Parents’ Guide to Sleep
As most parents know, the newborn phase is a surreal moment in time shared with your baby – but what your life makes up for in baby cuddles and little giggles, your sleep sacrifices for 2-3 hour interruptions.
It’s no surprise that most groggy-eyed new parents struggle to soak up every moment of this exciting but exhausting new phase of life due to lack of sleep and the sleep deprivation that follows. . In fact, a recent study revealed that women lose around an hour of sleep at night, and men lose around 13 minutes after the baby is born.
When you’re a nursing mom of a 6-month-old, while also caring for a 2-year-old and 4-year-old like Rebecca Weiss, of Huntingdon Valley, PA, you are thankful for whatever sleep you can get.
“After baby Margot was born, I’d be up every three hours,” recalls Weiss. She’d wake up the next morning exhausted. “It was hard to concentrate or have patience for my other kids when I was so tired."
Thankfully, there are tips and tricks to catch up on rest — even if you don’t get the full seven or more hours of sleep recommended by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
The key to getting better sleep is knowing what to expect at every stage of the child’s development. This way, you’ll know where sleep deprivation is likely to occur, learn tips for better self-care, and find ways to squeeze in more shut-eye, so you can thoroughly enjoy your daily adventures together.
Getting Better Sleep as the Parent of a Newborn
Getting a good night’s sleep is the body’s way of recharging and restoring itself – a process that is important for all human beings, especially new parents navigating life with a newborn
While getting enough sleep with a newborn might feel like too tall of an order, we’re happy to tell you that it is indeed possible with the following steps as recommended by Dr. Marc Weissbluth, pediatrician, distinguished sleep researcher, and author of Healthy Sleep Habits, Healthy Child.
Establishing healthy sleep habits as early as six weeks after birth creates a thriving environment for you and your newborn.
When your baby has healthy sleep habits, they will sleep longer stretches during the night than day, learn to soothe themself back to sleep, have fewer sleep struggles, and ultimately, become a better sleeper for life.
According to Dr. Weissbluth, if your children sleep better, you will too.
Establishing Healthy Sleep Habits for Newborns
Help your newborn differentiate between day and night. During baby’s wakeful daytime periods, open the blinds and actively engage them while rocking, changing, and feeding. At night, dim the lights, use a quieter voice, and do winding-down activities. Try to avoid things that may stimulate them, and limit physical activity when in the room with them.
Be consistent. Dr. Weissbluth recommends putting down your baby when they’re getting tired. Soothe them to sleep with gentle swaying, soft singing, massage, or a pacifier. Put them to bed while they’re still awake, so they associate soothing with sleep.
Sleep Strategies for Parents
“Becoming a parent is a life-altering adjustment. Get extra help so you can ease into this new role. Draft family, friends, and neighbors to assist with the feeding and care of the newborn, household chores, and cooking,” advises Heather Turgeon, author of The Happy Sleeper: The Science-Backed Guide to Helping Your Baby Get a Good Night’s Sleep-Newborn to School Age.
Some additional strategies Turgeon suggests are:
- Sharing night-time duties. For nursing moms, pump extra during the day, so a partner or helper can handle late-night feeding on their own.
- Designating a sofa or guest room conducive to uninterrupted snoozing, so the off-duty partner can get quality sleep.
Naps Can Help Recoup Lost Sleep
Doctors are starting to realize that taking a nap may recoup some sleep debt.
To be a smart napper:
- Sleep when the baby sleeps. Take a ten to 20-minute afternoon nap to wake up refreshed, alert, and in a better mood.
- Never nap for more than 20 minutes. The body can fall into a deep sleep, and waking from a deeper sleep too soon causes grogginess and disorientation.
- Create a dark, quiet environment to reduce distractions and keep your naps productive.
Establishing Healthy Sleep Habits for Infants
Develop consistent daily routines for the baby’s feeding, activity, and sleeping schedule to build trust and security.
“One of the most effective but least understood sleep training methods is the Ferber Method,” says Dr. Weissbluth. Created by sleep disorder pediatric specialist Richard Ferber, MD, it’s also called “cry-it-out.” With the Ferber Method, you gradually delay response time, reassuring the little one without picking up the infant.
The second most popular is The Sleep Lady Shuffle created by family therapist Kim West, and dubbed “no-tears.” With the Sleep Lady Shuffle, you wait until your infant is at least four months old. Then, gradually distance yourself from your baby’s crib, reassuring and soothing through words only.
The goal is the same for all methods: train your infant to sleep through the night and cope with separation anxiety on their own. If they do wake up, they should be able to go back to sleep on their own.
How to De-stress and Prepare for Bed
Do you still have trouble falling asleep after your baby sleeps through the night?
Are you worried about the next day or returning to work?
Turgeon explains that some parents may have to retrain themselves to be healthy sleepers. Parents need wind-down time, just like their baby does.
If you have a consistent bedtime routine and wake time, your circadian rhythm, the body’s natural alarm clock, will know when to prepare for sleep. You may need to adjust your schedule and go to bed earlier, or wake your baby later.
To establish a better bedtime routine:
- Soak in a bathtub, or wash your face with a warm cloth
- Put on pajamas and read, listen to quiet music, write in a journal, or write the next day’s plans
- Pray, do yoga, or meditate
- Recognize your own signs of drowsiness
- Keep a sleep log to track your sleep schedule
- Close your eyes and listen to a ceiling fan or white noise machine
- Shut down all screens from electronic devices 30 minutes before bed; blue light can stimulate the brain and cause difficulty sleeping
- Avoid caffeine late in the day
- Avoid nightcaps
Establishing Healthy Sleep Habits for Preschool Kids
Turgeon emphasizes the importance of age-appropriate bedtime routines and the iterations these routines take as children get older. For preschool-aged todderls, delay tactics start to become a common occurrence – for example, an extra trip to the potty, another glass of water, or another hug.
Additionally, toddlers are typically more verbal, curious, and cognitively aware, so allowing them the opportunity to choose two storybooks or discuss highlights from their day helps them wind down and mentally adjust to bedtime.
Turgeon also suggests giving toddlers a regular bedtime. Make sure that they can use the potty and re-tuck themselves in bed independently, so if they awaken in the middle of the night, they don’t have to wake you.
Establishing Healthy Sleep Habits for School-age Kids
Babies and parents aren’t the only ones who need to focus on rest. Kids in grades Pre-K through high school benefit from a regular sleep regimen that won’t disrupt other family members.
To keep the whole family on a healthy sleep schedule, implement a whole house wind-down routine one hour before bed. After dinner, dim the lights and play soft music. Have a routine bedtime for the older children on school nights. Allow them to read a good book, for example, but avoid screen time.
While lack of sleep is a common topic in the workplace amongst parents and people of all ages, getting adequate, restorative sleep is an integral part of overall wellness. In fact, lack of sleep has many consequences beyond a bout of grumpiness
- inability to focus and think clearly
- poor decision-making skills
Parents describe it as zombie walking, like sleepwalking through your day on autopilot. They report forgetting what they did last and struggling to make basic decisions.
If a child’s sleep issue lasts longer than a few weeks, Turgeon suggests getting professional help from a counselor or psychologist to accurately assess the situation and provide a plan for healthy sleep go-forward.
Self-care and Rejuvenation
Parents are programmed to put their children first, but often neglect their own needs — not even realizing their own stress levels.
So, what helps you stayto be attuned to your mind and body? How do you become the island of calm amidst athe sea of daily chaos and turmoil?
Meditation is one answer, according to Kristin Ritter, founder/director of Nourishing Storm Studio & Café and author of Spiraling to Wellness. To begin, she recommends setting up a meditation space in the home or going into nature to quiet your mind. Start with a short duration, then add five or more minutes daily for better clarity. Focus on your breath, be in the moment, and wash away your endless to-do list.
Ritter also practices restorative yoga that’s accessible to everyone. You don’t have to be double-jointed or even flexible. “Restorative yoga gives your mind and body rest and time to reset!”
Yoga: A mood-shifter and sleep inducer
Yoga poses done in bed can prepare tired parents for sleep. While “hot yoga” or the Vinyasa style of yoga is strenuous and can actually make you more alert before bed, the Hatha yoga practice is gentle and can calm.
The “Child Pose” is easy enough for beginners and can be incorporated into an already busy day. With just a few simple steps, you could be on your way to more restful sleep and a better outlook on parenting.
- Get down on your yoga mat and sit with your weight on your heels and arms at your sides.
- Bend over forward slowly. Your stomach should rest gently against your thighs without your buttocks leaving your heels.
- Stretch your arms out, palms down, so that they touch the mat.
- Allow your forehead to touch the mat gently.
- Relax and take several deep breaths.
This is a pose for relaxation and not for exertion. If it hurts, or you can’t do all of the parts of the pose, don’t push yourself.
This video may also prove useful for those new to yoga.
Parenting Isn’t Always Sleepless
Having children doesn’t mean a good night’s sleep is impossible. With the right tactics, good sleep is not only possible but a foundational element of a life well-lived.
If you’re struggling to establish a solid sleep routine, don’t worry – you’re not alone. Take small, daily steps to work toward a regular ritual that works for you and your family. . Sleep is essential for mental and physical health, so laying the building blocks that create boundaries around your sleep and your children’s sleep will benefit the whole family in the long run