“It’s absolutely exhausting,” says Ami Mistry, 41, of her sleep schedule with three young children. Ami doesn’t sleep train her kids, so she’s up at all hours caring for them. Thankfully, her eldest Harriet, six, now sleeps through the night, but her four-year-old Tilly is up early and her son Alfie, one, can be up as much as every 30 minutes throughout the night.
“I don’t get a lot of sleep,” she said. “They’ve never slipped particularly well, to be honest, but at the moment the main trouble is my 17-month-old: if there were four wake-ups a night that would be a spectacular night. He’s up quite frequently, sometimes it’s every half an hour – he doesn’t stay up for too long, usually, sometimes it’s up to 20 minutes, or occasionally he might be up for a couple of hours through the night.”
Despite struggling with lack of sleep, Sydenham-based Ami still refuses to sleep train her kids. She doesn’t like the idea of letting them ‘cry it out’, worrying that it makes children “incredibly stressed” if they’re left to self-soothe during the night – and she knows anecdotally that some children sleep perfectly well without any sleep training. “I want to parent them all the time, rather than just during the day,” she said.
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There are a wide range of sleep training methods to choose from at different points of a baby’s development, and research suggests that short periods of crying in the night do not have harmful long-term effects on a child, but Ami prefers hands-on parenting throughout the day and night and “absolutely disagrees” with ‘cry it out’ techniques.
“I read up on wake times, and tried to go with the flow, but it was awful,” she said of trying sleep training with her second child. “She was a terrible sleeper, she cried, she had some allergies which we didn’t realise until she was about six months old. I was absolutely exhausted with her – she’d fall asleep and then five minutes later she’d start screaming” It was horrific.
“I’d worry more throughout the night, thinking: ‘If I fall back asleep she’s just going to wake me up again, I’m not going to get any sleep’. I’d end up, sometimes, being awake the entire night.”
“She didn’t start sleeping through until she was about three, and I just accepted that this is what it’s going to be like, so I became a bit more relaxed about the whole thing,” Ami added. “[With my youngest]if he’s going to sleep that would be a bonus, but I’m not really expecting him to sleep through until he’s at least two and a half.”
Ami’s husband is a surgeon in the NHS and needs to ensure he gets as much sleep as possible, so A-Level maths teacher Ami does all of the night time care. She said he did try to help with their first child, but they soon realised it wasn’t an option for him to be sleep deprived.
Standing in front of a class of intelligent A-Level maths students, Ami realised she couldn’t deal with the extreme effects of sleep deprivation while trying to teach complicated concepts and get teenagers through exams.
“A key moment for me was leaving the house with half a can of baked beans in my coffee holder on my pram,” she said. “Mum brain is real!”
Ami then turned to supplements to help ease symptoms like brain fog, poor memory and poor concentration, and to help make the sleep she does get more effective. She claims that the ‘Power Up’ brain health supplement – a blend of 22 ingredients – which she’s developed as part of her business, Supermum, has helped her live a fuller life while sleep deprived from caring for three little ones.
“For me personally, this is the best I’ve felt in 6 years (bearing in mind I’m older and more busy than ever) and I don’t think I would have been able to juggle everything and launch this business without this product – energy, sense of calm, memory, productivity all up,” she said.
While Ami says she’s felt so much better after using her supplements which are “filled with a potent mixture of Cognizin, herbal nootropics, superfoods, vitamins and minerals to enable you to tackle the demands of mum life,” experts warn that there is no substitute for a good night’s sleep.
Dr Clare Morrison, a GP and medical consultant at MedExpress who has over 25 years experience in the NHS said: “The consequences of sleep deprivation include brain fog, immunity and heart problems, but the most useful way to combat these problems is to focus on Getting a good night’s sleep, rather than taking supplements. No remedy will compensate for a lack of sleep, and sleep is vitally important for both physical and mental health.”
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“Supplements may play a role in getting a good nights’ sleep however,” she added. “As a GP, I often recommend magnesium citrate, 200mg, taken at bedtime, for those suffering from chronic fatigue and brain fog. This can be helpful if there are features of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and/or Fibromyalgia, a condition which causes widespread muscle pain, stiffness and fatigue.
“It can be difficult for mothers of babies and young children to get enough sleep of course, but supplements are unlikely to help. Instead I recommend trying to sleep when the baby sleeps, even if that means taking daytime naps and going to bed early. Try to enlist help from others, and don’t lie awake worrying that you won’t hear the baby cry.
“Sleep deprivation is a huge risk factor for mental health problems, particularly in mothers, and is a major trigger for post-natal depression, anxiety, forgetfulness, and low libido. It also increases the risk of physical disorders including increased appetite, obesity, heart disease and diabetes.”