The fight to get enough sleep isn’t over in a few days, it’s a long hard battle lasting months that every new parent will face. Sorry but it’s true, been there done that, big genuine hugs of compassion and sympathy but please don’t shoot the messenger.
Ask any new parent what they miss the most about their old lives and they won’t say, ‘Going to the movies’ or ‘Eating out’ (although these come in a fairly close second and third) the answer would be, ‘Sleep!’ or more like, ‘Sleeeeep, please Lord give me sleeeeeep… and while you’re at it, give me some flippen strength too’. With fragmented slithers of sleep for months on end, it’s no wonder new parents are overwhelmed with tiredness along with all the other undesirable side effects. Sleep deprivation is a horrible thing. It can even make you hallucinate – sometimes you may think you’re a historically (and hysterically) important figure.
‘Never in the field of human slumber was so much owed to so many from so few (and tiny)’ – Nathalie Winston Davis.
You only need to do a quick internet search and you’ll be bombarded with articles, podcasts, forums… a vast armoury of knowledge and advice. However useful all this information is, nothing quite prepares you for the stone cold reality of; 2am nappy changes (night vision goggles can come in very handy), countless breast wrenching feeds per night, stints of uncontrollable crying (from your baby too!) that feel like they’ll never end, it’s plausible to see why even the most hardened of newbie parents soon dissolve into gibbering, blood shot eyed, basket weaving versions of their former selves. Actually, PTSD is a real thing for new parents (it’s called Postpartum Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and 9% of woman experience it following childbirth!).
Before our eldest was born I remember stumbling across this quote from comedian Ray Romano;
“Everyone should have kids. They are the greatest joy in the world. But they are also terrorists. You’ll realise this as soon as they are born, and they start using sleep deprivation to break you.”
I recall chuckling nervously, then thinking it was a pretty harsh comparison – I mean how could he liken my soon-to-be tiny bundle of loveliness to a terrorist! Of course, after the arrival of our bundle of loveliness and after many days of sleep deprivation, I kind of got it…
Sleep deprivation is common for many new parents. A recent study carried out by the Sleep Technology Brand; Simba revealed just how little sleep some parents are actually getting:
- New parents bag just 4 hours and 44 minutes of sleep in an average night during the first year of their baby’s life
- Exhausted mums and dads will sleep 59% less than the recommended eight hours a night – over the course of 12 months, losing the equivalent of 50 nights of sleep.
Fragmented sleep is particularly hard to deal with as a new parent because you are simultaneously trying your utmost to care for your newborn baby.
What are the Effects of Sleep Deprivation?
Lack of sleep can play havoc with your physical and mental health as well as taking an emotional toll on your relationships.
Simba’s study highlight’s;
- More than two thirds of British parents believe they have got into arguments with their partner purely as a result of their baby’s poor sleep habits.
- The study also found 23% of those polled believe the lost sleep in their child’s first year at home led them to behave ‘slightly unusually’.
- In their sleep-deprived state, 11% have hallucinated something which wasn’t really there, and 44% have completely forgotten what they were saying mid-sentence.
- 8% have even forgotten the name of their baby.
- 64% look back on their first year as parents and are ‘amazed’ they were able to function through it all as well as they did.
The study also captured a more humorous aspect of the results of sleep deprivation on parents, here are a few confessions from parents who perhaps haven’t clocked up their recommended quota of sleep for a while…
Confessions of Sleep Deprived Parents
1. Feeding my baby spaghetti bolognese for breakfast thinking it was dinner time.
2. I lost the kettle once and found it in the fridge where the milk lives.
3. I once put cat food in the washing machine dispenser instead of powder.
4. I put my toiletry shopping in the fridge rather than bathroom and my milk in the oven!
5. Putting a bottle of milk in my baby’s ear instead of the mouth.
6. Using baby milk in my tea.
7. Walking into a store without shoes.
8. Pushing the pram out and realising the baby wasn’t in it.
9. I left my car running with the keys in the ignition whilst sat at work.
10. Fell asleep standing up at countertop in kitchen.
I think I could put my name to a few of those!
Sleep deprivation can cause many side effects, which will vary from person to person; feeling overwhelmed with tiredness, being bad tempered, tearful, forgetful and depressed are all common signs that you are suffering from lack of sleep.
Remember that there are people you can reach out to and talk to if you feel you’re not coping. Here’s a good link from the Association for Post Natal Illness (APNI) with a Live chat option.
Looking after a new baby is a huge responsibility and parent’s naturally want to do what’s best for their baby, however it’s also vitally important to take care of your own health and wellbeing and try to get as much sleep as you can.
Tips on how to Sleep as a New Parent
When you’re in the deepest depths of the sleep desert, aka – the first months of parenthood, you may wonder if there’s any hope at all for getting through this difficult time (yes there is!).
Here are a few tips to guide you through the sleepless nights and fuzzy days and hopefully help you to survive the newborn days;
1. Keep to a good sleep routine
This may sound like I’m trying to teach grandma to suck eggs, but a proper sleep routine really does make a difference for helping both you and your baby get the best sleep. Check out my sleep tips for kids article for more information, remember that a good sleep routine for yourself is equally as important. A relaxing routine, such as taking a warm bath or reading a few pages of a book before bed, plus turning off those dreaded devices at least 1 to 2 hours before bedtime.
2. Create a comfortable sleeping environment
A cluttered bedroom may have a negative impact on your sleep. Unless you’re a dedicated follower of Mrs Hinch, chances are that your bedroom is more of a dumping ground than an oasis of peace and tranquility. It amazes me what ends up in my bedroom – homework books, bags of laundry, stacks of paperwork, dog toys, odd socks… it’s far from Instagramable! Try and keep your bedroom clear of clutter to create a more relaxing environment to sleep in.
3. Sleep when your baby sleeps
This is a fail-safe motto. If you’re home and your baby is napping, try and have a nap yourself. According to the National Sleep Foundation, 20 minutes is all it takes to experience benefits like better mood and improved alertness. It may be tempting to use this time to get all those chores done but the sink full of dishes or piles of laundry can wait, your priority is to get some sleep.
4. Don’t ‘bed share’ with your baby
It is recommend* that your baby should sleep in your bedroom until they are 6 months old (*www.nhs.co.uk ) in their own cot, crib or Moses basket. During night feeding, it’s ok to take your baby into your bed, however it is important to always return them to their own bed after feeding. Not only is this the safest option, your sleep will be more rested and peaceful knowing that your baby is snug in their own bed. Check out cuckooland.com for a selection of baby cots, including the award winning Snuzpod, which offers a safe alternative to bed sharing or co sleeping, without losing any of the benefits; SnuzPod allows you to easily comfort, settle and feed your baby without having to leave your bed (cool product plug over).
5. Accept help from family & friends
If you are raising your baby with a partner, then sharing the night shifts will certainly help. One of you can get a longer stretch of sleep, whilst the other cares for baby. This is not quite so straightforward for mums who are breastfeeding, but don’t rule it out as you can always opt to use a breast pump to allow for your partner to bottle feed during the night (highly recommended).
If you’re embracing parenthood as a single parent and all you can manage is a quick afternoon nap while a friend cares for your baby, remember that every little helps!
6. Don’t overdo your caffeine consumption
I’m an avid coffee fan – and I admit that until I have had my morning coffee fix I’m more sleepy sloth than eager eagle. Though caffeine may perk you up in the short term, too much and you’re likely to have trouble falling asleep. Keep your caffeine consumption moderate and don’t drink anything caffeinated late in the day.
7. Think about your diet and exercise
It’s perfectly normal for life as you previously knew it to be turned on its head when your baby arrives. However, once the dust has settled (and your body has recovered somewhat) it’s crucial that you give some thought back to yourself – what are you eating and are you managing to squeeze in a little exercise.
Both food and exercise have a bidirectional relationship with sleep, meaning the healthier you eat, the better you sleep… and the better you sleep, the healthier your food choices will be. The same applies to exercise. Making healthy choices when it comes to food and exercise will leave you feeling more energised during the day and promote a better night’s sleep.
8. Try and factor in a bit of ‘you’ time
YES, you can! When achieving your full quota of sleep just isn’t possible, there are other ways you can rejuvenate yourself during the day. Whether it’s listening to favourite music, reading, cooking, or spending a bit of time on your hobby, finding some time (even a few minutes) every day to do something that you really enjoy can help reduce stress.
Take some comfort in knowing that you will not be in this phase forever, although it may feel like you’re embarking on the epic assent of Everest, you will come out of this round-the-clock adventure before you know it. By the time most babies are 6 months old they are settled into a regular sleep pattern and your much needed ZZZ’s will once again return to a more normal routine.
Now that you’re armed with some top tips for getting more sleep as a new parent – what about a few tips for helping your baby to get off to sleep.
Whilst it’s great to read the expert advice, it’s also good to hear from fellow parents, here are some parent led suggestions (just suggestions to pick and choose, I personally wouldn’t try all of them – certainly not all at once 😊), according to Simba’s study:
Top 20 ways to get a baby off to sleep
1. Warm milk
2. Sticking to routines
3. Gentle rocking motion
5. Give them a warm bath
6. Comfort blanket
8. Gentle bouncing
10. Give them a favourite toy
11. Play with baby as much as possible during the day to tire them out
12. Calming music
13. Ambient noise – e.g. hairdryers, washing machines, turning on the hoover
14. Driving them around
15. Baby massage
16. Children’s TV
17. Putting them in hiking pack or pram and walking for miles
18. Reducing eye contact before bed
19. Putting them outside in the fresh air
20. Scenting a tissue/fabric with fragrance near the bed
I’ll be writing another article on how to help your baby sleep very soon, so keep your eyes peeled (if you’re able to keep them open).
In the meantime, grab those kips when you can and remember this phase will not last forever! Then it’s a blissful 15-year gap before the sleepless nights return and you’re waiting up all night for them to come home from a party! The joys of parenting!