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It’s no secret that parents of newborns don’t get enough sleep. Both moms and dads suffer from a lack of sleep with a new baby.
In a recent survey, only 5 percent of parents with babies under six months of age get at least eight hours of sleep at night.
Rather than a full night’s sleep, parents of newborns are likely to get a fragmented night of sleep that doesn’t add up to enough rest to face the day well rested. For 43 percent of new parents, sleep comes at an average of one to three hours of uninterrupted rest at a time. That’s not enough to get the deep, restorative sleep you need to feel rested.
The lack of sleep that parents of newborns experience can result in extreme daytime fatigue and a decline in cognitive and physical function. In fact, 30 percent of parents with newborns fall asleep at work.
What Makes Newborn Sleep Difficult
Newborns need care around the clock, including when you’re sleeping. There are many reasons why babies cry and need help at night when parents would otherwise be sleeping.
Parents need to tend to feedings, diaper changes, colic, and other needs for babies at night.
But even when babies aren’t actively asking for help, parents of newborns may be too anxious to sleep. The survey indicates parents with infants often lose sleep worrying about providing a good life for their children or taking care of housework.
How Newborn Parents Can Get More Sleep
Parents of newborns should understand that sleep will be difficult for the first few months. Many babies start sleeping through the night by six months, so sleep difficulties won’t last forever. In the meantime, you can take steps to support healthy sleep for all: mom, dad, and baby.
- Accept offers of help. If friends and family offer to help when the baby comes home, let them. Typically, offers are genuine — and at this time, you need all of the help you can get. You’re not likely to get offers to stay up all night with the baby, but daytime help can make it easier for you to get the rest you need. Let someone babysit while you take a quick nap during the day, accept dinner, or let them take care of housework such as dishes, laundry, or vacuuming so you can rest later instead of worrying about chores.
- Take shifts with your partner. Nighttime parenting doesn’t have to be an all hands on deck situation. One partner can take care of baby’s nighttime needs for a few hours; then the other can take over. Consider four-hour shifts, such as 11 p.m. to 3 a.m., and 3 a.m. to 7 a.m. Shifts can be helpful, allowing one partner to get four hours of uninterrupted sleep at a time instead of choppy sleep that’s less restorative. To make this work, breastfeeding moms should pump ahead for nighttime feedings, and the resting partner should consider sleeping in a separate bed where they won’t be disturbed by the baby or their partner getting up to tend to its needs.
- Take one night on, one night off. Similar to shifts, switching one night on and one night off with your partner can help you both get restorative sleep — although not at the same time. With this arrangement, one partner tends to all of the baby’s needs for one night while the other sleeps. The next night, it’s the other partner’s turn. This option can make it possible to get a full night of sleep every other night instead of endless nights with fragmented sleep. As with taking shifts, breastfeeding mothers should pump for nighttime feedings on the nights when they’re not getting up with the baby, and the sleeping partner should sleep where they won’t be disturbed.
- Teach your baby how to sleep. Although many babies will sleep through the night by six months of age, it is possible to help them develop healthy sleep habits from birth, which may encourage better sleep for everyone. Maintaining routines is the best way to support healthy baby sleep, including a consistent bedtime and naptime, as well as predictable patterns throughout the day. Keeping familiar routines can help signal to your baby that it’s bedtime or naptime, and time to start getting sleepy. It’s also important to help your baby distinguish nighttime from daytime with noise and light cues, allowing household noise and daylight in the day, but keeping baby’s bedroom quiet and dark at night.
Sara Westgreen is a researcher for the sleep science hub Tuck.com. She sleeps on a king size bed in Texas, where she defends her territory against cats all night. A mother of three, she enjoys beer, board games, and getting as much sleep as she can get her hands on.