Unfortunately no one can just ask their one month old baby to please put in a solid 8 hours of sleep overnight so that you can get the same. The truth is that newborns wake every few hours, and probably will for a while. After a few months, most babies do start to sleep for longer stretches, and some even through the night by 6 months. But every baby is different.
Before then though, you’re likely getting fragmented sleep, which can make you feel foggy, forgetful, and pretty raw. And even once you get to an easier sleep phase, it’s totally normal for babies to go through sleep regressions every so often, for toddlers to wake up when they’ve wet through a diaper, or for school age kids to wake up after having a scary dream.
What we’re saying is that even if better sleep is in your future – and it is, we promise – becoming a parent means that you probably have many nights ahead that involve a little less sleep than you had been planning on.
Here are some tips for anyone dealing with sleep deprivation (many of which will still be useful in the years ahead).
Getting more sleep, and better sleep, will help you have more fuel in the tank to rock being a parent in the daylight hours – or to rock your little one on those surprise late-nights. So while these tips aren’t a magic bullet, they can help you manage until baby gets a bit older.
- Turn your bedroom into a place that prioritizes sleep – meaning a place that’s dark, quiet, and cool – and invest in a few sleepytime goodies to help you really relax. Get a sleep mask to block out light, turn on a white noise machine, and try to stay off of screens.
- Find a safe space to talk: Sometimes if you’re tired or overwhelmed people want to help you “fix it.” But often when we’re sleep deprived we just want to be heard and acknowledged. Finding the right friend to text a sleepy face emoji or a family member who gets it without telling you what to do can be magical support!
- Sleep when baby sleeps. We know, we know – some parents hate this advice. That’s because it sounds simple, even though it’s far from that. When baby is snoozing, it’s really easy to want to take advantage of that time and do dishes, laundry, shower, or pop on a TV show — really anything to give you a sense of normalcy. But sometimes this means sleep falls to the wayside. Carving out the occasional nap — especially in a rough sleep patch — can be amazing. Sure, make sure you have clean underwear and plates to eat off of, but you definitely have permission to let some things, like a perfectly clean house, slide for now. So ignore any to-dos other than “take a nap,” silence your phone, and get cozy. A 20 minute nap can leave you refreshed without feeling groggy, but in these early days when overnights can be such a free-for-all, listen to your body and sleep longer if you need to.
- Get outside in the morning. Sunlight will help you feel more alert, even when you’re really sleep deprived. Getting outside any time of day can help you re-set in a tough mood, and there is nothing like a fresh air walk to help a baby who is struggling to nap.
- If you can’t sleep, rest. Whether trying to sleep overnight, or to catch a nap, if you don’t feel like you can sleep, just take some time to relax. Don’t beat yourself up over undone chores or even that you can’t fall asleep. Snuggle up, stretch and remind yourself that it’s great to be cozy and you should feel good about prioritizing your rest.
- Work on shared responsibilities. If you have a partner, sharing household duties and the mental load can be energizing all on its own. If you’re feeling overwhelmed in addition to physically tired, it can be hard to enjoy yourself! Try starting the conversation with, “I feel overwhelmed. I need you to go grocery shopping and plan dinners this week.” Or any other household or baby duty you’d like off your plate.
- Turn down the monitor. Newborns are active sleepers, and if you listen for every little peep or whimper, it will be really hard to get any shut-eye overnight. Better yet, pass the monitor to your partner and request a wake-up only if necessary.
- Only welcome the right sort of guests into your home. This is a really unique time in your life, and you want people around who can help make it easier for you, not those who want to be entertained or only want to hold the baby but not really babysit or won’t lend a hand. You want guests who will babysit while you shower or go take a nap or who will fold laundry and do the dishes while they visit. Don’t think the usual polite rules apply to this time, and don’t feel the need to host.
- If you breastfeed, do so lying down, for a bit of added rest. Stock up on protein filled snacks and a water bottle — both will help with an energy boost.
- Scroll past bad advice. Some accounts will lead you to believe that postpartum should be full of sleep, fashion, exercise, and travel. That’s not the reality for most people, and comparison can make us feel more mentally exhausted.
- Go to bed early — at least when your little one goes to sleep at a relatively normal bedtime. If you were used to going to bed much later before your baby was born, this could be the time to try to move that up by a few hours. Even if a lot of your sleep is fragmented overnight, this still may allow you to get in a bit more. If you start to get in the habit of doing bedtime for both you and your little one, you’ll begin to get your baby into a bedtime routine too (yes, even this early) and eventually teach your little one that nighttime is when everybody should be sleeping.
- Toss out your regular routines from before baby, like binging TV shows late at night with your partner or scrolling through Twitter before bed. You do, of course, want to maintain some sense of normalcy, but if you used to watch a lot of late-night TV, this could be the time to cut back. This is just a phase, and you’ll find a new normal over time — trust us!
- Treat yourself! Sometimes a small thing to look forward to makes all the difference. Maybe it’s a walk to a park, a cookie from a local bakery, checking new baby books out from the library, or lighting your favorite candle. It doesn’t have to be a big expense, but it can brighten a tough day.
- And as you add relaxing details into your bedtime, cut out the stuff that will keep you up. This includes caffeine, alcohol, heavy meals, or exercise in the hours before bed. (Exercise earlier in the day can help you sleep better at night. But with your baby being so new, exercise definitely doesn’t need to be a priority just yet.) Limit screen before bed, set a timer so that your phone goes into a nighttime mode that cuts down the blue light being emitted, or leave screens outside of your bedroom entirely.
Even if you just incorporate one or two of these ideas into your days and nights, we hope some of them help you cope with the sleepless nights. But if the exhaustion really feels like too much for too long, do talk to your healthcare provider and your child’s provider about what’s going on. They may be able to help you find ways to adjust you and your baby’s routines to get some relief. They can also help identify other issues, including mood disorders or sleep disorders, that might be contributing to tiredness or trouble sleeping. And do take heart knowing that this won’t last forever. The sleepless nights may be long, but this phase of little sleep is short.
Reviewed by the Ovia Health Clinical Team
- Mayo Clinic Staff. “New parents: Getting the sleep you need.” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, October 12 2017. Retrieved February 11 2019. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/infant-and-toddler-health/in-depth/healthy-baby/art-20046556.
- “Brain Basics: Understanding Sleep.” National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Fri, 2019-02-08 . Retrieved February 11 2019. https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Understanding-Sleep.
- “Twelve Simple Tips to Improve Your Sleep.” Healthy Sleep. Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, December 18 2007. Retrieved February 11 2019. http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/healthy/getting/overcoming/tips.