8 Proven Sleep Tips for New Parents
As someone who loves her sleep, finding out I was pregnant (my husband and I are due with our first baby in June) was, well, a bit daunting. After all, I know that having a baby changes everything—including the amount of shuteye I can expect to get. But the sleep deprivation could be even worse than I realized: New parents can expect six years of disrupted sleep after baby's birth, according to a recent study published in the journal Sleep. Eek!
“Sleep deprivation comes along with the territory of having a baby," says Terry Cralle, RN, certified clinical sleep educator and Saatva sleep consultant. And as your friend on baby number two will tell you, the first three months are usually the toughest. Because babies enter the world without circadian rhythms (a.k.a. the internal clock that distinguishes between waking and sleeping hours), they often sleep only in three- to four-hour spurts. Frequent wake-ups with your newborn mean you could lose up to two to three hours of sleep each night.
Fortunately, it does get better: By three to four months of age, a baby can sleep around five hours at a time, and by the half-year mark, many infants can sleep nine to 12 hours straight.
In the meantime? Squeezing in as many hours of rest as possible should top priority. “Sleep is a vital sign, especially for new parents," says Cralle. "Sleep debt impairs judgment, decision-making, reaction time, critical thinking, coordination, and a host of other things that impact the safety and wellbeing of you and your family."
Sleep tips for new parents
To be a good parent, Cralle says, is "to take care of yourself so that you can take good care of your baby." Here are eight ways to do just that.
Plan night shifts in advance
Unpredictable wake-sleep-feeding schedules coupled with being laser-focused on your baby's needs can tank your sleep. “I call it 'momsomnia,'" says Darria Long Gillespie, MD, emergency room doctor and author of Mom Hacks. “You have this hyper-vigilance when you have a baby." (Anxiety can definitely strike new dads too).
The fix? Plan for night shifts well in advance of baby's birth, so when it's not your shift, you can sleep knowing there's someone you trust (your partner, a friend, family member, or even a night nurse) watching baby, Gillespie says. One strategy: Split the night into two shifts, suggests Cralle. When Mom's off-shift, partner fetches baby for feedings (breastfeeding mamas can pump in advance), changes the diaper, and puts baby back to bed. Then, when baby's able to sleep through the night, you can switch to nightly shifts and take turns sleeping in on weekends.
Jumpstart baby's internal clock
To make sure your infant's sleep-wake cycle develops properly (so you can both get some quality shut-eye), create a clear difference between night and day, Gillespie advises. “Light is one of the single biggest influencers and regulators of our circadian rhythms," she explains, so use it to your advantage. Schedule a 7 p.m. or 8 p.m. bedtime feeding, and as nighttime approaches, keep lights low and use blackout curtains in the bedroom, says Cralle.
When you're up with baby, use the dimmest light possible, such as amber-colored bulbs that are 30 watts or lower, and avoid bright lights of all types (yes, your phone and laptop included). During the day, make sure baby is exposed to plenty of sunlight and gets some physical activity, even if that's just playing on the baby mat, says Gillespie. That will help further distinguish active daytime from sleepy nighttime.
Transform your bedroom into a total sleep sanctuary
Room-sharing is key for your infant's safety and wellbeing for the first six months to year of their life, per the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), and it can decrease the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) by as much as 50%. In addition to prioritizing darkness, place baby's crib or bassinet right beside your bed, turn the thermostat to 65 to 70 degrees (the comfiest temp for you and your infant), and invest in a white noise machine to drown out potential disruptions, advises Gillespie. If pets wandering around or hopping on the bed could wake you up, keep 'em out, adds Cralle.
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Take baby on morning wake-up walks
Sure, it's probably the last thing you want to do when you're feeling sleep-deprived. But when you're ready and your doctor approves, take baby outside for a sun-soaked morning stroll. Just 10 minutes of exercise can help improve your own sleep quality come bedtime, says Cralle. Even better: The light will help reset both of your internal clocks and can trigger a release of serotonin, giving you a feel-good boost so you can tackle the day.
Create a relaxing bedtime ritual
The best sleepy-time routine is comforting, repetitive, familiar, and reproducible, says Cralle. Do something relaxing, whether that's watching your favorite show on TV, reading a book, or listening to calming music, suggests Gillespie. Writing for just 15 minutes in a gratitude journal can help make falling asleep easier and boost sleep quality, one study found. Finally, consider a warm shower or bath. While the heat itself feels soothing, the subsequent drop in body temperature can actually help make you sleepier.
Accept (and ask for) help
When visitors inevitably begin to pour in, have no shame in putting them to work, even if it's only an hour or two of baby care while you catch a quick nap. They'll want to help, says Gillespie. “Ignore the piles of laundry and housework or delegate it out for the first three months especially, six months if possible," adds Cralle. “Consider a babysitter, cleaning service, help with errands, mother's helper, night nurse, or any other type of assistance."
Got too many family members and friends coming by? Tell them to come back later. You need time to bond with your baby, and there will be plenty of opportunities for them to visit a few months from now when you're both better rested.
Related: 16 sleep tips for moms of all ages
Nap whenever possible
Yes, you can nap while baby naps—and you should. This isn't up for debate, says Cralle. “Napping is an effective way to reduce sleep debt," she says. “If you find it difficult to fall asleep for a nap, just close your eyes and rest." A 20 to 30-minute nap can work wonders for your mood and energy levels.
Talk to your doctor
Struggling big time with shuteye? Touch base with your doctor about any issues you are having, both before and after baby's birth. Anemia, thyroid issues, and postpartum depression have all been linked to sleep loss in new moms, Cralle notes.
For more advice on catching Z's when you have kids, read our sleep survival guide for moms.