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sleep deprivation

No, you’re not losing your mind. You’re sleep deprived.

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Babies don’t sleep. They just don’t. Not like we do.

They don’t operate on a 24-hour cycle, nor do they have any regard for night or day. They can be up to six months old before they begin to show any sense of functional consistency and may be years old before they stop night waking. All this to say, there are legions of sleep deprived parents out there in the world, going about their days in a time-warped slow motion, feeling anything other than themselves.

As a sleep-deprived parent you may find yourself the butt of many jokes or on the end of pitying looks as family and friends – sometimes even strangers –recall ‘the slog’ of their own early parenting days before dishing out supremely unhelpful comments like ‘What else did you expect?’ We’ve all been there. The chances are you’re there right now.

If only it were a laughing matter. But the effects of sleep deprivation are real. You may find it hard to concentrate, suffer memory lapses, mood swings, anxiety, elevated stress, slurred speech, lose your libido, put on weight and even find you have a low immunity making you less able to fend off bugs. At its extreme, studies have shown sleep deprivation can lead to brain damage. That sleep deprivation has been used as a means of torture for centuries says it all really. 

For those of us who have always enjoyed – or survived on – a good night’s sleep, the lack of sleep that comes with being a parent can be a shock. No, debilitating. Of course, some days are better than others and it’s incredible how quickly you can return to baseline with a good night’s sleep, that feeling of being a new person again hard to top.  

Not so long ago, the idea of being able to survive on little sleep may have held some kudos; ‘successful’ people championing themselves on needing as little as two to three hours a night. How we marvelled that Margaret Thatcher could run a country on four hours sleep is, frankly, ridiculous knowing what we know now; that persistent lack of sleep is directly linked to an increased risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s. Yep, that ship has sailed. Boasting about how little sleep you need is really only a race to the bottom. Sleep is not, ‘just for wimps’.

As a new parent you may covet the enviable extensive sleeping hours of today’s teenagers and your younger self, but instead, ask how is it they can sleep for so long? It is not because they are ‘lazy’. It’s because their brains and bodies are developing at such rapid speed it necessitates the factory reset that sleep brings. Wanting more sleep does not make you lazy. Instead, it shows a healthy regard for your own physical and mental well-being.

According to the US National Institute of Health, ‘When one sleeps the brain reorganizes and recharges itself, and removes toxic waste by-products which have accumulated throughout the day…a minimum of seven hours of daily sleep seems to be necessary for proper cognitive function.’ Seven hours. A luxury if you’re a new parent. And toxic waste? No wonder you’re feeling so rubbish.

In their paper The Neuroprotective Aspects of Sleep, Andy R Eugene and Jolanta Masiak write “Essentially, sleeping acts as a garbage collector that comes during the night and removes the waste product left by the brain. This allows the brain to function normally the next day when one wakes up from slumber.” Clinically, this is known as the brain’s glymphatic system. We can now appreciate how not getting enough sleep physically alters the chemical balance in your brain, hence the title of this post; You’re not losing your mind, you’re just sleep deprived.

What’s worse, in a punishing twist, the states produced by sleep deprivation can actually make it harder to sleep. Anxiety and depression brought on by poor sleep patterns can often cause insomnia so that you may find when your baby is finally sleeping, frustratingly, you cannot.

So, what is going on in your brain when you are sleeping? Well, sleep turns off the norepinephrine (a stress hormone), serotonin (modulates mood) and histamine (immunity) neurotransmitters, allowing their receptors to rest. Now we can see directly the consequences of not getting enough sleep; the elevated stress levels, a struggle to make a proportionate response to an emotional event, of feeling constantly under the weather – every day a battle. Now we can understand what is happening to us.

And in today’s world of peak perfection and productivity, of having heightened expectations, increased stimulations, technology on tap, of always being ‘on’, of problems being solved in a ‘hack’ we can consume on TikTok then we may be feeling the effects of sleep deprivation more than our predecessors – and its negative effect on our psyche.

But it’s not all bad. It won’t last forever (trust, us, it really won’t). You will get through it. Your children will grow and sleep. Until they do, there are things you can do to address the slump you feel, to try and rebalance your brain and body and feel more like yourself.

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Parenting survival kit: tools to help you function on zero sleep during parenthood.

Parenting survival kit: tools to help you function on zero sleep during parenthood.

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Understanding the impact of sleep deprivation on parents.

Parenthood is a beautiful and rewarding journey, but it comes with its fair share of challenges. One of the biggest hurdles that parents face is sleep deprivation. As a parent, you quickly realise that sleep becomes a precious commodity, and sometimes, it feels like an elusive dream. Understanding the impact of sleep deprivation on parents is crucial in navigating this challenging phase of life.

Sleep deprivation not only affects your energy levels but also takes a toll on your overall well-being. It can lead to increased irritability, difficulty concentrating, and a weakened immune system. As a parent, it’s important to recognise these effects and find ways to cope with them. Being aware of the impact of sleep deprivation allows you to plan your day and work tasks accordingly, ensuring that you don’t overload yourself with responsibilities.

The importance of self-care during parenthood.

When you become a parent, it’s easy to put your own needs on the back burner. However, taking care of yourself is essential for your well-being and your ability to function as a parent. Self-care is not selfish; it’s a necessary part of being a good parent. Sleep is a fundamental aspect of self-care that should not be neglected.

Make it a priority to create a sleep routine for yourself. Establish a consistent bedtime and create a relaxing pre-sleep routine to signal to your body that it’s time to wind down. Avoid stimulating activities before bed, such as scrolling through your phone or watching intense TV shows. Instead, opt for calming activities like reading a book or taking a warm bath. By prioritising your own sleep, you’ll be better equipped to handle the challenges of parenthood.

Why sleep is fundamental for parents.

Sleep is not a luxury; it’s a necessity, especially for parents. It is during sleep that our bodies and minds rejuvenate and repair. Lack of quality sleep can lead to a decrease in cognitive function, making it difficult to concentrate and make decisions. As a parent, being well-rested is crucial for your ability to care for your child effectively.

When you’re sleep deprived, it’s important to understand that you won’t be able to function at your full capacity. Accepting this reality allows you to manage your day and workload more effectively. Instead of striving for perfection, focus on doing tasks to the best of your ability. Remember, “good enough is good enough.” By setting realistic expectations and prioritising your tasks, you can conserve your energy and avoid burnout.

Be aware: you need to be aware that you’re sleep deprived.

It’s important to be mindful of your tiredness and its impact on your daily life. Acknowledging your state of sleep deprivation helps you accept it and manage it more effectively. By recognising your limitations, you can adjust your workload and tasks accordingly. Avoid overloading your day, as you know that your quality of work will be compromised when you’re tired.

To manage your sleep deprivation, it’s essential to keep your workload manageable. Don’t take on more tasks than necessary and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Lean on your support system and delegate tasks whenever possible. By lightening your load, you can ensure that you have enough energy to care for your child and yourself.

Focus on good enough & not perfection.

When you’re sleep deprived, aiming for perfection becomes a difficult and often unattainable goal. Instead, focus on doing tasks to the best of your ability and accepting that “good enough is good enough.” It’s okay to set aside tasks that require more attention to detail for a time when you’re better rested. Allow yourself the grace to prioritise and accomplish what truly matters.

Repetitive and monotonous tasks can be particularly challenging when you’re tired. Instead of choosing these tasks because they seem easy, find ways to keep things fresh. Take regular breaks, engage in conversations with colleagues, and find creative ways to mix up boring tasks. By infusing variety into your day, you can combat drowsiness and stay engaged in your work.

Focus on the most important tasks.

When you’re sleep deprived, your productivity naturally decreases. It’s crucial to focus on completing the most important tasks of the day and avoid multitasking. Multitasking can lead to mistakes and increased stress when you’re tired. Prioritise your responsibilities and tackle them one at a time, giving each task the attention it deserves.

If possible, delegate tasks to others. Parenthood is a time when leaning on the help of your team is essential. By sharing the workload, you can ensure that the most important tasks are accomplished while conserving your energy for your child and yourself. Don’t be afraid to ask for support and embrace the power of teamwork.

Postpone big decisions.

When you’re tired and exhausted, it’s best to avoid making big decisions. Sleep deprivation affects our cognitive abilities, limiting our thinking and problem-solving skills. Recognise that this state of reduced capacity is not permanent and delay big decisions until you’re properly rested. With a clear perspective and a well-rested mind, you’ll be better equipped to make informed choices.

Allow yourself the time and space to make important decisions when you’re in the best mental state. Postponing big decisions is not a sign of weakness; it’s a wise strategy to ensure that you’re making choices that align with your long-term goals and values.

Embracing the challenges of parenthood & finding balance.

Parenthood is a journey filled with both joys and challenges. Sleep deprivation is one of the biggest hurdles that parents face, but it doesn’t have to overshadow the joy of raising a child. By understanding the impact of sleep deprivation, prioritising self-care, and managing your workload, you can navigate this phase of life more effectively.

Remember, it’s essential to be aware of your tiredness, focus on doing tasks to the best of your ability, and avoid overloading yourself with responsibilities. Embrace the mantra that “good enough is good enough” and infuse variety into your day to combat monotony. Prioritise the most important tasks and seek support from your team whenever possible.

And most importantly, postpone big decisions until you’re well-rested and able to think clearly. By taking care of yourself and making sleep a priority, you’ll be equipped to handle the challenges of parenthood with grace and find a balance that works for you.

Sign up to Pareful all-access.

Join Pareful All Access today and discover a supportive community of parents who understand the struggles of sleep deprivation. Together, we can navigate parenthood and find joy in the journey.

Your journey to harmony begins here.

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Breaking the stigma: A comprehensive guide to parental depression & low mood.

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Understanding parental depression & low mood

Parental depression and low mood are common but often misunderstood conditions that can have a significant impact on both parents and their children. It is crucial to recognise and understand the signs and symptoms of parental depression in order to provide appropriate support and intervention. Parental depression refers to the presence of depressive symptoms in one or both parents, while low mood encompasses a broader range of negative emotions that may not meet the criteria for a clinical diagnosis of depression.

Depression is a complex condition that can manifest differently in individuals. Some common signs of parental depression include persistent sadness, loss of interest in activities, fatigue, changes in appetite and sleep patterns, irritability, and difficulty concentrating. It is important to note that not all parents experiencing depression will exhibit the same symptoms, and the severity and duration of these symptoms can vary. Low mood, on the other hand, can encompass feelings of sadness, frustration, anger, or general dissatisfaction with life.

Impact of parenthood on mental well-being

When a parent experiences depression or low mood, it can have a profound impact on their children’s emotional well-being and development. Children are highly observant and sensitive to changes in their parents’ mood and behaviour, and they may internalise their parent’s emotions, leading to feelings of confusion, guilt, or blame. Parental depression can affect a child’s sense of security, disrupt attachment patterns, and hinder their social and emotional development.

Strategies for combating low mood in parents

There are numerous resources and support systems available for parents dealing with depression and low mood. Online platforms and apps, such as Pareful, provide a wealth of educational resources, articles, and forums where parents can find information, share experiences, and connect with others facing similar challenges. Professional organisations, such as mental health associations and parenting support networks, can also provide valuable resources and referrals to qualified healthcare providers.

Mental health challenges of motherhood

One of the biggest challenges faced by mothers experiencing depression or low mood is the stigma associated with mental health issues. There is often a societal expectation that parents should always be happy and emotionally available for their children, which can lead to feelings of shame, guilt, and isolation for those struggling with depression.

Education and raising awareness are key in challenging and dispelling misconceptions about parental depression. By sharing personal stories, providing accurate information, and promoting empathy and understanding, we can help shift the narrative and create a culture of acceptance and support.

Coping with parental depression

Managing depression or low mood as a parent can feel overwhelming, but there are strategies that can help alleviate symptoms and improve overall well-being. It is important to develop a support network of friends, family, or support groups who can offer understanding, encouragement, and practical help when needed. Engaging in activities that bring joy and relaxation, such as hobbies, exercise, or mindfulness practices, can also be beneficial for mental health.

Breaking the stigma surrounding parental depression and low mood needs open conversations, understanding, and practical strategies. Through addressing postnatal depression, understanding the effects of parenthood on mental well-being, and adopting mindfulness, meditation, and gratitude practices, parents can deal with the difficulties while prioritizing their mental health. Our comprehensive resources aim to provide valuable insights and actionable tips to enable parents to strive for mental well-being and challenge the stigma associated with parental mental health difficulties.

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How to keep your energy levels up as a parent.

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Being a parent is one of the most rewarding and challenging jobs in the world. It can be exhausting, both physically and mentally. With the demands of family life, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and drained of energy. However, with these few tips and tricks, you can find ways to remain energised as a parent.

Create Boundaries

It’s important to set boundaries for yourself and your family. Having clear expectations for how much time and energy you spend on tasks will help prevent burnout. Set limits on how much time you spend on activities such as housework or errands, so that you can focus more on your family and take some downtime for yourself.

Prioritise Self Care
Self-care is essential for any parent—it helps build resilience and maintain balance during difficult times. Take time out of each day to do something just for yourself—whether it’s reading a book, going for a walk, or meditating—and make sure that it’s something that brings joy into your life. This will help you recharge and give you more energy to devote to parenting when needed.

Schedule Breaks
Having regular breaks throughout the day can be an effective way to give yourself a mental break from parenting duties while still managing your time efficiently. Plan mini-breaks throughout the day where you can step away from your tasks for 10-15 minutes at a time; this gives your mind a chance to rest without feeling guilty about taking too much time away from your responsibilities.

Staying energised as a parent isn’t always easy but with these tips in mind, it can become more manageable. Remember that self-care is essential; if you don’t take care of yourself first, then you won’t have enough energy left over for your family. So find ways that work best for you—whether it be setting boundaries, taking breaks throughout the day or scheduling time just for yourself—to ensure that you have enough energy to get through each day with ease.

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How to recharge & improve your sleep quality.

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As a parent, you know all too well how hard it can be to get a good night’s sleep. From taking care of your little ones to worrying about their future, there never seems to be enough time in the day for you to rest and recharge. Thankfully, there are some ways that you can improve your sleep quality as a parent. Let’s take a look at how you can get the restful sleep you deserve.

Create A relaxing environment before bedtime
Creating a relaxing atmosphere before bedtime is essential for achieving better quality of sleep. Try dimming the lights, avoiding blue light from screens, and using white noise or music to create an environment that promotes relaxation. It may also help to have comfortable pillows, sheets, and blankets so that you don’t have any distractions while trying to drift off into dreamland.

Prioritise self-care during the day
Self-care is an important part of parenting, but it’s often neglected when faced with the demands of everyday life. However, self-care during the day can actually help improve your sleep quality at night. Make sure that you are taking regular breaks throughout the day for yourself—read a book or go for walks outside—and try to fit in at least 30 minutes of exercise per day. This will help keep your energy levels up and promote better sleep habits at night.

Set a consistent sleep schedule
Having a consistent sleep schedule is key when it comes to improving your overall sleep quality as a parent. This means setting regular times for going to bed and waking up each day—even on weekends! By keeping this routine, your body will naturally become more accustomed to getting tired around the same time each night which allows for deeper and more restorative sleep cycles throughout the night. Additionally, avoid naps during the day if possible because they can disrupt your nighttime sleep patterns if they are too long or taken too close to bedtime.

Getting enough restful sleep as a parent can seem like an impossible task at times but it doesn’t have to be! With these tips in mind—including creating a relaxing environment before bedtime, prioritising self-care during the day, and setting a consistent sleep schedule—you should soon find yourself sleeping soundly every night without worry or stress weighing on your mind (or keeping you up!). So grab those comfy pillows and snuggle up tight; sweet dreams await!

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5 ways to improve your sleep hygiene as a parent.

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Being a parent is one of the most rewarding, but also exhausting, experiences you will ever have. You are constantly on the go, taking care of your little ones and making sure they are happy and healthy. It’s no wonder that so many parents struggle to get a good night’s sleep! If you’re finding it hard to catch some Zs, here are five ways to improve your sleep hygiene.

1. Establish a regular sleep schedule.
One of the best ways to improve your sleep hygiene is to establish a regular sleep schedule. When your body is used to going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, it will be easier for you to fall asleep and stay asleep through the night. So, do your best to stick to a consistent bedtime and wake-up time, even on weekends.

2. Create a calm and relaxing bedtime routine.
Another way to help improve your sleep hygiene is by creating a calm and relaxing bedtime routine. This could involve taking a warm bath, reading a book, or stretching before getting into bed. By doing something calming before trying to sleep, you’ll be more likely to fall asleep quickly.

3. Make sure your bedroom is dark and quiet
Your bedroom should be a haven for rest and relaxation. To help make it more conducive for sleep, make sure it is dark and quiet. Consider investing in blackout curtains or an eye mask to block out any unwanted light, and use earplugs or white noise if you live in a noisy area.

4. Avoid caffeine late in the day
If you want to have a solid sleep through the night without any interruptions, avoid caffeine late in the day. Caffeine can stay in your system for up to eight hours, so if you drink it too close to bedtime, you may find it harder to drift off—and harder to stay asleep once you finally do fall asleep.

5. Put away all electronic devices at least 30 minutes before bedtime
It’s important to disconnect from electronics before trying to sleep because the blue light emitted from screens can interfere with your natural circadian rhythm and make it harder for your head to hit the pillow feeling sleepy. So, put away all electronics—including your phone, laptop, TV, etc at least 30 minutes before bedtime so you can unwind and relax in peace before trying to drift off for the night.

If you’re finding it difficult to get enough rest as a parent, know that you’re not alone! Many parents struggle with insomnia or poor sleep quality due largely in part due to chaotic schedules and stress levels that come with being responsible for tiny humans 24/7/365. However, there are things you can do proactively to improve your sleep hygiene starting with establishing (and sticking) to regular sleep schedule; making sure your bedroom is dark quiet; avoiding caffeine later in day; unplugging from electronics screens at least 30 minutes before aimless tossing turning time; implementing a calming nighttime ritual (reading books in baths). All of these things will help zzz’s happen—and happen more deeply—so try some or all of them get to get your sleep back on track.

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The importance of avoiding parental burnout.

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Being a parent is one of the most rewarding, yet challenging roles an individual can have. Not only are you responsible for taking care of your own needs, but you are also responsible for taking care of the needs of your children. This can be extremely draining, both emotionally and physically. When you reach your limit, it is important to take a step back and focus on taking care of yourself, otherwise you run the risk of burning out.

Signs that you’re burning out

There are several different signs that you may be burning out as a parent. These include:

– Feeling constantly exhausted and run down
– Having difficulty staying focused or motivated
– Withdrawing from friends and activities that you once enjoyed
– Feeling irritable or angry more often than usual
– Experiencing physical symptoms such as headaches or stomachaches

If you find yourself experiencing any of these symptoms on a regular basis, it is important to take a step back and assess your current situation. Are there any areas in your life that you can delegate to someone else in order to lighten your load? What can you do to make sure that you are taking care of yourself both physically and mentally? Taking some time for yourself – even if it is just 30 minutes each day – can make a world of difference when it comes to preventing burnout.

No one ever said that being a parent was easy. In fact, it is probably one of the most challenging roles an individual can have. It is important to remember, however, that it is okay to take a break every now and then. If you find yourself feeling burnt out, take some time for yourself in order to prevent further damage. Your children will still be there when you come back refreshed and rejuvenated.

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Surviving sleep deprivation.

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Many of the symptoms of sleep deprivation manifest themselves in impaired cognitive function. In her book Brain Food, Dr Lisa Mosconi explores the neuroscience behind the foods that improve mental fitness. Meaning, there is such a thing as brain food, what Mosconi terms ‘neuro nutrition’.

What most people don’t realise that the nutritional requirements of the brain are substantially different from those of the other organs of the body.”

Dr Lisa MosconiThe sugar-laden, carbohydrate heavy foods we crave when we’re tired (and that deliver instant gratification with the first bite) aren’t really doing you any favours in the long term when it comes to combating fatigue. Try to avoid and plump for healthier alternatives instead.

Water is crucial, two litres a day and tap water is absolutely fine, as is bottled mineral water. Purified water ain’t so great as it’s been filtered of all its precious minerals and nutrients. Water-rich fruit and veg is also good; such as cucumbers, courgettes, strawberries, grapefruit and watermelons.

A balance of Omega 3s and 6s is essential to get your neurons communicating properly and can be found not just in fish oils but plant oils (i.e., grapeseed oil). Mosconi also recommends certain nuts and seeds (chia, flaxseed); food high in choline (B vitamins), glucose (spring onions, turnips, apricots, grapes) and phenylalanine (spinach, high-protein animal products).  Her book contains some brilliant brain-boosting recipes and we’re a particular fan of her cacao smoothie, which tastes like pudding in a glass – and is still good for you! Wins! Proof that you don’t have to forgo sweet treats.

We know. It’s hard to exercise when you’ve a baby – or two – in tow. But it’s crucial. Exercise literally changes your state of mind, be it a stroll with the pram, an at home HIIT workout or a 10-minute yoga flow with the baby on the mat beside you. There are exercise classes up and down the country that cater to new parents where you can actually leave the house and exercise in a group setting with your babies and toddlers. Do whatever you feel most comfortable with, but the point here is really to do it. Shoehorn it into your day. Perhaps this might mean asking a partner or a friend to take over whilst you exercise, and that’s ok.

Yes, when you’re exhausted the last thing you feel like doing is exhausting yourself even more, but it really works. It’s a great stress reliever and ushers in a feeling of real positivity and achievement. So do try to set aside a little time every day to exercise. You won’t regret it.

Sloooww down & step off
Sometimes having a baby can feel like operating in the normal world with your hands tied behind your back. Things take longer, you can’t just­–

All the stuff you used to be able to do at your peak productivity, well, try not to lament it. That was then, this is now. A different gravy. The laundry will wait. And the world will still turn.

Do less.

Don’t expect so much of yourself.

Give yourself a break.

You’re raising a child, not trying to be a superhero.

Screen time
Your circadian rhythms are already shot with the arrival of a new baby, and screen time at night will only exacerbate the situation. If you need something to while away the witching hours then try swapping your scrolling for audio books – or the shipping forecast, and you’ll probably find it much easier to fall back asleep if/when your baby does.

Have a giggle
Don’t be afraid to be silly. Sometimes laughter really is the best medicine. Embrace the ridiculous situations that often present themselves to you as a new parent; projectile poo/wee whilst changing a nappy; thinking you could get a quick quiet coffee only for your baby to howl down the café, the list is long…Try to laugh about them. Or, if you find that difficult, get your laughs in watching a TV programme you love or a clip of your favourite comedian on social media. Whatever it is, laughter can break through the tension. It always feels good to giggle. Find comfort in the little things. 

Cuddle your partner as well as your baby
Having an addition to the family can be isolating for a partner, especially if you’re night feeding in another bedroom. Physical contact is so important. Get close, enjoy a hug. If you’re a single parent, don’t underestimate the strength of an embrace from a friend. Sometimes, it really is the little things that make all the difference.

Sleep, whenever, wherever.
As discussed in our first blog post, there are no-points for martyrdom in the sleep stakes. Get it whilst you can. Forget household chores and put your head down, even if it’s just for 10 minutes for a quick refresh. Clinical studies have shown that a nap of less than half an hour in the day promotes wakefulness, enhances performance and learning ability.

Writer and memoirist Amy Liptrot regularly extolls the restorative effect of a stolen ‘wild sleep’ with her young children. Or, join the army of parents who sleep in cinema matinee performances. Whatever it takes, you’ll be much more capable of completing your to-do lists if you’ve had more sleep. Forget the pressures of being productive and remind yourself how much you’re taking care of yourself getting in all the sleep you can.

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