Of all the adjustments that come with having a newborn, disruptions to normal sleep patterns were probably the most challenging for me. Between multiple nighttime feedings, the worry whether the baby is okay, and other stressors over this new role in life, quality sleep can be hard to achieve, even for new Dads. I increasingly found myself to be exhausted, irritable, and generally not my best self during the day.
While putting your baby’s needs first is natural and admirable, I discovered that it’s also important to practice self-care and make my own sleep a priority as well. Below are several tips on how I learned to do that.
Reduce Consumption of Caffeine and Alcohol
After a night of broken sleep or no sleep, it can seem logical to reach for coffee or other caffeinated beverages throughout the day to stay awake. Unfortunately, this is rarely a wise choice. Caffeine is a stimulant that can remain in the body for up to eight hours after consumption. That meant my afternoon cup of coffee or Diet Coke in the late afternoon was also interfering with sleep that evening.
Additionally, I discovered that as much as relaxing as an IPA or small-batch bourbon was as a nightcap before bed, alcohol was a big negative factor on the quality of my sleep. Forcing my body to continue working at night to break down alcohol was inhibiting my ability to get much-needed deep sleep. Additionally, even a small amount of nighttime alcohol contributes to dehydration which impacts sleep deprivation as well.
Nap to Catch Up on Lost Sleep Whenever Possible
Like most new parents, I definitely heard the advice to sleep when the baby sleeps. It took a while for me to learn to resist the urge to scroll through my phone, watch a little TV, or catch up on work during the baby’s naps. Even for just 30 minutes or less, a quick dozing session would have a remarkable ability to refresh my body and mind.
The one caveat here is that new moms and dads should not attempt to nap past about 3:00 in the afternoon. Napping too late in the day can make going to sleep needlessly difficult at nighttime, even when you feel exhausted.
Keep the Volume on the Baby Monitor Turned Low
My newborn daughter (like her Dad - according to my wife) made a lot of noises in her sleep. However, over time I learned not to go check on her every time I heard a grunt or whimper. Our baby monitor offered us peace of mind, but having the volume up too high was a recipe for disaster in the nightly quest to get a decent amount of rest.
To help train our baby to sleep through the night, we soon started following the advice to put her in her crib while still awake. As many sleep coaches, books, and blogs will attest, so long as she didn’t need a diaper change, feeding, or extra snuggles to calm down, allowing her to self-soothe was key to teaching sleep independence.
Most pediatricians agree that babies can sleep seven to eight hours uninterrupted by approximately six months of age. Our daughter certainly challenged that prevailing wisdom, making it imperative that my wife and I really focused on our own sleep habits to feel rested and ready to function each day.
Focus on Deep Breathing
When new parents do get the chance to take a nap or lay down at night, concentrating on deep inhalation of air can help to make sleep quality as restorative as possible. Deep restorative sleep allows for greater emotional stability during the day and the mental sharpness to attend to tasks at hand, including caring for a newborn. For me, this meant buying a special pillow to assist me with staying on my side during sleep, in addition to wearing “breath-rite” strips on my nose to improve airflow and prevent snoring.
Sometimes parents assume that their sleep problems are solely due to having a newborn baby in the house when something much more significant is happening. In my case, some simple lifestyle changes, increased mindfulness around my sleep habits, and a bit of diligence helped me recover from a period of sleep deprivation that was starting to wreak havoc on my daytime productivity and mood.
For others, conditions like sleep apnea, insomnia, or restless leg syndrome could be underlying problems that really require the help of a trained sleep specialist. In all cases though, I think it’s important to look past the common perception that sleep deprivation is just par for the course as a new parent. It’s not and making your own sleep health a priority is something that you will thank yourself for, and your family will thank you for in the long run.