The sudden lack of sleep that comes with a newborn is something of a rite of passage for new parents, and tends to elicit good-natured advice and amusement from family, friends and colleagues. However, a recent survey has found that new parents lose an average of four hours of sleep per night over the entire first year of a baby’s life, so the reality is a dramatic and rather lengthy impact on sleep that is no laughing matter. Considering how sleep plays such a vital part in determining health, wellbeing, state of mind and effectively your ability as a parent it’s important to try and work around the demands of your new role to get the sleep you need to be at your best.
The effects of sleep deprivation can be similar to that of alcohol consumption, with decision-making, reaction times and general awareness all suffering significantly. So, just as you wouldn’t dream of looking after a baby while under the influence of alcohol it’s important to try and limit the impact of sleep deprivation by getting some shut-eye when you can, in order to provide the best possible care for your baby.
A widely-recommended new parent tip is to sleep when your baby sleeps, and with newborns sleeping on average for 18 hours a day you’ll have ample opportunity to do so. There are several ways to do this successfully. Although all babies are different, most newborns will settle down for sleep shortly after feeding and winding, and you’re likely to have at least two hours where they won’t be demanding your attention. Using this time for a short nap will enable you to recharge your energy levels a little. By sticking to around twenty minutes you’ll avoid entering a deep-sleep phase that could make you feel groggy when waking up. Don’t take more than one nap during the day, or you may find yourself adopting an unusual polyphasic sleep schedule that could cause issues later on.
Taking turns on feeding and changing duties with your partner or even other family members is also good way of getting an opportunity to rest. By carefully dividing your time between the baby’s needs, resting and other commitments such as household chores and work you can avoid the sense that there is ‘no escape’ from tending to the baby, which can create a negative atmosphere and ruin your enjoyment of what should be a special time. If you’re lucky enough to have support from others on hand, be sure to take it when it’s available - most doting grandparents, aunties, uncles and friends will jump at the chance to look after the little one.
The flipside of being surrounded by a good support network of people is that its easy to feel encroached and intruded upon. Be sure to set clear days and times where childcare is welcome, and be open about the fact that you need your own space with the baby at times. They’ll understand!
Night-time feeds are an inevitable part of a baby’s life, and will be part of the new parent routine for at least a few months. The idea of getting up in at three, four or five o’clock in the morning might seem demoralising - particularly after a tiring day - but a little preparation can make the process a bit more manageable. Taking time in the evening to wind down will help you get to sleep quicker in the first instance, meaning that when the time comes to get up for a night feed you’ll have had at least a few hours sleep already - far more beneficial than waiting on edge and alert beforehand. During the feed itself try to keep things calm and sedate, don’t turn on any bright lights and don’t engage the baby in play or any other stimulation. After the feed, if you’ve kept things relatively peaceful, you should be able to get back to sleep in no time.
With a new baby on the scene it’s natural to devote all of your energy and thoughts to their needs, but it’s important to keep looking after yourself as well. One of the best ways to do this is by maintaining a healthy diet and avoiding junk food. Eating and drinking the right things at the right times will also help with your overall sleep quality. Resist the urge to load up on high carb junk food when you’re feeling drained of energy. The best way to do this is by simply not having it in the house.
There's no escaping the fact that being a new parent will force significant changes to your sleep routine, but you owe it to yourself and your baby to work at adapting and minimising the impact as much as possible. By strategising how you’ll deal with the sleep impacts of a baby entering your life you’ll give yourself a better chance of enjoying it, and will be able to look back on the period with fondness and happy memories.