Short term and long term tips for getting more sleep

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I’ve just had 3 nights of unbroken sleep so forgive me if you can detect a jaunty spring in my voice. It’s a cause for celebration because over the last 18 months, a full night’s sleep has teased and flirted with me – but has rarely asked me out. I’m hoping that we’ll see each other again – hey, I’d go so far as to say I’d love this to be a long-term thing.

When you become a parent you find yourself Googling all sorts of weird and wonderful things. The one topic that has always been top of my search favourites is “sleep”. There was abundant advice about ‘how much should a 4-month old sleep’ and ‘how to get my baby to sleep through the night’ (a half mashed banana before bed is the current hot tip apparently).

What I didn’t find was a lot of information about how to cope as a sleep-deprived parent – especially one that was going back to work.

I have two little boys. My eldest boy was a great sleeper – until his little brother was born. Between the two of them, on a good night, we’d be up 3 times a night, on a bad night it could be around six times a night.

Latest research has shown that routinely getting by on less than 5 hours sleep has the same effect on your performance as if you’re drunk. Then there’s a whole host of depressing effects of lack of sleep. We really don’t need to be reminded that not getting enough sleep makes you age faster, or that it can have a negative impact on your sex life, memory and even your ability to lose weight. So let’s not go there.

When you’re on maternity (or paternity) leave, you can usually get through the day. You feel tired, but it’s okay. You can sleep when they sleep (sometimes). You can have a day in your PJs. When it’s time to go back to work that’s not an option. You’ve got decisions to make, stuff to do. A boss or clients to impress. If you’re working shorter hours, or need to leave on time, you may find that every second of your day counts. Plus you’ll no doubt want to show that you’re on top of your game for fear of being put on the ‘Mammy-track’.

Whilst I’ve become better at coping with less sleep, I’m definitely a better person when I have a good few hours under my belt. Rather than soldiering on, I made it my mission to think more strategically about what I could do to cope with the lack of sleep. I work for myself and clients expect me to be on top form. After all – that’s what they’re paying me for. So following some research (some scientific, some done in my own sleep laboratory), here’s some things that I found work:

Quick Fix Solutions

  • Have a pre-bed routine that signals to your mind and body that it’s time to switch off, have a bath, lay out your clothes for the next day or read a few pages of a book to help you unwind.
  • Avoid using your tablet or phone immediately before going to bed. Research has found that the bright light emitted from these devises can interfere with melatonin – the hormone that helps control our sleep cycles. If you’re using it to read with then dim the brightness on it to avoid the light disturbing your sleep.
  • Set up camp in the spare room. Every now and then my husband or I sleep in the spare room. We shut the door, put the ear plugs in and have a full night’s sleep. Even if you don’t have a spare room you could make up a bed downstairs or sleep at a friend’s house if the going gets really tough.
  • Fuel your body. When we’re tired, it’s often crap that we want to eat. Whilst an extra-shot cappuccino and a chocolate croissant might be just the ticket, it’s going to make you feel worse later on. Try eating energy-rich foods like nuts, porridge, oatcakes, bananas and drinking lots of water. Even if it’s a pint of water to wash your cake down with.
  • Listen to music. Pick a favourite track that will lift your spirits and help you forget how tired you are.
  • Get out in the fresh air. A quick walk around the block will make you feel more awake.
  • Spritz yourself with your favourite scent. Aroma-therapists suggest that smelling rosemary, eucalyptus, peppermint or coffee can also make you feel more awake.
  • Power nap. There is no shame in having a snooze on the Dart. Just don’t miss your stop. Or drool (never attractive).
  • Try to avoid the ‘who is tiredest’ competition. Snapping at your partner isn’t going to make either of you feel better.

Longer Term Tips
Try and get to the root cause of your baby or toddler waking up. Have you created a habit of letting them fall asleep on you or rocking them to sleep? Are they cold during the night? Are they hungry? Have you let them get into bed with you and now it’s become a habit?

When you’re so exhausted it can be easy to keep going for the quick fix, ‘I’ll just do it tonight… one last time’. Agree with your partner that you’re going to break the habit and when you’re going to make the changes. Most experts suggest it takes just 3 nights to break a bad habit and form a new one. Once you’ve made the commitment – keep going.

And if all else fails!
Sometimes babies and toddlers just go through phases of not sleeping well. Remember ‘this too shall pass’. Console yourself with the fact that when they’re teenagers you’ll no doubt get your own back by standing over their beds nagging them to get up!

At Mumager our aim is to support moms returning to work after maternity leave. Our next workshop is on the 19th of November 2014 in Castleknock Hotel and Country Club. Contact us at for more information or advice on how we can support you. See more at:


When your child is ill, who is left holding the baby?

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It’s one of those mornings; all your tights have ladders in them, someone put the milk carton back in the fridge empty and now your toddler, who was fine yesterday, has started vomiting and has a fever. You know you can’t take them to the crèche like this, so what do you do? Apart from scream, tear your hair out, cry, shout ‘why me?’

According to the National Association for Sick Child Daycare, working mothers are absent from their jobs anywhere from five to 29 days per year because they are caring for ill children. This is a common occurrence when you consider the results of a study of more than 135,000 children in Copenhagen who reported that young children who attend daycare are at greater risk for catching colds and bugs than kids who stay home, especially in the first 6 months. (Take heart – when they are older, researchers found that they have fewer colds as they have built up immunity).

The way I see it, there are two aspects to this problem:

  • What do you do about work?
  • What do you do about childcare?

If you can solve one of those aspects, you’ve solved the second one!

If you have no other options other than to stay home with your child, then you need to speak with your workplace. It’s not always moms that are in this position, but a 2007 study by the University of Cincinnati reported that 78% of women say that they are the ones taking time off from work to stay home with an ill child rather than their male partner.

If you can, take a few minutes to think about what’s in your work diary before you call the office. Can you reschedule meetings or take some calls at home? A quick handover call with a colleague might prevent a big emergency later on in the day.

When you call your employer they may say it’s not a problem and just ask you to make up the hours at a later date. Remember managers are people and possibly parents too and they may be more understanding than you give them credit for.

If that’s not the case then what are your options?

Well, in Ireland your first option is to take a day’s Force Majeure leave. This is paid leave for urgent family reasons. It’s for times when your immediate presence is required either due to the injury or illness of a family member or for another urgent family reason. There’s no minimum period of service to qualify. All employees are entitled to up to 3 days in a period of 12 consecutive months, or up to 5 days in a period of 36 consecutive months.

If you’ve exhausted your Force Majeure leave, your employer may allow you to take either a day’s annual leave or perhaps take the day off unpaid. They are under no obligation to do either. Speak to your manager and explain the benefits to them of allowing some flexibility. Perhaps this one day off today will give you the time to put a back-up plan in place so you won’t need any further days off for the same reason.

Often, parents are scared to approach their employer in this kind of scenario. Having worked in HR for 15 years, I have seen many parents call in sick instead of asking to take leave. My advice is not to do that. Sickness absence is often tightly monitored and this could lead to more serious long term problems with your employer. Also what happens when you are sick and you’re not entitled to any more company sick pay?

When you do return to work, acknowledge your absence to your colleagues. If you’re up front about it you’ll be less likely to receive any snide or sarcastic comments. If anybody’s taken up some of your workload from the day you missed, thank them and ask if there’s anything you can do in return.

Remember that your colleagues may be left ‘holding the baby’ on important projects if you can’t come in and it’s not their fault your child was ill, so treat them with respect. This kind of approach will go a long way for any future issues that may arise. Someone else in the team may end up being in a similar situation so you need to show them the same understanding as you would like to receive. Not everyone is a parent but everyone has issues that occur outside of work that put people under pressure.

For every under-the-weather child, there is a mom (or a dad) who must leave their job, push off their work responsibilities, and head home to play nurse maid. So before you call into work, take a breath and remember that you’re doing the best you can for you and your child.

For more advice on being a working mom, speak with our back to work experts.
Mumager, our back to work experts, will be running their next workshop on the 19th of November.
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