You probably heard someone say to you, “Enjoy your sleep while you can,” at some point before your baby arrived into this world.
Now that your newborn is here, this age-old (maybe even cruel?) advice seems to be smacking you in the sleep-deprived face.
Sleeplessness or sleep deprivation in parenthood may be a rite of passage, but it shouldn’t be. Sleep is important for your newborn but it’s also one of the best things you can do for yourself.
“Good, quality sleep is a cornerstone of good health and well-being,” said Russell Horton, DO, a physician with Banner Health in Phoenix, AZ. “It can lower stress, help you think more clearly and improve mood, maintain a healthy body weight and help boost your immune system.”
Although getting your recommended hours of sleep may seem more like a distant memory than a reality these days, quality sleep is still possible.
Dr. Horton shared 7 sleeping tips for new parents.
1. Try and sleep when the baby sleeps.
When it comes to naptime and bedtime, follow your baby’s lead and take time to rest when they do. Easier said than done, I know, but it’ll do your body and mind some good.
The importance of sleep is heightened for new parents. Naturally, when you don’t receive enough sleep, you are more prone to anxiety and emotional stressors.
“Sleep deprivation can affect you even more, impacting how you treat your partner and your baby,” Dr. Horton said. “Realistically, you should be creative when you approach sleep. Knowing you are going to be woken up many times in the night, try to make the most of every moment your baby is sleeping by also napping.”
Even a power nap or “light sleep” for 15 to 20 minutes can help you recharge.
2. Get your head in the game … the sleep game.
Like many new parents, when your baby is finally down for naptime or bedtime, your brain goes into overdrive. Instead of drifting off yourself, your brain tells you right now is a great time to tackle the dust bunnies popping up around the house or the dirty dishes piling up in the sink.
“New parents can get a ‘second wind’ of adrenaline once their baby goes to sleep, so they can focus on cleaning the house, taking care of work or household chores,” Dr. Horton. “Resist the urge to ‘do-it-all’ and prioritize your sleep health.”
Good sleep hygiene can help you get more rest, whether you have a newborn or not. These strategies include:
- Create a relaxing bedtime routine. Take a warm bath or shower, read a book, take a walk around the block, journal, stretch, meditate or do something that is calming to your mind and body.
- Consider room darkening shades. This can help your body mentally prepare for a good night’s sleep.
- Limit technology. As luring as it may be to scroll TikTok, binge a new Netflix show or post the latest pics of the baby, these things will still be there when you get up. The light from electronic devices can confuse your body clock making it harder to fall asleep and even have deep sleep.
- Avoiding caffeine, heavy meals and alcohol several hours before bed can help. These things can make it more challenging to fall asleep and even stay asleep.
3. Place the crib or bassinet near your bed.
Try room sharing with your baby in a bassinet or crib near your bed so when baby wakes, and they need to be fed or comforted, they are close. This can be especially helpful in the first six months when your baby is sleeping in short little bursts throughout the night.
As tempting as it may be to co-sleep in the same bed with your sleeping beauty, it is unsafe and dangerous to sleep with your baby in your bed.
“Co-sleeping, while convenient and commonly practiced, does increase the risk of SIDS or sudden infant death syndrome,” Dr. Horton said. “Parents often don’t realize how unaware they become when in a deep sleep and that even a firm adult mattress isn’t designed for the specific needs of an infant. The risk is especially high for infants under three months old and infants whose mother is a smoker. Room sharing is a safe way to keep baby close by and still encourage bonding and breastfeeding.”
For safe sleep guidelines, check out these tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics.
4. Take shifts.
If you’re parenting with a partner, there’s a good chance that nighttime parenting can be a little lopsided—especially for a parent who is exclusively breastfeeding.
“Taking shifts during the night to allow both parents some restful sleep can make a world of difference,” Dr. Horton said. “It also acclimates both parents to the nighttime needs of the infant and can help when the time comes for sleep training.”
If possible, split the night into shifts, with one person waking up with the baby during the first half of the night and the other during the second half of the night. If breastfeeding, pump breast milk right before you go to bed so the other parent has a bottle ready to go and you can sleep through the first feed.
5. Ask for and accept help.
Life with a new baby can be overwhelming. There is nothing wrong with asking for help when you need it.
Ask a family member, friend, postpartum doula or sleep coach to help out overnight or during the day, so you can catch up on some ZZs. Ask a family member or friend to help with day-to-day activities like laundry or dish duty and utilize services like grocery delivery if you’re able.
You are doing a lot, and your loved ones will be excited to help and get some extra snuggles in with your newborn. With time, you’ll adjust to your new lifestyle and make it the new normal.
6. Take advantage of parental leave.
Parental leave can vary from company to company and country to country, but if you and your partner are both able to take some time off from work, do it.
“Parenting together in the first few days and weeks of a child’s life can greatly improve sleep and bonding,” Dr. Horton said.
Studies have shown it can reduce stress levels, improve bonding between parent and child, improve mental health and aid in postpartum recovery.
7. Take care of yourself.
Your body and life have undergone lots of changes, so find time to treat yourself or simply take a little time out. Get a massage, go for a walk or hike, talk to a friend, listen to music or whatever makes you feel good. Find a community or support group that can help you feel less alone in this journey of parenthood.
If you’re struggling with insomnia, poor sleep or symptoms of postpartum depression, seek help from your health care provider or a licensed behavioral health specialist. Fortunately, there are good treatments that can help with postpartum and getting your sleep back on track.
Getting enough sleep with a new baby is one of the most important things you can do for your health. The effects of sleep deprivation can impact almost every system in our body, from the brain, heart and lungs to immune functions and disease resistance.
Although it may seem like you’ll never get quality sleep again, it won’t be long before your baby sleeps long enough to get some decent sleep regularly.
Having trouble getting enough sleep or quality sleep?
Schedule an appointment with a primary care provider near you.