Sleep deprivation is a major rite of passage for parents. If you ever wanted a reminder of what it means to grow up, just compare sleepless nights pre-kids to sleepless nights post-kids. Commiseration and memes on the subject can be therapeutic, but ultimately there are steps you can take to manage what is one of the most challenging aspects of being a new parent. Read on for ten tips to manage sleep deprivation better.
#1 Sleep when baby sleeps
In the first few weeks (usually birth through 6 weeks) sleeping when baby sleeps is your best antidote against sleep deprivation. Make a point of reminding yourself that this is a “no matter what” rule. Once you settle the baby, make sure you set a routine to get some rest. While it may be enticing to catch up on laundry or scroll TikTok, prioritize your sleep health. Shut your eyes for 30 to 45 minutes and you will be a new person when you get up!
#2 Maintain a healthy diet
Maintaining good health is crucial for feeling your best, and it doesn't have to be overwhelming. One effective strategy for better health and easier grocery shopping is meal prepping. This method brings structure to your meals and can provide you with help from others when you need it. If you're frequently ordering takeout, try opting for healthier, non-fried choices to support your well-being. It's also essential to pay attention to when and what you eat since it can greatly influence your sleep quality. Even a quick and healthy snack can keep you on the path to better health. Explore these tips to boost your overall wellness.
Being well-hydrated during and after pregnancy is important to support the physiological changes underway. Pregnant women should drink 300ml (about 10.14 oz) more than the recommended 2L for the general population; breastfeeding mothers should drink between 700-1000ml (about 33.81 oz) more than the recommended daily intake. Any decaffeinated drink, and even some high-water content foods, count towards your daily intake. Signs you need to kick it up are a sticky mouth and dry lips. One of the easiest ways to hydrate is to have a good water bottle with a straw to sip as needed.
Moving your body is a great way to support a good night’s rest. Rather than losing weight or building muscle, the goal is to reengage the full range of movement while doing something you enjoy. Moderate-level exercise releases chemicals that decrease how long it takes to fall asleep and increase how long you stay in deep sleep. Check with your care provider when it is safe to resume physical activity, beyond basic walking – this will vary depending on the type of birth and any other health conditions. Reasonable activities include walking, yoga, pilates, swimming, and moderate levels of aerobic exercise.
Cultivating mindfulness can be very helpful to people who struggle to fall asleep. The experience of connecting beyond ourselves is a proven way to support your mind and body to rest – and there are many ways to achieve this, depending on what is important to you. This could take the shape of meditation in combination with stretching, singing, humming, or enjoying nature. If this is new to you, there are many mindfulness and meditation apps available, as well as community-based opportunities.
#6 Establish your bedtime routine
Having a routine, no matter how simple, can support a quicker transition to restful sleep. A few things you can implement in your routine are a relaxing bath or skincare ritual, time to relax and chat with your partner, or some time to read. A bedtime routine helps cue your brain to wind down.
#7 Cut down on screentime before bed
Studies support the idea that eliminating screen use at least 1 hour before bed improves sleep quality and reduces how long it takes to fall asleep. Ideally, charging your phone in another room helps resist the temptation to scroll and text at all hours.
#8 Get support with night feeds
Bottle feeding makes it easier to divide overnight feeding duties. For a breastfeeding family, using expressed milk for night feeds, and doing one quick pump overnight, is an opportunity to share the load with your partner or another caregiver. Use a bottle, like Emulait, which supports natural transitions between breast and bottle and enables any caregiver to provide a feeding experience that emulates breastfeeding. It’s important to remember that skipping a feed to sleep through, even just for 2-3 days in a row, sends a strong message to the body to re-evaluate milk production needs – asking for help with the night feeds will free you up to do a pump and then you can jump back into bed.
#9 Ask for help
Being open and honest about your needs will help you better navigate the early days of parenthood. People want to help, but oftentimes they don’t know how – communicate with your support network and find ways to leverage their strengths. If you need to catch up on sleep or recharge, ask a family member or friend to step in. If you are finding it hard to eat well, recruit a friend who loves cooking. If you need some downtime, ask a grandparent to walk your baby. Communicate with your partner and build a schedule that works for both of you – try to share family responsibilities and make time for some relaxation.
#10 Be aware of the signs of postpartum depression
It is important to know that sleep deprivation is a significant contributor to postpartum depression. Postpartum depression refers to depressive symptoms that interfere with a mother’s ability to care for her baby, her home, and herself. It can also manifest as postpartum anxiety. It is more likely for parents with a history of mental health issues or dealing with major stressors while pregnant but can impact anyone. Often mothers do not open up or seek help because they fear judgment or think that these symptoms are normal. For this reason, family members and friends must check-in. Increasingly, the medical establishment is recognizing that partners can also experience postpartum mental health issues. Seeking help and support ultimately benefits mom, baby, and the whole family. Take care and seek medical attention.
In many ways disrupted sleep is unavoidable for new parents, but you can take steps to reduce its impact on your everyday life. Try to build self-care and better sleep habits into your routine and give thought to the people around you who can offer support. This time will not last for years, but it might feel that way at times. The more you can look after yourself, the better you can look after baby.