Wellbeing

“How can I keep my energy levels up with a new baby?” – a sleep expert answers your questions

Welcome to Stylist’s Sleep Diaries, where we’re taking a deep-dive into one of the most important (and elusive) factors in our day-to-day lives: sleep. To help us understand more about it, we’re inviting women to track their bedtime routines over a five-day period – and filing these diaries to sleep expert Dr Nerina Ramlakhan for analysis.  

In this week’s Sleep Diaries, a 28-year-old photo editor wonders if there’s a way to combat her loss of energy during maternity leave.

A little about me:

  • Age: 28
  • Occupation: photo editor (currently on maternity leave)
  • Number of hours sleep I get each night: 7
  • Number of hours sleep I wish I got each night: 8
  • Any officially diagnosed sleep-related problems: bruxism (excessive teeth grinding) and nightmares
  • How much water I drink on average per day: I drink around 1 litre sometimes less. I used to drink around 2.5 when I was working but, since having the baby, I’ve noticed my water intake has really slacked (and my skin has broken out as a result) 
  • How much exercise I do on average per week: 1 hour’s walking per day (weather dependent)

Day 1

I bathe and feed my baby son, Dexter, at 7pm. Then, while my partner sits with Dexter,I drive my mum back home: she popped by for a cuppa this afternoon.

When I get home, I decide to do some gardening and catch up on all the voice notes from friends that day. Then, at 8.45pm, I have a shower while my partner cooks late-night pancakes for us. We get to bed at 9.30pm, and watch a documentary. Then, I pop my phone on charge by the side of the bed and set it to ‘do not disturb’.

I’m happy as I got a few jobs ticked off my ever-growing list today, but feel compelled to drink lots of water before bed as I suddenly realised I haven’t really drank much. I get to sleep around 11pm, listening to the rain falling outside, and there are no wakes up from Dexter so I sleep through.

The baby wakes at around 6.30am, and I find it difficult to get up as I’m in a good deep sleep, so I bring him back to bed with me for a few extra hours’ kip. We wake again at 8am, I make him a bottle, and we play for an hour. 

At 9am, I have a shower, before making him some porridge. I treat myself to a spoonful whilst feeding him, then leave the house at 10am for the day.

Sleep Diaries: “I feel really overwhelmed and down. Like I’m losing control.”
Sleep Diaries: “I feel really overwhelmed and down. Like I’m losing control.”

Day 2

Everything seems to have gone wrong today: I lost the baby’s dummy while I was out, so he screamed the whole car journey and I had to pull over to try soothing him. Usually he has a strict napping routine, but it got to 2pm and he still hadn’t slept. Next thing I knew, he’d cut his foot, been sick on the dog, fallen over and banged his head.

The result of this? I feel really overwhelmed and down. Like I’m losing control.

For dinner, I have chicken fajitas. My partner gives Dexter a bath while I shower the dog to get the baby sick off him. I then gave Dexter a baby massage, before hoovering the hall and lounge (we’re currently renovating the whole house, so have to stay on top of the cleaning) and wiping the last of the baby sick off the sofa.

I spend some time uploading and editing some photos, but, by the time I’ve washed my face at 8.45pm, I just feel exhausted and done with the day. I get into bed with a cuppa, switch the lights off, and stick the telly on. I pop my phone on charge but end up texting a friend until 9.40pm… and then the house alarm suddenly goes off.

Unsurprisingly, I don’t sleep well. It’s light, with lots of tossing and turning. I wake around 3am for the toilet, and again at 6am. I don’t get up properly until 7am, though, when I hear Dexter on the baby monitor. I skip breakfast, and head out for brunch at 11am instead. 

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Day 3

My mood picks up after meeting my friends. I walk to and from our brunch, and then take the dog out for an hour, too. I put Dexter to bed at 7pm (after an hour’s crying) and he goes down straight away.

Dinner tonight is vegetables and scrambled egg, plus a bit of ‘me time’: this means chilling downstairs watching shit reality TV, without my phone. I wash my face around 9pm, then cuddle up with my partner and watch TV in bed for an hour.

When we switch the telly off, I stick my phone back on charge and into ‘do not disturb’ mode, and drift off to sleep. Dexter makes noises at 11pm, midnight and 3am but, when I wake up and go in to check, he’s still asleep and just mumbling. I realise I must have been sleeping very lightly to have heard it.

how to sleep sleep hygiene
Sleep Diaries: “I realise I must have been sleeping very lightly.”

Day 4

I wake up at 6.30am to a car playing loud music outside. I have a shower, give Dexter his bottle, and then feed him breakfast at 7am. After this, I take him to my mum’s house for 12pm, and finally make time for a crumpet at 12.30pm.

Tonight, I eat lasagne at 6.30pm, bathe Dexter at 7.30, give him his bottle at 8, and find time to watch an hour of Grand Designs with my partner (as well as down a cup of tea). Then, I wash my face and hop into bed around 9pm, where I read a magazine.

I go to sleep quickly, with no wakes in the night. My mum had the baby all day today so I could strip wallpaper at home, which means I feel tired, but really positive that I’ve been so productive.

I wake up around 7.30am, take the dog for a walk, and then sit down to eggs on toast at 11.30am. 

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Day 5

It’s a productive day in the house: I get lots of jobs done and the kitchen renovation is finally coming to an end, so I’m feeling happier today as things are a lot less chaotic (no builders!).

I don’t walk the dog, as it rained all day and he refuses to go out when it’s wet. I eat leftover lasagna for dinner, and decide to have a night in front of the TV: we watch a Netflix series from 8-10pm.

I go to bed soon after the show finishes, stick my phone on charge, and set it to ‘do not disturb’. There are no wake ups from Dexter, so I sleep through until 6.15am, when my partner pops the baby in bed with me. 

We cuddle until 7, then I give him his bottle and sort him out for the day. I have a slice of toast around 9am.

So, what does it all mean? A sleep expert offers her thoughts

Dr Nerina Ramlakhan, sleep expert and professional physiologist, says: “You appear to be a good sleeper, which is a blessing with a young baby. However, there are a few lifestyle tweaks that you could improve on which would really help your energy and also help you to get into good habits for when you’re back at work.

“As there are a lot of pulls on your energy – the baby, the ongoing recovery from pregnancy (it can take up to 18months to fully recover), the house renovation, the dog – you need to make a good high-protein breakfast non-negotiable. And be sure to have this within an hour or so of waking too.

“It doesn’t have to be a luxurious relaxed event, and can be done on the go, but I feel it will really help to boost your metabolism, get your energy going for the day, and boost levels of feel-good hormones such as serotonin and melatonin, which will help with those days of overwhelm and frustration. Perhaps you could plan a few breakfasts and rotate them through the week so you don’t need to think about it too much?”

Breakfast
Sleep Diaries: “You need to make a good high-protein breakfast non-negotiable.”

Ramlakhan adds: “Ideally, exercise needs to happen every day – walking for an hour is great. You need to put yourself at the centre of your life so that you have the energy for your baby and all of your other commitments, and don’t run your batteries down. 

“This is a common challenge for new mothers, but I’m confident you can do it.”

If you would like to take part in Stylist’s Sleep Diaries, please email us at digital.commissions@stylist.co.uk with ‘SLEEP DIARIES’ as the subject. We look forward to hearing from you.

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Dr Nerina Ramlakhan is a renowned physiologist and sleep expert and regularly hosts sleep programmes and workshops. She is the bestselling author of several books about sleep, including The Little Book of Sleep: The Art of Natural Sleep (Gaia, 2018).

Lead image design: Ami O’Callaghan

Images: Getty/Unsplash

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