It’s 2 am and you hear a painful cry pierce through the silence of the house. It can’t be…you just checked on the baby! You and your partner not-so-subtly nudge each other in bed until one of you cracks and nulls the situation.
This is what the first year of parenthood looks like. Lovely, right?
Tips on Sleep as a New Parent from a Psychologist
Becoming new parents is a huge milestone in your lives. While everything quickly becomes about this little human you created, don’t forget to take care of yourself. Just as your baby needs sleep to grow and function, well, so do you.
We spoke with Valerie Ling, a clinical psychologist at Effective Living, and Tal Schlosser, a clinical psychologist at My Life Psychologists, to learn valuable sleep tips for new parents. Remember, these are merely suggestions — what works for some people may not work for others. We’re simply giving you the tools to make informed choices on how to get better sleep.
How should parents approach getting a good night’s sleep when they have their first child?
The reality is that you probably won’t enjoy a quiet seven to eight-hour sleep when you have a newborn baby. It’s going to look more like three to four sporadic hours of sleep. Rather than focus on the quantity, focus on the quality of your sleep. How can you make sleep more comfortable and beneficial for you as a new parent?
“Sleep during the early years of raising a child can fluctuate depending on the child's temperament, health, the level of family stress in the home, and the parent's own sleep history,” explains Ling. “Ensuring optimal conditions for sleep — a good mattress, the right temperature, blocking out as much light and noise as possible — helps keep conditions conducive to sleep.”
Learn how to fall asleep quickly in a comfortable environment. A supportive mattress, earplugs, and silky smooth bedding make it that much easier to exhale and fall into a deep sleep. Remember, no amount of reading can prepare you for being first-time parents. It’s all about recognizing your efforts with your new baby and making sure to take care of yourself as well.
"Keep an eye on your sleep, rest, nutrition and support structures to prevent burnout,” says Ling. “Practicing self-compassion that you are doing the best you can, normalising the difficulties, and not being too self-critical helps to keep a balanced perspective as well.”
Remember to exercise
Studies show that at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity daily exercises improve quality of sleep in adults. That may mean a little yoga before bed, a daily jog in the neighbourhood, or a morning walk. The Sleep Foundation says that exposure to natural sunlight in the morning can reset you circadian rhythm after a sleepless night.
“Exercise is important for wellbeing generally after having a baby, but it also promotes good quality sleep,” says Schlosser. “It can be beneficial to find ways of introducing exercise into your routine with your baby. For new moms that may mean going for a daily walk or mums and bubs exercise classes.”
As a new parent, you probably have a million things running through your head. We dare you to take 15 minutes a day to not think about anything. Zero, zilch, nada! Practising meditation settles the mind and body, making it easier to fall asleep.
“Anxiety and worry are normal for new parents, and unfortunately, some people may find that this impacts on their sleep,” says Schlosser. “Many new parents that have trouble falling and staying asleep describe getting caught up in a vicious cycle where they worry about whether or not they'll be able to sleep and how they'll cope the next day if they don't sleep well.”
Worrying about getting enough sleep is a vicious cycle. Luckily, we found a few apps to help you fall asleep faster.
“Learning to manage these worries can be helpful, try practising relaxation and mindfulness strategies,” says Schlosser.
Sleep when your baby sleeps
When your baby takes its daily naps, it can be tempting to do little chores around the house. If sleep deprivation is becoming an issue, try sleeping when your baby sleeps. It’s okay to rest! We already know that the benefits of napping include improvements in alertness, productivity, memorization, and creativity. It also reduces stress.
“Finding ways to rest throughout the day when the child is sleeping is a common approach to sleep,” explains Ling. “However, not all children sleep well! Finding support in babysitters, someone to take the baby for a walk in the pram so that you can catch up on sleep, are helpful alternatives.”
“Sleep disruption and fatigue are normal in the early months (if not longer), parents need to plan around this. I typically encourage parents to consider options that might fit with their circumstances,” explains Schlosser. “For example, napping when their baby is sleeping during the day to catch up or sharing night feeds with their partner in order to get longer stretches of sleep.”
Ask for help from a friend or relative
Don’t be bashful. Even Superman takes a break. When you need help, simply ask for it and it will come. Chances are, a relative will jump at the chance to spoil your little one, even if it’s for a few hours. According to the Sleep Foundation, a lack of sleep may actually increase the chance of postpartum depression. On the flip side, postpartum depression may make it more challenging for a new parent to get sufficient sleep.
Take turns or shifts for night-time duties with your partner
A newborn baby eats at regular intervals, so that means feeding your baby at odd hours of the night. In order to take turns for nighttime duties, prepare bottles or pump breast milk ahead of time so that your partner (or someone else) can feed the baby when it’s your turn to sleep. Don’t forget that you and your partner are a team! You both have a shared responsibility to take care of your baby.
Create a comfortable sleep environment
Remember, it’s all about sleep quality. Just as you’ve created a comfortable sleep environment for your baby, do so for yourself. Investing in an adjustable memory foam mattress and a pillow that contours to your neck and head may help with back support and provide out of this world comfort for you to get some shut-eye.
“New parents can feel overwhelmed by often conflicting advice from friends, family, and health professionals. It's best that they feel empowered to make choices that feel right for them and their baby,” says Schlosser.
Becoming a new parent takes a lot of strength and courage. Give yourself pat on the back for creating a new life and take a well-deserved rest when you can.