Sleep Help Guide for New Moms
How to catch some Zzzs while taking care of an infant
When your adorable new baby arrives, so too does the inescapable feeling of being tired and drained. Know that you’re not alone. New parent sleep deprivation comes with the territory—especially in what’s known as the “4th trimester.” In fact, new moms lose up to 700 hours of sleep in their baby’s first year alone! But that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to help you manage it as best you can.
Keep reading to learn all about new parent sleep deprivation, including what sleep deprivation is at its core, its symptoms, and, most of all, how to deal with sleep deprivation after baby arrives.
What Is Sleep Deprivation?
Pretty much everyone has dealt with a lack of sleep, known as sleep deprivation, at some point or another—that groggy fogginess that clouds your day. About one-third of adults in the U.S. experience it, especially in recent years. Sleep deprivation has a direct effect on how we feel and think, and, although its effects can be undesirable at the moment, long-term sleep deprivation can actually negatively affect your physical and mental health—which is exactly why you shouldn’t just try to power through it on a nonstop basis.
Ideally, adults should be getting somewhere between seven to nine hours of sleep each night. Of course, when you’re a new parent, that can merely be wishful thinking. But, it isn’t just about the number of hours you clock sleeping. Just as important is the quality of your sleep—which can also be difficult when you have a crying baby you have to calm down, diaper, and feed throughout the night. New parent sleep deprivation presents particularly challenging hurdles to being as well-rested as—in a perfect world—you should be.
New Parent Sleep Deprivation
In addition to taking care of your infant’s physical needs day and night, there’s also the stress that comes along with such a huge responsibility, even if this isn’t your first baby. That alone can interfere with your ability to fall and stay asleep in the few moments that you have, which in turn can take a toll on your health, safety, mood, and even your longevity.
As if all that weren’t enough, postpartum sleep deprivation is also linked with postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety, exacerbating already difficult situations. And, in general, new parent sleep deprivation can make it more difficult to control your emotions due to the increased stress it puts on your mind and body. All the lack of sleep can ultimately affect your ability to be warm and responsive to your baby—something that’s not ideal for either of you. Plus, it can rob you of the energy you need to enjoy your time with your new baby.
If you breastfeed, you may experience even more new parent sleep deprivation. That’s because breastfed babies tend to wake up easier and more often than formula-fed babies. But however and whenever you feed your infant, one thing to remind yourself of is that you’re only human. Especially in the middle of the night, it’s not uncommon for new parents to fall asleep while feeding their kids. Nobody’s perfect, and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recognizes that hard truth. So, they recommend that if there’s a likelihood that you may fall asleep while feeding your baby at night, the safest place to do so is in your bed, with any hazards such as bunched up sheets, blankets, or other potentially risky objects safely out of the way in case you do doze off. They also recommend returning your baby to their crib or bassinet as soon as you wake up. Don’t beat yourself up if you do find yourself accidentally snoozing, but just be prepared for it by making your surroundings as safe as possible.
What Are the Symptoms of Sleep Deprivation?
It’s not hard to recognize the signs of sleep deprivation, like fatigue, tiredness, and fogginess (especially if you’re already dealing with something like pregnancy brain). But it’s worth knowing what to look for. Below, find out what the symptoms of postpartum sleep deprivation can be.
- The aforementioned anxiety and depression
- Irritability and a short fuse
- Slower reaction time, which can lead to accidents and injuries
- Poor or risky decision-making
- Reduced attention span and difficulty concentrating
- Problems with memory
- Lack of energy
If any of the above sleep deprivation symptoms seem familiar to you, always speak with your doctor so they don’t interfere with your ability to care for yourself and your little one, or detract from your quality of life.
Coping With Sleep Deprivation & a Newborn
It can be tempting to want to power through your new parent sleep deprivation, but try your best to resist the urge. No one expects you to be Supermom (or Superdad). Even though it may seem like a daydream to get more sleep, practicing good sleep hygiene can help you get the best sleep that you can in the limited time that you do have.
Introducing Good Sleep Habits
So much attention is on the baby, it can be easy to neglect your own needs. But keep in mind, taking care of yourself allows you to have enough energy to take care of your baby as best you can. The same sleep hygiene tenets you can go by when you’re not caring for a new infant can still be applied, albeit in much shorter bouts. Try some of the following.
- Nap when your baby naps: We know there’s a lot you may want to accomplish around your home when your little one is napping, but it’s OK to put the vacuum and laundry down to get in a quick nap of your own. This may be easier said than done, but even if you only doze for 10 or 20 minutes, a quick power nap can do wonders to help you recharge. Plus, research shows that napping—even for a brief time—can help tamp down stress.
- Create a comfy sleep space: A cool, dark, and quiet environment is ideal for sleeping—for both you and your baby.
- Set a sleeping routine: Try to establish the difference between day and night for you little one early on—even if they’re not able to understand the difference, it can at least create the illusion of normal sleep-wake cycles. At night, create a bedtime routine that promotes relaxation, like taking a warm bath or shower or spending some family time reading a book.
- Take turns tending to your baby: If you have a live-in partner, split up overnight duties if possible so you each get regular days off. To help, try wearing earplugs and even an eye mask while you sleep so you’re (hopefully) not awakened by any cries and don’t feel the need to always be the one to run to your baby.
- Ask for help: Along the same lines, don’t hesitate to ask family or friends to help so you can get some quality Zzzs or “me time.” You can also divvy up baby care tasks with your partner to help take everything off your shoulders. Even a quick walk around the block can improve your mood and mental health in many ways.
- Know it’s OK to say “no”: Your family and friends are likely excited to see the new baby. But be sure you prioritize your needs over theirs. Especially when your baby is a newborn, for the first couple of months it may be a good idea to decline or delay any visitors until you and your little one have established more of a routine (which includes time for you to hit the hay whenever you can.)
- Talk to your doctor about sleep training: Your baby’s sleep needs change as they hit certain milestones. About half way through their first year, you can start sleep training them to teach them how to self-soothe so that they sleep for longer periods of time at night. Studies have shown that it not only helps your baby and gives you more and longer breaks, it can boost your mood too.
Above all, remember, as with most challenges in parenthood, this period of postpartum sleep deprivation is only temporary. But, of course, if you’re ever concerned about the amount of sleep you're getting—or lack thereof—always talk to your doctor. After all, they’re there to help.
Next: Even when your baby does get better at sleeping for longer and soothing themselves back to sleep, there can be a few bumps in the road. One of them is called “sleep regression.” Read all about it next.