Parenting Hacks: Achieving Quality Sleep as a New Parent
New parenthood isn’t known for its health benefits. While the first few months of your little one’s life often feel magical and exciting, you’re probably still getting used to the more draining aspects of caring for a newborn. As well as adding a whole host of tasks to your plate, new parenthood involves a LOT of sleepless nights.
It may reassure you to know that you’re not alone. Recent studies show that the average parent of a child under 18 months only gets five to six hours of sleep per night, losing over 100 minutes of vital shuteye a night. If you’re struggling to keep your eyes open at the end of the day, what you’re experiencing is completely normal!
Of course, just because sleepless nights are common doesn’t mean you have to simply accept your situation. To help make new parenthood a little easier and improve your overall health, we’ve put together some tips for catching a few extra Z’s.
Why is sleep so vital as a parent?
Before we delve into some of the practical ways you can improve your sleep quality, it’s worth understanding why sleep is so crucial for your health and wellbeing. While you may feel pressured to ignore your own personal needs during new parenthood, your health is crucial to your child’s wellbeing. It’s not a sin to take care of yourself, especially when lack of sleep can result in:
1. Reduced cognitive function
Just a few hours of lost sleep can impair cognitive abilities, reducing your attention span, decision-making capacities, and short-term memory. With more sleep, you’ll be better prepared to take care of your child and make important, quick decisions. You’re likely to have other tasks and responsibilities to juggle, especially if you’ve got an older child to look after. Sufficient sleep will help clear your thoughts and ensure you remember all the best bits of your baby’s infancy!
2. Impaired physical recovery
As you’re probably well aware, pregnancy and labor can take a toll on your body, especially if your labor was complicated. If you’re a mom recovering from pregnancy, sleep will aid the healing and recovery process. After all, sleep helps your body to regulate hormones, repair tissues, and gain strength. If you’re living in a two-parent household, don’t feel guilty about delegating a few more nighttime duties to your significant other. You deserve a break!
3. Issues surrounding alertness
Sleep deprivation can impair your reaction times, leaving you more vulnerable to accidents and mistakes — not ideal when you’re watching over a vulnerable new life! Fortunately, it’s possible to enhance your vigilance and stay alert by prioritizing sleep and avoiding draining tasks if you’re feeling drowsy.
4. Difficulty bonding with your child
While you’re likely to experience frustration with your child every once in a while regardless of your physical state, well-rested parents are likely to be more patient and attentive. In the long term, this enhanced engagement with your child can help you develop stronger emotional bonds and ensure the atmosphere in your home remains calm.
5. Poor mental health
We often talk about the joy and euphoria associated with new parenthood. However, introducing new life into the world is also very stressful and can impact your emotional state, with some moms experiencing postpartum depression. While the reasons behind depression and anxiety are complex, sleeplessness can exacerbate symptoms and make a tough situation even worse. As such, it’s worth prioritizing sleep and assessing whether improved rest has a positive impact on your state of mind. If symptoms persist, it’s a good idea to check in with your healthcare provider.
How can I get more sleep?
Ok, so sleep is important. We’ve all known that since we were teenagers struggling to get by on 11 hours instead of 12. But how can we get those precious hours of shuteye? While sleeping through the night might be a bit of a reach still (sorry!), there are plenty of small changes you can make to improve your sleep quality, including:
1. Sleep when your baby sleeps
While it may feel a little odd to sleep during the day, napping at the same time as your little one is a great way to catch up on sleep after a restless night. We know it may be tempting to do a few household chores or send a few work emails, but sleep is productive too! Your mind and body will thank you for resisting this urge and enjoying some much-needed rest. If you struggle to sleep during the day, consider trying out blackout blinds and avoiding stimulants like coffee. Although an espresso may provide a short burst of energy, it could leave you feeling more fatigued in the long run.
2. Establish a nighttime schedule
If you live in a two-parent household or with trusted family members, drawing up a nighttime schedule can be a game changer to ensure you share the nighttime responsibilities. Everyone’s schedule will look different — you could assign an individual adult to an entire night or certain portions of the night. Just make sure you’re happy with the distribution of work and that you’re on the same page about what to do in certain situations. For example, if the baby needs to feed during the night, will you stick to breastfeeding or use formula? Working out all the possible details in advance will help you avoid an argument when everyone’s tired and cranky!
3. Create a sleep-friendly bedroom
For some parents, falling asleep during the night is almost effortless. However, we all have nights or periods of insomnia. You’ve had a lot on your mind all day, and it can be hard to let all of that go at night! One of the best ways to beat insomnia is to practice good sleep hygiene — essentially, preparing yourself and your surroundings to be as conducive to good sleep as possible. As a starting point, make sure your room is dark, quiet, and a comfortable temperature. If you live on a busy road, foam earplugs will block out unwanted street noise while ensuring you can still hear your baby when they wake up. Similarly, blackout blinds and eye masks are great for making your room as dark as possible. Removing electronics from the nearby vicinity and limiting screentime an hour before bed can also have a huge impact on your ability to fall — and stay — asleep. If you’re seriously struggling to fall asleep even when your baby’s not crying, it’s worth checking in with your healthcare provider for advice.
4. Remember that your sleepless nights won’t last forever!
It’s easy to despair during a particularly long night of crying — no matter how patient you are. However, rest assured that your child will start sleeping through the night! There are brighter days ahead. Eventually, your nighttime duties will lessen, and your little one will be moving into their first grownup bed before you know it.
5. Be kind to yourself, and don’t be afraid to vent
Many parents feel like they’re getting everything wrong during the first weeks and months of their baby’s life, especially if their little one struggles to settle. Fortunately, there’s no “correct” way to parent, and every child has different needs. As long as you’re trying your best, you’re almost certainly doing a fantastic job!
Of course, practicing self-compassion is easier said than done. If you’re feeling down or upset, remember to surround yourself with people who understand and care about your wellbeing. Venting to other parents about your nightly wake-up calls can be hugely cathartic and will likely improve your mental health!
6. Ask for help
Many people avoid asking others for help because they don’t want to feel like a burden. However, seeking help from family members, support groups, and understanding friends could make a world of difference while you’re struggling. Most people are well aware that raising an infant is hard work and will happily lend a hand, particularly if they get to spend time with your adorable child.
7. Celebrate the small wins
Over time, your baby will learn to settle and won’t require so many nighttime feeds. However, we know the process can be hard work and highly recommend celebrating the small wins where possible. Enjoyed almost a whole night’s sleep? Use your extra energy to try and do something you enjoy! Perhaps your baby is learning to self-soothe? Celebrate by enjoying a cozy film night with your partner!
8. Master the art of the power nap
If you’re a busy working parent or have other responsibilities, sleeping during the day may seem like a fantasy. However, if you’re feeling especially worn out, finding 20 minutes to power nap will help recharge your batteries and leave you feeling refreshed. Plus, you’ll avoid entering deep sleep, which can make you feel groggy after waking up. Of course, you’ll need to fall asleep pretty quickly to make the most of your 20 minutes. If you’re not one of the lucky people who can fall asleep immediately, try finding a comfortable position and just closing your eyes. Even if you’re not able to fall asleep, closing your eyes for a faux nap positively impacts mood, energy levels, and focus!
9. Take care of your body and mind
Taking care of your physical and mental health will reduce feelings of fatigue, frustration, and burnout. Start by practicing good sleep hygiene habits such as avoiding caffeine after 4pm, avoiding too much alcohol, and hitting the sack at the same time every evening. Meditation and deep breathing exercises are also great for lowering stress and helping you get to sleep at night. And as always, try for a diet full of fruits and vegetables and incorporate some physical activity into your week!
While these tips may sound obvious, many of us forget to look after ourselves during times of stress. Even small lifestyle changes could significantly enhance your overall wellbeing and make the tricky task of parenting a little bit easier.
10. Promote healthy sleep habits in your baby
As well as establishing your own healthy sleep habits, creating a consistent bedtime routine for your little one will help them settle more easily and reduce how many times they wake up during the night. As they get older, you can start renegotiating their bedtime to suit their needs.
11. Teach your little one to self-soothe
Self-soothing occurs when a baby calms down and falls asleep without being rocked or fed by a parent or carer. It’s a tricky skill to learn and may require some work on your part. A good place to start is to place your baby in their crib while they’re sleepy but still technically awake. As they fall asleep, they’ll learn that they’re capable of dropping off without the help of an adult.
Another handy technique is to offer your baby soothing items such as a soft blanket or plushie when they wake up. The consistent presence of a soothing item is often enough to reduce nighttime restlessness and improve parents’ sleep patterns. Just remember to find an item that is safety tested and doesn’t present a choking hazard.
Ready to catch some extra Z’s? Spread the word with other new parents!
As we’re explored today, there is hope for getting you the sleep you need! While it’s unrealistic to expect a new baby to sleep through the night, there are a few things you can do to make your life a little easier and adapt to your situation.
If you’ve learned a thing or two from this article, why not spread the love and share it with other new parents via your social networks or other channels? Remember — they’re probably feeling just as worn out as you and will undoubtedly appreciate the gesture. Good luck, and sweet dreams!