not possible so look for the best options out of a bad situation and remember tomorrow is another day. I shared on Facebook that on Sat night I simply crumbed some fresh fish and had this with frozen peas. It was a great finger food dinner which my son thoroughly enjoyed, the fish was a great source of protein and good fats and the peas snuck some good greens in there – far from a ‘perfect’ meal but pure and simple.

Snacks are often your biggest down fall ‘bad days’ and again I would use fruit as a ‘natural’ sweet snack, Coconut and Date Truffles are always a favourite on these days, some slices of cheese or a handful of nuts. I would try and save ‘sweet treats’ for as late in the day as possible (ideally after dinner) so that it does not cause as much damage to your blood sugar levels.

Above all else, if you do reach for the chocolate bar at 10am, just move on, forgive yourself – sleep depravation turns a sane person crazy let alone when you have little people demanding love and care from you – feeling bad about it will only reinforce the guilt-cycle –every meal is a new meal and every day is a new day.

My final gem of wisdom for dealing with sleep deprivation is to try and get some fresh air in. A casual stroll with bubs in a pram around the block or park is fine. Coping with an unsettled baby is extremely stressful and you are often running on adrenaline to simply get through the night or the even the next hour. Stress will actually inhibit your body’s ability to burn fat as a fuel, which you need for energy (weight loss as well, though do not worry about this in times of chronic sleep deprivation). Just getting out and moving about a little will help you relax, distress and in turn help switch your body off from survival mode.

I hope this is helpful for mum’s coping with some sleep-less nights, for more ongoing nutrition tips and pure and simple recipes come join my online community it is totally free you just enter your email on the right :)

xx Dr Julie

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