How to survive sleepless nights as a new parent
Nothing can prepare a parent for the sleepless nights that having a new baby brings. Except for maybe a stint in a special forces commando unit in the army. If that unit was required to exist on little to no sleep for months at a time, whilst simultaneously caring for a small infant and recovering from childbirth. Then it might be close…
The thing is, getting less sleep than you would like is unfortunately just the lay of the new baby land. You need to expect it, prepare for it and get on with it. It’s not pleasant (at all), but it is survivable. Every parent who ever came before you is proof that you can get through this.
Here are some sleep tips to make it as comfortable as possible.
1. Sleep in shifts
Chances are it’s going to be a long time before you get the recommended eight hours of shut-eye a night. You can absolutely exist on less sleep than that, but it’s helpful to make up for it where you can. When your baby is asleep is a good time to be sleeping too, but finding the balance between “sleep when the baby sleeps” and actually having a life can be tricky.
Instead, try having a short sleep when your baby goes down at night, then waking up for some you/partner/Netflix time until your baby wakes for a feed. After that late night feed, you can head back to bed again. You will most likely be woken a couple more times in the night, but the short evening sleep will hopefully make it easier for you.
2. Take care of yourself
When you’re not getting enough sleep, it hurts. You feel gritty, foggy and slightly unwell a lot of the time. Support yourself through that by ensuring you are eating nourishing, wholesome foods and getting some fresh air and exercise each day. A daily walk with the pram or sling around the neighbourhood is bonding for you and your baby too.
3. Stick to a routine
Routines work wonders for babies, but they are also super-helpful for mums as well.
A strict night-time routine will help prepare your baby for the longer stretches of sleep that you are craving for them. A daytime routine will help you keep on top of everything that needs doing, so sleep can easily find you when it’s time.
There is nothing more frustrating than lying wide awake, desperate to get to sleep before your baby wakes again. A night routine of your own helps remind your body when it’s time to switch off and let things go until the morning.
4. Slow everything down
While you might wish to get back to your “old normal” as soon as possible, doing it in the midst of sleep deprivation is not the time.
Keep things simple and easy for as long as you need. Make relaxing with your baby your top priority.
Be selective about how you spend your time and who you spend it with. Redefine your housework standards and remind yourself that you can return to your old standards when you are ready.
This time in your life and your baby’s life is a temporary thing – even though it might not feel that way when you are in the middle of it. Go easy, be gentle with yourself, conserve energy. This. Will. Pass.
5. Go over all the sleep barriers
Remember, being overtired and too stimulated is one of the main reasons a baby finds it hard to get to sleep. Little babies don’t need a lot of stimulation or “play time”. Feed, clean, cuddle and sleep are pretty much all they need for the first few months. Give yourself the best possible chance of a decent night’s sleep by ensuring your baby is as comfortable and sleep-ready as possible.
A mental checklist is handy – yours will be different to this, because you know your baby and yourself, but something like:
- Not hungry
- Fresh nappy
- Swaddled (if they like swaddling)
- Dark bedroom
- Nice and quiet (or white noise or gentle music)
- Feeling well – no temperature or teething issues
- Lots of cuddles
6. Make it as easy as possible
Night feeds are tough, night settling even tougher. Make it as easy on yourself as possible. Have a soft night-light in the room, ready to switch on when needed. Have everything you need to feed, change and settle your baby ready to go.
In your baby’s cot, it can help to have a second set of sheets already in place under a mattress protector, ready to go if the sheets need changing. Poonamis have a habit of erupting at 3am …
Work in shifts with your partner, if that’s possible. Keep things as quiet and no-nonsense as possible and do the same thing every time you go in at night.
7. Seek help when you need it
You don’t need to be a superhero about any of this. Just because sleep deprivation is ‘expected’ when you have a new baby, doesn’t mean chronic sleeplessness needs to be endured. Ask for help!
This might mean asking a friend or family member to look after your baby while you get some shut eye (definitely do that!). Or doing a grocery shop for you when you know you are too tired to drive. Or it might mean booking in to see your GP to discuss other strategies.
Remember, you don’t need to solider on alone … not even if you actually did do time in a commando special forces unit. Please, just ask for help!
The information above is general in nature and the opinion of the writer and should not be taken as medical advice.