As parents, we worry about how well our babies sleep. We research sleep training and adjust routines and do anything we can to make bedtime easier. It can be a struggle. Whether you just welcomed your first newborn or are a parent of five, you can relate. You’ve been there.
What we are also aware of, but often fail to address, is that our sleep matters too. A recent survey of new parents found that nearly half of those with children 6 months and under get between 1-3 uninterrupted hours of sleep per night. While most of us feel like we can survive with less, current recommendations suggest adults sleep seven hours per night. Only five percent of new parents get close to that!
It’s easy to acknowledge this reality and to write it off as a sacrifice of parenting. In the long term, however, this is not healthy for you or your baby or your partner. Sleep deprivation is known to negatively affect cognitive function, physiological processes, and sex drive. Research also suggests that lack of sleep can affect our kids in surprising ways: when we are tired, our faces and voices are less expressive, and we appear sadder. Our kids pick up on and model our emotions—so this can have a very real impact!
While seven hours of uninterrupted sleep may be a stretch, it is possible to improve your sleep habits during your waking hours.
- Make your own bed a sanctuary. Invest in the right mattress and comfortable pillows. Replace worn-out bedding, and wash your sheets regularly. If your bed is warm, inviting, and a place free of chaos, the time you spend in it will be more restful.
- Practice general self-care. Take ten minutes each day for yourself—more if you are able. Take deep breaths, practice a quick meditation, shower, or go for a walk. Give your brain time to rest and reset.
- Eat well. We all know that skipping meals and eating our kids’ leftovers aren’t good habits to cultivate. But did you know that the specific foods you choose may affect your ability to sleep well? The chemicals and minerals in some foods wire your brain and body to be awake, while others signal it to wind down.
- Ask for help. Lean on your partner, a family member, or a close friend. One of my favorite strategies for nighttime feedings is to divide and conquer. If your partner takes care of all of your baby’s late-night and early-morning needs for half the week and you the other, you’ll both build up consistent, uninterrupted sleep. Fragmented sleep can be just as detrimental as limited or no sleep.
If this seems like a pipe dream, start small. Take it one day and one change at a time. We’ve all been there, and you are doing great!
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