By Michael Gill
Welcome to the world of fatherhood! Whether your young one is brand new, crawling or teetering around the house, you’re in for some treats. I never wanted kids, but now that I have a pair of boys (one 5 years old, one seven months old), I wouldn’t trade it for anything. There is the daily feeling that the part of my brain that recognizes “cute” is about to explode. There is the incomparable feeling that comes hearing the word “daddy” spoken with joy and trust, and knowing it’s directed toward you.
All of that said, there are some major challenges headed your way. Most likely they’re there already. Give a nostalgic wave goodbye to uninterrupted sleep. As the wee ones grow, it will start to creep back, but better that you treat quality sleep as a welcome surprise when it shows up than something to be expected. What to do about that? I’ll pass on a few tips to help you improve what sleep you can get and to help boost your energy when you’re awake. Before that, I want to talk about being tired and being in a relationship.
Take a moment to think about how your child acts when (s)he is sleepy. That’s usually when the angry crying comes out, right? Adults aren’t so different, we just have coffee. Oh, and we have words. Here’s the thing with that: we use our words to show our anger at whatever we think is making us angry. When you’re tired all of the time (and that will be the norm, at least for the first year), you’re going to get angry and frustrated. Our tendency, when angry, is to find an external source to blame our anger on. Who is there all of the time? Who is also tired, angry and imperfect? Who makes the perfect scapegoat? Our partner. This is something I see over and over; that first year or two of parenthood ruining relationships. Fortunately, avoiding that trap isn’t rocket science. Understand that everything that is so frustrating in that moment is temporary. Understand that your anger is coming from you, even if that other person is doing something frustrating. Understand that using your words to intentionally hurt your partner will not help you. It won’t make them perfect (and if it did, how do you think that plays out with your imperfections?), it won’t help your frustration, but it might just permanently damage your relationship. Hang a punching bag in the basement, or find a gym that has one; find another way to work out your frustration. Side benefit- this will help your sleep much more than starting a fight with your partner!
On to the tips!
1) Make your peace with going to bed early, at least for now. Take the last 30 minutes before bed and make them free of screens. No TV, no computers, iPads, iPhones, etc. I know this is heresy to western culture. I know the siren song of Netflix, especially when exhaustion knows no bounds. Still, sleep is more important right now; you can binge watch Game of Thrones another time. Why is this important? Our bodies release hormones in response to changing light conditions. In a natural setting, we become primed for sleep as light fades. When it’s dark, we’re ready to sleep. Now, nightfall comes with the flip of a switch. Along with that, those screens are making your mind more active (unless you’re watching a Bob Ross marathon). To summarize, you’re hitting the bed with an activated mind and a body that thinks it was midday a few minutes ago. You might be able to get away with the sleep problems this causes without kids. With a newborn in the mix, you won’t be able to get away with it.
2) Avoid eating within three hours of bedtime. This is less important for breastfeeding moms, but relevant for everybody else. Eating bumps up your blood sugar, giving you energy. This is good in the morning or midday, but not right before bed. Doing so will make sleep harder and weight gain easier.
3) Add a few supplements to the mix. Vitamin D affects energy levels, the immune system and nearly everything else. If you’re in Portland, you are guaranteed to be deficient if you’re not supplementing. The vitamin D council recommends 5000 IUs per day for a 150 lb body. Like vitamin D, magnesium deficiency in the US is around 70%. Magnesium helps with stress and proper sleep. Taking it before bed will help your body sleep well during those times when sleep is possible. For a full explanation and protocol, check out this video. Vitamin B is also helpful for both stress and sleep; a simple B-complex is a good way to go, though you can also find ones designed specifically for stress and energy. All three supplements are affordable and easily available. All are very safe, if used correctly.
4) Adopt a whole food diet. I know, time is already impossibly limited. Here’s the thing: the more nutrients in your diet, the less sleep you’ll need to refresh yourself. The more alcohol/caffeine/chemicals you’re putting in your system, the poorer your sleep will be. The healthier the milk going to the little one, the more nourished they are. The more nourished they are, the better they will sleep.
If you can follow all four of these tips, you might see a profound difference. Even if you only take one or two to heart, you probably will still see improvement. You’ll still be tired often, but that’s the price of parenthood. The trick is keeping it manageable enough to enjoy those random amazing moments.
Michael is a father of two who has been in the natural health field for more than 15 years. His specialty is helping working parents boost their energy and improve their sleep, using natural methods. He has a BS in Health Sciences from Portland State. He is national board certified in holistic nutrition and is a licensed massage therapist. Check out his practice here.
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