8 Sleep Tips for New Parents

New parent? Is that you lurking around in the world of sleep deprivation? Becoming a new parent is a title that comes with an abundance of joy, curiosity and love, but it’s also a ticket to the strange and exotic universe of newborn sleep. Diaper changes, frequent breastfeeding and a generally fussy baby can challenge your much-needed shut-eye. Luckily, we have some tips to help you navigate the strange universe and help you make your sleep a priority.

Create a sleep-inducing environment

As a new parent, you’re bound to experience some chaos, new experiences and an overwhelming number of emotions. Your bedroom should be a haven from all of that. As we’ve established in our Sleep Series — Bedside manners, your bedroom should be a place where there’s nothing to distract you or your baby from catching some precious ZZZs. Creating a sleep-inducing environment is paramount to your well-being. This means forbidding anything that can disturb your sleep cycle. So, no electronics or clutter in your baby’s and your bedroom. The bedrooms should also be cool, and dark. Try blackout curtains if it’s too bright at bedtime, and invest in great bedding that regulates your temperature.

Maintain a good sleep hygiene

Being a new parent might push you to skip a workout in favor of a nap or eat more sugar for a quick energy boost. Stop! Try to maintain your bedtime as much as possible, opt for healthier snacks and exercise regularly. This will help you doze off once you hit the sack. If you find yourself having trouble sleeping, get out of bed and read a book in a dimly lit room until you’re drowsy.

Scheduling your dinner three hours before bedtime sets you up for a good night's sleep. However, that doesn't mean you should sleep with a grumbling tummy. If you're hungry minutes before you lay your head to rest, eat something high in good fats. A spoonful, or two, of peanut butter is a healthy bedtime snack.

Establish a healthy circadian rhythm for your bub

Babies’ internal clocks aren’t synchronized to reflect the parents' circadian rhythm. They awake at random times, they need to feed every few hours, and, according to the book “Godnatt!” by sleep experts Kristoffer Bothelius and Liv Svirsky, babies sleep in short bouts that are about 50 minutes long — all of which is a recipe for exhaustion. Luckily, your baby’s distorted sleep cycle doesn’t last forever, and you can help him/her healthy sleep cycle faster with a few tricks.
- Keep your baby alert and stimulated during the day by playing with him/her and exposing him/her to natural light and noise.
- In the lead-up to bedtime, lower the lights and reduce the noise to help the baby differentiate between daytime and nighttime.
- Maintain the same bedtime and routine every night. In the book “Godnatt!” Bothelius and Svirsky suggest a routine that is 30 minutes long and has 3 sleep-inducing activities. These activities could be bathing the baby, changing the baby’s diaper and clothes, feeding the baby, singing a lullaby, turning on white noise, reading a book, etc.

Don’t share your bed with your mini-me

It might be tempting and seem time- and energy-efficient to share a bed with your baby. This does, after all, eliminate the need to actually get up to check on a crying baby. However, this does increase the risk of suffocation. The baby also starts associating sleep with sleeping in your bed with you which will create a problem when you try to establish bedroom boundaries. If you need the baby closer to you, a healthier option for both baby and parent is to move the crib closer to your bed.

Sleep when the baby is sleeping

Get your rest whenever you can. Sometimes the only break you get could be when your baby is sleeping, so use that time wisely. Forget about chores, other to-dos and silence your phone. Split nighttime duties, such as feeding the baby or changing his/her diaper, with your partner. Ask friends, family members to help out with chores so you can sneak in forty winks while your baby is napping.

Let the baby self-soothe

It’s heartbreaking to hear your first child cry, and you might want to pick your child up immediately. But don’t. Allow your baby to comfort him-/herself. John Hopkins sleep specialist Grace W. Pien told hopkinsmedicine.org that letting your baby self-soothe teaches the child to fall back asleep on his/her own, which in turn helps parents get a good night’s sleep.

However, if your baby doesn’t stop crying, check on your baby, offer comforting words and leave the room. This reassures the baby of your presence and he/she can fall back asleep.

Sleep expert Helena Kubicek says that we don't necessarily sleep better because we're using a night filter on our phones. Our sleep can be disrupted by the perfectly curated posts we see or the news we read that keeps us worked up all night. That's why it's better to ban phones from bedrooms than to set them on night shift.

Steer away from bad sleep habits

Don’t develop habits that you’ll want your child to break as s/he grows older. Work always toward teaching your baby to fall asleep when you lay him/her in bed. Pien suggests parents avoid rocking a baby to sleep before bedtime. This habit makes it harder for the baby to sleep on his or her own without being rocked to sleep. She also suggests putting the baby down in his/her crib drowsy and still awake.

Another bad habit to steer away from is allowing the baby to sleep in your arms. Bothelius and Svirsky mention in their book about children’s sleep that children who are used to be rocked to sleep or who sleep in a parent’s arms have a harder time sleeping on their own. The baby usually wakes up as soon as the rocking stops or once the baby is laid down. This can become a problem as the child gets older and heavier.

If you’re still not sold on the idea of letting your baby sleep on his/her own, then consider this tidbit: according to a survey published in World Journal of Pediatrics, babies who fall asleep on their own sleep longer.

Your baby's and your bedtime routine should include calming activities such as taking a bath a few hours before, reading a book or listening to soothing music. Any activities you choose to engage in before slumber time shouldn't stimulate your brain too much and should preferably aid in lowering your body temperature.

Get professional help

If the baby or you are still struggling with sleep despite the healthy routines and sleep hygiene, seek medical advice from your healthcare provider. Make sure you rule out any underlying sleep disorders you or your baby might have. Identifying and treating any underlying conditions can help you get the rest you need.

Remember, every night won’t be perfect, but that doesn’t reflect poorly on your parenting skills. Just keep taking good care of yourself and never shy from relying on your support system. As the adage goes “It takes a village to raise a child.” So you don’t have to prove otherwise.