Having a newborn is an exciting and challenging time, and one of the most challenging aspects of having a newborn is getting enough sleep. Newborns have erratic sleep patterns and require frequent feedings, making it difficult for new parents to get the sleep they need. While the common advice to “sleep when the baby sleeps” may seem like a solution, it’s not always possible or effective.
In this article, we’ll discuss sleep hygiene with a newborn and provide some tips for getting the sleep you need.
Understanding Newborn Sleep Patterns
Newborns sleep for most of the day, averaging around 16-17 hours a day. However, their sleep patterns are erratic, and they wake up frequently to feed. In the first few weeks of life, newborns have no sense of day or night, which means they don’t have a consistent sleep-wake cycle. It’s not until they are around six to eight weeks old that they start to develop a circadian rhythm and sleep for longer stretches at night.
Set Realistic Expectations
One of the most important things you can do is to set realistic expectations for how much sleep you’ll get. Newborns require frequent feedings, and it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to sleep for more than a few hours at a time in the first few weeks. Recognizing this and accepting it can help you feel less frustrated and more rested.
It’s important to prioritize sleep and make it a priority in your daily routine. While there may be other things you want or need to do, getting enough sleep is essential for your physical and mental health. Make sure you’re getting as much sleep as possible, even if that means taking a nap during the day.
Create a Relaxing Sleep Environment
Creating a relaxing sleep environment can help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. Keep your bedroom cool, dark, and quiet, and make sure your bed is comfortable. If your baby is sleeping in the same room as you, consider using a white noise machine or earplugs to help you sleep through any noises they make.
Ask for Help
Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it. Whether it’s asking a family member or friend to watch the baby so you can take a nap, or hiring a postpartum doula to help with night feedings, getting some extra help can make a big difference in your sleep and overall well-being.
Understanding the Challenges of Sleep with a Newborn
- Newborns have a unique set of sleep needs and patterns, which can make it challenging for new parents to establish healthy sleep habits. Here are some of the key factors that can cause sleep with a newborn a challenge:
- Newborns have small stomachs and need to eat frequently, so they may wake up every few hours to feed.
- Newborns are often fussy and may have difficulty settling for sleep, particularly in the early weeks of life.
- Newborns have immature sleep cycles and spend much of their time in light sleep, which means they may wake up easily and frequently.
- Newborns may not yet have established circadian rhythms, which means they may not have a clear distinction between day and night.
These factors can make it difficult for new parents to establish regular sleep patterns and get the sleep they need. In addition, the stress and demands of caring for a newborn can also take a toll on parental sleep, leading to exhaustion and sleep deprivation.
Moving Beyond “Sleep When Baby Sleeps”
The advice to “sleep when the baby sleeps” is a common one, but it’s not always practical or effective. There are many reasons why this advice may not work for new parents, including:
- Difficulty falling asleep: Some parents find it difficult to fall asleep during the day, particularly if they are used to sleeping at night. This can lead to frustration and anxiety, which can make it even harder to fall asleep.
- Household tasks: It can be tempting to use the time when the baby is sleeping to catch up on household tasks like cleaning or cooking. However, this can create additional stress and make it harder to relax and fall asleep.
- Feeding and changing: Newborns need to be fed and changed frequently, which can disrupt naps and make it difficult for parents to get consistent sleep.
- Baby’s sleep problems: Some babies have difficulty sleeping, either due to medical conditions or simply because they are fussy or colicky. In these cases, it may be necessary for parents to stay awake and attend to their baby’s needs, rather than trying to sleep when the baby sleeps.
- Fear of missing out: Some new parents feel like they need to be awake and present for every moment of their baby’s life, which can make it difficult to rest when the baby is sleeping.
- Work and other commitments: Many new parents have work or other commitments that make it challenging to sleep during the day.
So, if “sleep when the baby sleeps” isn’t the solution, what can new parents do to get the sleep they need?
- Set a consistent sleep schedule: Even though newborns have irregular sleep patterns, it is still important to establish a consistent sleep schedule as soon as possible. This means setting a regular bedtime and wake-up time and trying to stick to it as much as possible. Over time, the baby’s sleep pattern should become more predictable, making it easier for parents to plan their own sleep schedules.
- Create a sleep-friendly environment: Newborns need a quiet, dark, and comfortable sleep environment to promote good sleep.
- Share Nighttime Feedings: If you’re breastfeeding, consider pumping milk so that your partner can help with nighttime feedings. This can help ensure that you both get some uninterrupted sleep and can share the responsibility of caring.
- Practice safe sleep habits. It’s important to follow safe sleep guidelines to reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). This includes placing babies on their backs to sleep, avoiding soft bedding and pillows, and keeping the sleep environment free of hazards.