One of the universal experiences of new parenthood is sleep deprivation. During the early months of your baby’s life, your baby may only sleep for two or three hours at a stretch. Depending on your baby’s feeding schedule, sensitivity to wet diapers, digestion and other factors, your baby will likely be up several times during the night. That means you’ll be up too!
Your baby can sleep off her exhaustion because the only things on her to do list for the next day are eating and sleeping. But what are parents to do when they are sleep deprived yet have to be functional the following day. It’s a tough issue that new parents across the globe face. When you only sleep in short increments, you never enter deep REM sleep that is required to restore, repair and refresh yourself mentally and physically. Fragmented sleep leads to impaired cognitive function, feelings of grogginess and less memory capacity. All of these problems make new parents less effective and more likely to be frustrated by even minor situations.
Today we’re sharing some tips on coping with sleep deprivation.
First, the number one rule of sleep during new parenthood is to sleep when your baby is sleeping. You’ve probably heard this from your OB, pediatrician, nurses at the hospital, mom, sister and friends. Everyone gives this advice because it is essential to your survival. You may not get to catch some zzz’s every time your baby is napping, but try to make up for lost sleep during these quiet moments. Rather than fret over the piles of laundry to fold and what’s for dinner, solicit help with some of your chores to ensure baby’s sleep time can be your sleep time too. And when you do have the opportunity to sleep, make sure you’re set up for success. Your room should be dark, cool and quiet. Turn down the monitor so you’ll only wake for cries, not coos and gurgles. And don’t eat or drink heavy meals, caffeine or spicy foods before rest times.
Often parents, especially new moms, are running on adrenaline and all sorts of other mood-elevating chemical and hormonal reactions right after their babies are born. This gives strength and energy to power through the first few sleepless nights. However, spending nights-upon-nights with very little sleep can really take a toll on your mental and emotional state. Postpartum depression increases when the body is deprived of precious sleep.
One of the key strategies to coping with sleep deprivation is ensuring a better night’s sleep every few nights. To achieve longer stretches of sleep, you’ll need help from your partner or other care givers by taking turns getting up with the baby. You can alternate nights or develop a schedule that works for your family, but each person needs some time to recuperate from lack of sleep. If mom is breastfeeding, consider giving a bottle of breast milk for at least one middle-of-the-night feeding or have the “on duty” parent bring the baby to mom for feedings. That parent can do all the burping, diaper changes and fussiness calming when it is their turn, allowing mom additional sleep.
When your baby is up, bring her along on some invigorating activities to help keep both of you stimulated. Taking a walk outdoors or doing some mommy-and-me yoga can help energize your body and get your blood flowing. Our bodies need lots of oxygenated blood to keep us physically and mentally alert. Doing some sort of physical activity can help get your blood pumping. Also, be sure to drink a lot of water. Dehydration is a huge cause of fatigue and can only exacerbate existing exhaustion. A small amount of caffeine is OK during wakeful hours, but be careful not to over-consume as it can keep both you and your baby awake.
Also, when you are sleep deprived, adding responsibilities to your plate is not a wise decision. Try reducing your obligations so you can focus on your family’s immediate needs, taking care of your baby and making space for sleep when the opportunity arises. If you’re constantly involved in a project, your precious time will be consumed with things other than sleep. Plus, stress is counter-productive to sleep. Try to eliminate stress and anxiety and don’t put yourself in intense situations. When you are sleep deprived, you’ll be less likely to handle them with grace and civility.
Lastly, look for help where you can get it. If you have other children, asking friends for extra play dates, taking your turn to drive carpool or even playing with your baby for an hour so you can take a nap is OK. Super moms aren’t the ones who do it all, they are the ones who know how to delegate effectively. Don’t be ashamed to ask for help. Your entire family will benefit when mom gets some sleep!