If there’s one thing most people know about having a newborn, it’s that your sleep can often be severely impacted. Trying to function on less sleep than you’re used to, and with what sleep you do get being broken, can be challenging, to say the least. And there can be times when we’re so tired that despite our exhaustion, sleep just does not arrive. Luckily, parents and experts have thought about this problem for as long as there have been babies, and there are a few tips that can be helpful.
Ask For Help
Getting support is one of the most important things when it comes to having a newborn, whether it’s your first or not. Therefore, we’ve decided to kick this list off with learning to ask for – and, just as importantly, accept – help. If you find that you aren’t coping, that you need an hour or two to yourself just to sleep, you can maybe begin by asking those around you for help. Partners, parents, friends, family – whoever you’ve got available and who you trust. The people you trust may be only too happy to help watch your baby for a couple of hours so you can get a nap in, so don’t feel like you shouldn’t ask. Sleep deprivation is one of the most difficult things for anyone to deal with, and its effects have the potential to be mitigated by getting support from those around you.
Keeping Baby Nearby
Keeping your baby’s cot or bassinet near your bed (if possible) can make returning to sleep after a nighttime feed much easier. Rather than getting up and walking to another room, being able to tend to your baby and then return immediately to bed once you’ve tucked them in can make a world of difference to being able to drift back off to sleep. Just make sure to keep them in their own sleep space, not in your bed.
In the same vein, being able to share those same night feeds & nappy changes can help spread the load a little. For those who are breastfeeding, expressing enough to have a bottle at night every so often can give a few extra moments of sleep. Likewise, taking turns with any other middle-of-the-night tasks helps everyone feel rested and involved – it can be a win-win situation. As with all things, communication is always key – discussing these things beforehand so everyone is on the same page will make the nights much smoother.
Next up is maintaining good sleep hygiene. What is sleep hygiene? In general, it’s doing the things that leave you best able to sleep well. There are a variety of ways to do this, and the specifics of what works for each person can vary, but there are a few common ideas that can be enormously helpful for everyone. First up is prioritising sleep – it can be tempting to try to catch up on housework while bubs is asleep, but for those first few months especially, maintaining a routine that puts sleep as an essential need (because it is!) is beneficial to both parents and babies. You’ve probably been told about the importance of setting up sleep routines for babies, but it can be just as good a habit to get into for yourself, too. Trying to get to bed around the same time each night can work wonders for you as well as your baby. Exposure to blue light sources – that is, anything with a screen, including phones, tablets, and TVs – before bed has been shown to have a negative correlation with quality sleep1 due to disrupting melatonin production. What is melatonin? It’s a hormone that helps with the timing of our circadian rhythms (that is, our sleep-wake patterns) and is produced in response to darkness2. The blue light from electronic devices tricks our brains into thinking it is still daylight, suppressing the melatonin surge we need to be able to sleep well. While melatonin alone doesn’t make us fall asleep, it does prepare our bodies to be able to fall asleep. For that reason, turning off screens at least an hour before bed can help with letting us drift off. Instead, try having a quick bath or shower, then reading a book for a little while. If you can, keeping your bedroom as a place solely for rest – and, of course, looking after baby – can make a huge difference. This means removing clutter, not allowing anything related to work into your room (including laptops and phones!), and having it purely as a place to sleep. If this isn’t possible (not everyone has the space to be able to do so), then tucking those items out of sight is a good alternative. Keeping up the same routine before bed also helps remind our bodies what time it is. The Sweet Dreams Lotion Balm might be designed for our wee ones, but it can also work a treat on us as parents as part of that routine. Its lavender and chamomile essential oils work together to soothe and relax, helping to encourage our bodies to relax and drift off.
Going to your medical professional – be that midwife, GP, or whoever you can see – is another option that can be particularly beneficial for those who find some of the other tips just aren’t possible due to a variety of different personal circumstances. PlunketLine (0800 933 922) is another excellent resource. They have experts on hand who can help answer any questions you have about a variety of parenting issues, as well as being able to give advice about your baby’s health. Whether it is Plunket or your healthcare professional, they may be able to tailor advice to your situation or give you referrals to someone who can.
1Cooper, J.A. (n.d.). Screens and your sleep: The impact of nighttime use. Sutter Health. https://www.sutterhealth.org/health/sleep/screens-and-your-sleep-the-impact-of-nighttime-use
2Suni, E., & Dimitriu, A. (2023). Melatonin and sleep. Sleep Foundation. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/melatonin