Parenthood is an incredible journey filled with joyous moments, adorable baby giggles, and...sleepless nights. Ah, yes, the perennial problem of catching enough z's when you have a newborn. While sleep deprivation might feel like an inevitable rite of passage for new parents, science suggests that better sleep is possible for both you and your baby. In this blog, we'll delve into evidence-based sleep strategies designed to keep you functioning at your best, even when you're up to your ears in diapers and baby bottles.
The Science of Sleep: Why is it So Crucial?
Sleep is vital for cognitive function, physical health, and emotional well-being1. Lack of sleep can lead to increased stress, impaired judgment, and even health risks like weight gain and heart disease2. For new parents, quality sleep is not just a luxury; it's a necessity.
The Parental Sleep Deficit: Real Struggles
Sleep patterns are severely disrupted for parents during the first few months of a baby's life3. Night feeds, diaper changes, and simply adapting to a new family member can turn your sleep cycle upside-down.
Tip #1: Sync Your Sleep Schedules
If possible, try to synchronize your sleep schedule with your baby’s sleep-wake cycles4. While this doesn't mean you'll get a full 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep, it can help you catch more frequent, shorter periods of rest.
Tip #2: Naps are Your New Best Friend
A study in sleep research suggests that even brief naps can improve mood, alertness, and performance5. Don't be afraid to nap when your baby naps; 20-30 minutes can make a world of difference.
Tip #3: Create a Restful Sleep Environment
Keep the bedroom dark, cool, and quiet. Using white noise machines can drown out household or street noise, creating a more peaceful environment for sleep6.
Tip #4: Limit Caffeine and Sugar Intake
While the allure of coffee might be tempting, try to limit your caffeine intake, especially in the hours leading up to bedtime7. Similarly, avoid sugary snacks that can lead to sugar crashes and disturb your sleep cycle.
Tip #5: Share the Load
Dividing nighttime duties between both parents can alleviate the sleep deficit for each individual (8). This can be done by alternating nights or splitting the night into shifts.
Tip #6: Seek Professional Help When Needed
If sleep deprivation becomes chronic and starts affecting your daily functioning, it might be time to consult healthcare professionals for a sleep assessment (9).
The newborn stage doesn't last forever, but developing healthy sleep habits can have lasting benefits for you and your family. Good sleep hygiene can improve your quality of life, and make the challenges of new parenthood more manageable.
Walker, M. P. (2008). Cognitive consequences of sleep and sleep loss. Sleep Medicine, 9, S29-S34.
Spiegel, K., Tasali, E., Leproult, R., & Van Cauter, E. (2009). Effects of poor and short sleep on glucose metabolism and obesity risk. Nature Reviews Endocrinology, 5(5), 253-261.
Montgomery-Downs, H. E., Insana, S. P., & Clegg-Kraynok, M. M. (2010). Normative longitudinal maternal sleep: The first 4 postpartum months. American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, 203(5), 465.e1-465.e7.
Teti, D. M., & Crosby, B. (2012). Maternal depressive symptoms, dysfunctional cognitions, and infant night waking: The role of maternal nighttime behavior. Child Development, 83(3), 939-953.
Naska, A., Oikonomou, E., Trichopoulou, A., Psaltopoulou, T., & Trichopoulos, D. (2007). Siesta in healthy adults and coronary mortality in the general population. Archives of Internal Medicine, 167(3), 296-301.
LeBourgeois, M. K., Carskadon, M. A., Akacem, L. D., Simpkin, C. T., Wright Jr, K. P., Achermann, P., ... & Jenni, O. G. (2013). Circadian phase and its relationship to nighttime sleep in toddlers. Journal of Biological Rhythms, 28(5), 322-331.
Clark, I., & Landolt, H. P. (2017). Coffee, caffeine, and sleep: A systematic review of epidemiological studies and randomized controlled trials. Sleep Medicine Reviews, 31, 70-78.