As we progress through these six months of The Village content, you will notice that “sleep” does not feature at any point. What sleep looks like, and what sleep is available to us as new mothers is so wildly variable and depends on so many things – our baby’s temperament and health, whether we have a partner, whether our partner is at home or away a lot, how much family support we have to hand, how much postnatal support we can afford, how many other children are in the house, how well we naturally sleep etc. etc. etc. – that it can be a pretty difficult topic for some of us (especially those who, like me right now, aren’t getting much of it!).
The bigger reason that I haven’t included sleep however, is that I wanted to demonstrate with these weekly topics just how much there is to mothering beyond how many hours you are clocking up overnight.
Rest, however, is a markedly different thing from sleep, the focus of this week’s discussion, and a vital tool to cultivate during a period of your life when winding down is rarely available on your own terms, or with any level of predictability. For any productivity addicts (hello) the most valuable approach to rest can be as simple as viewing it as a thing of substance, a skill to hone, a space where stuff happens, as opposed to being an empty pause.
It suits my personality type to view rest as something to get good at, and for me, during both of my early postpartum months, I loved being able to see tangibly day by day just how much healing my body was doing while I ‘did nothing’. When life began to get busy again, I would include it on my To Do list, near the top – ‘Nap today’ or ‘Yoga Nidra’ – in part to indulge my need for ‘doing’ (I am already teased regularly by a few of you for my to do lists!) and in part because the simple act of crossing off ‘Rest’ from a list of actions, reinforces the idea that it is productive. (And yes, I could focus this piece on dismantling our over-valuing of productivity itself instead, but, have you met me?)
It is important to distinguish rest from sleep; too often I am told by a tired and depleted new mother that they are ‘no good at napping’ or ‘can’t sleep in the day’. Sometimes I have found day sleep to be transformative, restorative, and the cornerstone of recovery, but more often than not, a simple switch from doing to being for as little as fifteen minutes can reset the mind and settle the nervous system. It is useful to become practised in the art of sleep-free rest, for those sudden unexpected moments of quiet when your baby decides to nap at precisely the moment you finish your triple-shot coffee, or when you only have twenty minutes before you have to leave the house or take a delivery.
As well as seeing rest as a thing to practise, I also find it helpful to see it – like meditation – as a chance to develop a deeper relationship with yourself, spend time with yourself, and learn your body’s rhythms. When I am truly, deeply tired, I can fall asleep in the day for anywhere from 45 minutes to 2 hours. More regularly though, a more active form of rest such as a guided meditation, body scan, or Yoga Nidra, can help me drop in to that place below consciousness but above sleep. This can provide effective and nourishing rest without damaging your sleep at night, as well as protecting you from that awful anxious trapped feeling of needing somehow to limp through until bedtime. After about 25 minutes my body will usually resurface, bobbing up all by itself into wakefulness, restored.
When I treat myself to this particular sort of rest, I am not trying to sleep at all. Sleep may happen, but that is not my goal. I feel strongly that this type of rest is a real gateway to meditation, and that it can be almost as rejuvenating and mentally-clarifying as meditation itself.
If you are feeling spread paper thin, is there a time of the day where you could spend just 10 minutes lying down with your eyes closed!? It sounds achingly simple, but in those 10 minutes, as you allow the rest of the day to collect around you out of frame, tired narratives loosen their grip, repeated worries grow quieter in a way that often doesn’t happen late at night, and thoughts or memories that we need to process swim into view. Sometimes those frenzied post-10pm thought loops can feel as though we are practising anxiety, our heart beating fast in the darkness; day-dreaming offers us the chance to practise a calmer perspective on things, with our eyelids fluttering in the sunny afternoon light. Crucially, it also offers a positive take on just how long ten minutes can be – an antidote to the sometimes oppressive pace of the day when we are caring for young children.
I would love to hear from our village, what tips and tools for rest you have found that work for you, as well as anything you have learnt or discovered about yourself and the way you view things, through rest.