Sleep in the early days of parenthood
If you’ve never had a period of bad sleeping before, you might get a shock at just how much lack of sleep can affect your life. New parents often say they didn’t believe it would be as bad as it is.
It can take a while for babies to settle into a regular routine, and this makes getting the sleep and rest you need difficult. In the early weeks, getting any extra sleep might be hard.
How much sleep you need
In general, adults need about 7-8 hours of sleep a night to feel properly rested, although this varies from 5-10 hours, depending on the person.
You might need more sleep if you:
- find it difficult to wake up in the morning, or feel sleepy all of the time
- can’t concentrate
- feel moody, irritable, depressed or anxious
- are unintentionally having micro-sleeps during the day.
Just as your child needs sleep to stay well, you need enough sleep to get on with and enjoy parenting. Proper rest helps you do this, and makes you feel happier and calmer. Also, your baby responds to how you feel, which means your baby will feel more contented too.
How to sleep better and feel more rested
Getting enough sleep during the first few months of your baby’s life can be hard. How much sleep you get depends a fair bit on what’s happening with your child. But there are some things you can do to feel more rested.
These tips can help you get a better night’s sleep:
- Establish a regular bedtime routine.
- Find ways to switch off and wind down before bed – for example, read a book, listen to some gentle music, or use relaxation techniques like deep breathing.
- Avoid tea, coffee, soft drinks, energy drinks, chocolate and other stimulants close to bedtime. They make resting and sleeping harder and affect how well you sleep.
- Avoid using screens in your bedroom, including television, mobile phones and tablets.
It can be hard to wind down after a long day, or to switch your mind off so you can sleep. If you’re having trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep, try not to get worried and frustrated. Instead, try reminding yourself that it’s OK that you’re warm and restful in bed.
If this doesn’t work, it might be worth getting up and writing down what’s on your mind. Then you can try going through your bedtime routine again.
During the day
Making time for yourself can help you feel better. Even just five minutes reading a book, walking around the block or doing some meditation can give you the sense of being rested when you’re not getting enough sleep.
It’s possible to ‘catch up’ on missed sleep, so nap during the day when you can. You can also make up for missed sleep during the week by sleeping more on the weekend.
Physical activity and healthy food can give you more energy, so make time for exercise and eating well – every little bit helps.
If you can, share baby care with your partner (so you both feel as rested as possible), a family member or a friend.
Taking turns or shifts for night-time duties can really make a difference. This might be harder for mothers who are breastfeeding. In this case, the key is to try to rest when your baby is resting. On weekends, you could take turns having sleep-ins or naps during the day.
Using your energy for the things that are most important to you can help you feel better about your day – even if you’re tired at the end of it. For example, you might choose to play with your children or spend time with family or friends rather than do the vacuuming.
There will be some daily chores that you just have to do, and even the easiest chores can feel overwhelming when you’re exhausted. If you break chores down into small steps and focus on one thing at a time, they can seem more manageable – and you can give yourself a reward for finishing each step. But sometimes chores might just have to wait, no matter how important they are.
Lowering your expectations can take the pressure off. Sometimes what we expect of ourselves can be unrealistic. For example, we might expect that we can play with the children, go to work, help at child care or school, cook an amazing dinner, get three loads of washing done, and still go to the gym.
There are times when you can do all these things. But there might be some days or even weeks when you’re feeling low on energy, and you might need to rethink how much you can get done – and that’s OK. When you chat with other parents, you’ll find that they have these times too.
If you’re struggling to manage daily routines on not enough sleep, it’s OK to ask family or friends for help. And if you feel that lack of sleep is affecting you mentally or emotionally, it’s a very good idea to talk with your GP or another health professional.