3 tips on how to feel less stressed when you are sleep deprived

I can honestly say the more sleep deprived I am, the higher my anxiety and stress levels are. I know it is impossible to never experience stress, but I find parenting so much harder when I am struggling with anxiety.

So, I commit to taking steps every day to reduce my stress levels, one of those things is practicing mindfulness. This month I’m excited to introduce Gemma Sandwell from the Happiness Branch who shares her hacks on how to feel less anxious when you are sleep deprived.


What is Anxiety?

Anxiety, it’s the body’s way of protecting you from harm, what is anxiety? It’s basically the fight or flight response in the body, when you feel anxious its your body getting you ready to fight or run away.

Our brains have not changed much since caveman times, a part of the brain called the amygdala has developed which saved our lives from predators. The amygdala is what reacts and gets us ready to fight or run away from harms way. When you think about the kinds of things that cause us stress and anxiety nowadays they are not usually things you would want to fight or run away from. Especially if you are a parent, a sleep deprived brain can make you feel more anxious.

Your brain and body have less resources after a night filled with a disturbed or lack of sleep so you are more likely to be on high alert and this is simply just your body trying to protect you. The logical part of the brain is less filled with fuel so we are much more likely to react quickly and emotionally to situations that arise throughout the day (or night!).

sleep deprivation new mum

Negativity Bias

We also have a negativity bias in the brain, our brains look for the negative in situations. We are wired to see the threat in the environment and this can expand into all areas of our lives. We go into situations and see what is wrong with the situation, because of this wiring, it’s all a negative cycle…the things we see that are wrong make us more anxious and anxiety then have a negative affect on sleep so we become stuck in a cycle.

Because we know this about the brain, there are some simple things you can do to help, even as a time poor parent. Mindfulness is one of those which has been scientifically proven to help and is one which has personally helped me with my anxiety a lot over the years.

Simply focusing on breathing for a few minutes or focusing on the body can bring us into the present moment and switch off the fight or flight mechanism. It also helps us longer term with training our brain to switch between alert and relaxed states, so when we are alert we can be more alert and when we need to relax and even sleep we can do this better.

Mindfulness on the go

You can practice Mindfulness on the go, especially if you are a busy parent or busy person running from one thing to the next and if you have little ones and they are old enough you can even get them practicing with you. All you need to do in the moment is tune in with your senses, what do you see, hear, feel, taste, smell and touch right now.

I remember speaking to a friend whose little girl used to count the numbers on wheelie bins on the way to school, she used to get really impatient with her until she realised she was being really mindful. Children are naturally very much in the moment and we can learn lots from them. Simple activities like this will help bring you into the present moment.

Secondly, something that I have seen really help people with anxiety and is also a core component with Mindfulness is Kindness. In my opinion you can’t have mindfulness without kindness. To be truly non-judgmental and accepting is what Mindfulness is all about.

I remember really beating myself up about being such a busy person and having such a busy mind in the beginning. It was only when I started to be kind about this and being accepting of things the way they are I was able to let this go and feel the benefits of practicing.

Try thinking about yourself like you would a good friend, clients I speak to who struggle with anxiety and stress and practicing Mindfulness most of the time are just simply not being kind to themselves. So give yourself permission to be kind, think about how you would speak to a good friend, sending that kindness to yourself because simply you deserve it, I’m telling you!

Tips for Sleep Deprived Mums

So in summary some tips to help you feel calm when you are sleep deprived:

  • Simply focus on the breath for a few minutes, as soon as your mind wanders off or you are distracted gently bring your attention back.

  • Tune in with the senses, what can you see, hear, taste, small, touch and involve little ones and have fun with it if they are old enough. I usually find ‘see if you can spot something new you haven’t seen before’ usually works well!

  • Be non-judgemental and be KIND to yourself, notice mindfully how you are feeling and treat yourself with kindness this is an important component of Mindfulness.

sleep tips for mums

Gemma Sandwell is a Mindfulness Teacher and Positive Psychology practitioner at The Happiness Branch and uses the latest science and research to help people flourish.

Find out more here.