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Dear Sleep-Deprived Mama

It’s been just over a year since my body screamed no more!

Every day since my daughter was born I’d wake up feeling dazed from a night of breastfeeding. I’d stumble through the day in a fog of more relentless breastfeeding and cold cups of tea. I’d only drive for 5 minutes at a time in fear that I’d fall asleep at the wheel. And the occasional adult conversation, that usually took place at the supermarket checkout, was often incoherent.

In all honesty, a lot of my memories from those first two years of her life are blurry and some are completely inaccurate. Because that’s what can happen when you’re sleep deprived! Your brain can create false memories.

One particular afternoon made me call my husband for help. I had felt a rush of heat up my neck, tingling on one side of my face, my vision blurred, and I could feel myself falling forward because I was so dizzy and nauseous. My husband begged for me to get professional help.

I reluctantly went to see a doctor expecting to be told that I was fine, only to be told I needed to see a neurologist NOW! After describing what had happened to the neurologist, an emergency MRI was ordered to scan my brain because he thought I’d had a stroke. At 33.

Waiting for those results were scary. Stressful. In all honesty, absolutely terrifying.

When a neurologist thinks you’ve had a stroke, you’ve hit crisis point.

The MRI result came back clear. And the neurologist sat there in disbelief.

The symptoms that had led me to see the doctor were put down to a complex migraine brought on by chronic sleep deprivation.

I had assumed that all new moms were tired. That it was expected. But after breastfeeding my toddler on demand for almost two years, things had clearly gotten out of hand.

“It has taken me this absolutely terrifying moment in my life to realize that I need to look after myself, even a little bit, everyday.”

But you don’t have to breastfeed for two years to become chronically sleep deprived! And acute sleep deprivation can be dangerous too!

Not getting enough sleep is a real issue for mothers everywhere. And because so many of us experience it, it becomes normalized. From the beginning we put our babies first and we forget to take care of ourselves. Often for many years, until we hit a crisis point. It has taken me this absolutely terrifying moment in my life to realize that I need to look after myself, even a little bit, everyday.

Chronic sleep deprivation can look like you’re having a stroke. It also puts you at risk of numerous chronic health conditions. You’re also more likely to get a cold because your immune system is weak. And you’re more likely to gain weight.

Chronic sleep deprivation puts you, your family and others at risk. Have you ever felt so tired you’ve been afraid to drive? How many near misses have happened on the roads because of fatigue?

Chronic sleep deprivation seriously messes up your hormones. There is a strong connection between not enough sleep and the short and long term effects on your hormones.

My sleep deprivation has caused chaos even after being cleared of having a stroke. It resulted in a number of hideous complicated migraines. I can’t go back on the pill for contraception because of the hormones in it. I won’t be able to take hormone replacement therapy when I hit menopause. I had a miscarriage just before Christmas because that’s what can happen when your hormones are so out of whack from sleep deprivation.

I’m still on the road to recovery one year on. Because sadly it can take a long time to re-balance your hormones and awful things can happen before they stabilize. Exercise, nutrition and rest are critical. Asking for help, making time for myself, and meditating, have been key to my recovery.

I’m now in my third trimester with our baby boy. But I’m always conscious that I need to do something for myself everyday. I need to prioritize myself so that I can be healthy, present and alive (literally!) with my children and husband. I’m not saying it’s easy to put yourself first. It’s definitely a practice. Especially if it’s been years since you’ve given yourself a second thought.

Meditation continues to play a big role in my recovery. As a mom, I can’t always count on a good night’s sleep! And often exercise drops off my list, especially with pelvic instability in this pregnancy.

“I need to prioritize myself so that I can be healthy, present and alive (literally!) with my children and husband.”

But meditation? I can do this anywhere, anytime! Your breath is always with you. So you can always tap into the healing power of a simple breath meditation like 4:8 breathing.

Breathing in through your nose for the count of 4 and out through your nose for the count of 8 stimulates the relaxation response in your body immediately. Knowing how to shift yourself into a relaxed state enhances your body’s ability to heal. And it’s also a great way to de-stress quickly when your child is having a tantrum in the supermarket and you wish you’d just stayed at home!

I would love for you to just pick one thing today that makes you feel good and do it now. If you need to lie down, lie down. If you want to try meditation give 4:8 breathing a go. But just start with one thing today where your needs come first.

A Guide For Releasing Stress Before Sleep