Most new parents are sleep-deprived from time to time (if not most of the time). But it’s a myth that you need to be constantly exhausted and at the end of your rope. Here’s some ways to improve your sleep if you’re a new mom or dad:
Hydrate. Sometimes what feels like fatigue is dehydration, a common issue if you’re breastfeeding. Sip water, decaf hot or iced tea or unsweetened seltzer throughout the day.
Ask your health care provider to check your iron and thyroid- hormone levels. Too little iron or an imbalance of thyroid hormones can both make someone feel weak and lethargic. Try to eat leafy greens and other iron-rich foods every day, and keep taking your prenatal vitamin until you stop breastfeeding.
Take turns with sleep shifts and don‘t try to “sleep train” a baby younger that six months overnight. Babies under six months need to be fed when they’re hungry, and depriving a baby of night feedings or otherwise trying to train them to sleep for longer stretches has been proven to not only not help baby sleep longer any sooner, but can cause behavioral problems and increase the risk of SIDS.
Check your meds. Some medications, especially those for allergies or pain, can cause drowsiness, and they may not say so clearly on the label. Read package inserts, and if your medication “may cause drowsiness,” ask your doctor if there is a non-sedating substitute. Also some medications contain caffeine which can keep you from being able to take a quality nap if you get the chance.
Go easy on the caffeine and alcohol. Coffee’s a fine pick-me-up, but a lot in the morning can trigger a big energy and mood crash in the afternoon. It can also keep you from being able to sleep when you get the chance, like when baby’s napping. Alcohol can also sap your energy and disturb sleep cycles. If you drink, it can help to have your glass of wine or what-have-you before or with dinner so your body will be able to process the alcohol before it’s time for bed. Alcohol can also worsen postpartum depression.
If baby waking you up all night is a problem, try having your husband bring baby to bed to feed if you’re breastfeeding, or try pumping bottles so he can take a night shift too. Younger babies will sleep deepest in the early part of the night (and will up be wide awake and ready to go at 4 or 5 a.m.), so if that means everyone in your house goes to bed at 7 p.m. for a year until your baby starts sleeping in longer and more regular stretches there is no shame in that. The good news is that babies naturally start to sleep in longer stretches at night as their hormonal systems mature and their stomachs are able to hold more milk, and by 12 weeks most babies will be sleeping in overnight stretches.
The other good news: contrary to popular belief adults don’t need to get 8-9 hours in unbroken stretches every 24, you can also function sleeping in two four-hour shifts, or even four two-hour shifts. Though the baby may be up awake at 4 a.m., he or she will usually be ready for a nap at around 9 or 10 a.m. and again in the afternoon.
But more bad news: because of the differences in the way babies, kids and adults regulate their sleep/wake hormones, your child will likely keep waking up at dawn or very early for a long time, sometimes until pre-teenager-hood. And the better news: every passing year your child will be able to sleep in a little bit later in the morning, and by kindergarten you will be able to set out cereal and the remote control for your child Friday nights so you can sleep in a little when they wake up at 6 on a Saturday morning.
Extreme measures: if you have multiples, a colicky baby, or just no time to make up for lost sleep, you may need drastic steps: taking extra family leave time, having a relative come stay to help out at night, or even hiring a babysitter to stay overnight a few times a week. Especially if you have multiples, a “night nanny” can be a real lifesaver.
Want to read more about baby and adult sleep cycles? Check out our book Great Expectations: Baby Sleep— available in Barnes & Noble stores and on Nook devices now!