New parents are easy to spot: The bloodshot eyes and dazed expressions are an instant tip-off. Although the birth of a child is a joyous event, many parents are taken aback by how exhausted they feel during those first weeks and months. Newborns usually require constant attention -- they need to eat every hour or two and have their diapers changed just about as often. As a new parent, you may feel compelled to dedicate every available hour tending to your baby's needs. But don't forget that parents have needs, too -- especially when it comes to sleep.
Before we dive in and establish how to get more sleep, let’s briefly look at sleep cycles and how they work. There are two main kinds of sleep – light sleep and deep sleep. Light sleep is when we dream and ‘go over’ the day’s events. It is the kind of sleep where we wake more easily. Deep sleep is when growing and healing takes place. It is much harder to wake from this kind of sleep.
Each night we all go through cycles from light sleep to deep sleep then light again. Babies have short sleep cycles of about 30-50 minutes. Toddlers have cycles of about an hour, and these get longer as they get older. Between light sleep and deep sleep adults may pull up a blanket or roll over and fade back into sleep. For babies and toddlers this may be when they wake and cry. They may need a feed or your help to resettle back to sleep.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, the average adult needs seven to nine hours of sleep every night. When you sleep only a couple of hours a night on an ongoing basis, you build up a "sleep debt" that can be hard to pay back. If your sleep debt persists over time, your health can suffer.
So you might be asking yourself: What do I do when the house is a mess, the baby's screaming, and I'm exhausted? It's a fact: Life will be a bit chaotic for the first few months. But new parenthood is not the time to try to live up to the unrealistic ideal of the "perfect parent." Some new moms feel intense pressure to meet their baby's every need, maintain a spotless house, and cook three meals a day -- all while dealing with postpartum physical discomfort and hormone-related mood changes. Letting go of these impossible ideals and asking for help can let new parents relax, rest, and focus on those precious early moments with their baby.
“Tag team with your partner. Trust me, Dads are actively wanting to help.”
So let’s look at how to get more rest and wake up feeling slightly more refreshed than you probably do right now!
As tempting as it is, don't try to catch up on chores while the baby is sleeping. Instead, turn off your phone and lie down in a quiet, darkened room.
A good, supported bed is essential! Use a mattress with plenty of support and keep the room temperature comfortable.
If you have a spouse or partner, remember that you're in this together. Tag team with your partner. Trust me, Dads are actively wanting to help.
While trying to nap, resist the urge to peek at the clock. Some sleep experts say that focusing on how much time you have left to sleep, or how many times you woke up last night and for how long can cause anxiety and lead to insomnia.
If you are feeling burned out, it’s probably not a good idea to be hitting the gym for a hour, but in case you have mastered that plan, avoid exercising within three hours of bedtime. The physiological stimulation disturbs the sleep process. (Although, if that's the only time you have to exercise, you have to decide if it's worth the trade-off.)
Consider co-sleeping. Some parents advocate "co-sleeping," a practice in which parents and baby share a bed. Researchers have found that co-sleeping (or the same room) can promote bonding and regulate both mothers and baby's sleep patterns.
Consider putting the baby's crib or bassinet next to your bed -- this will save a lot of nighttime trips to the nursery. We’re all for a co-sleeping crib alongside our bed and it has worked well for our family.
Limit the number of visitors you have during those first few weeks or months. Having to entertain a steady flow of guests can take time away from your naps and from bonding with baby.
We won't get into the full consequences of sleep deprivation, but if you feel burned out and if you're not managing, grab your partner and read through this article again, together. It’s time to restore your sleep and create a habit of beautifully happy mornings. You can thank me later. Goodnight.