A recent sleep survey in the UK found that parents lose an average of six months’ sleep during the first 24 months of their child’s life. According to the Silentnight survey, about 10 percent of parents only managed to get 2.5 hours of continuous sleep each night and over 60 percent of parents with kids under age 2 get less than 3.75 hours of sleep each night! Sleep deprivation is an inevitable part of bringing home baby, but how can parents minimize the long-term impact? We asked Dr. Christine Wood, a practicing pediatrician and certified lactation educator to offer tips for getting more Zs.
The Problem With Sleep Loss
Adults really need double what many new parents are able to squeeze in — we should be logging 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night. When individuals aren’t able to meet that sleep goal long term, the continued deficit can lead to chronic insomnia — a serious issue for parents. According to Wood, who is also a member of USANA Health Sciences Scientific Advisory Council, the health consequences for this level of sleep loss can include:
- Slower reflexes and increased risks of accidents
- Impaired mood, memory and concentration
- Increased risk for developing obesity
- Weakened immune system
- Risk of premature death
These risks give parents even more motivation to find a way to get more sleep — as if struggling to keep your eyeballs open, snoozing through work and cranky moods weren’t enough to grab your attention!
Help Baby Get More Sleep
The first few months of your baby’s life are key for setting up sleep routines and instilling good sleep habits that can then translate into good sleep habits for parents. Here, are three age-by-age tips for helping new babies get a good night of sleep:
1 to 2-Month-Olds
Once your baby is about 1 to 2 months old, has been checked by the doctor, and has had good weight gain, Wood says you can start to ignore the little nighttime awakenings rather than rushing in to feed. If your baby isn’t fully awake and crying, you can try patting or stroking her to see if she will settle back to sleep without feeding.
2 to 3-Month-Olds
After 2 or 3 months of age, Wood suggests setting up a bedtime routine. Feed until drowsy, but try not to let your baby fall sound asleep while feeding at the breast or bottle. Put him in his sleep area somewhat awake, so he learns that this is the place he’s supposed to fall asleep, not in your arms or while feeding. If your baby cries, pick him up briefly, soothe him and try to put him down again.
After about 4 months, Wood says babies are capable of sleeping 9 or 10-hour stretches; if they are feeding frequently during the night, it’s usually just a comfort feeding. So this should mean 9 to 10 hours of sleep for you, right? Well, it’s probably not that simple. If your baby isn’t sleeping through the night, make sure there’s an established bedtime routine as mentioned above. If your baby cries, you can let her cry for a minute or two and then try to pat her and comfort her, without picking her up or feeding her. You may have to do this several times in a 10 to 20 minute period before they fall asleep, says Wood.
Help Yourself Get More Sleep
Once you’ve worked out a bedtime routine with your baby, you can hope that good sleep is on the way. But until that happens, or even once it does, here are some ways to make sure sleep deprivation doesn’t become a serious problem.
- Sneaking sleep in throughout the day can do a lot for your sanity as a parent. “A napping baby is a perfect time to catch a catnap,” Wood stresses. Even if you’re tempting to spend the time checking chores off your list or working on other projects, you must remember that sleep is a priority!
- Watch what you drink. Caffeine and alcohol can both disrupt your sleep. “Alcohol may allow you to fall asleep initially, but then the alcohol can disrupt sleep so that you may awaken or sleep fitfully,” Woods says.
- Have parents tag team in the night. For instance, let dad take care of the baby for a 7-hour (or even 4.5-hour) stretch to allow mom to catch up on some sleep, and then she can take over after that stretch.
- Consider co-sleeping. You may find that when your baby is with you, he wakes up less often.
- Try to eliminate computer work or watching TV right before bed. Sure, the moment Baby goes to bed might seem like a good time to catch up on your favorite TV show or emails, but the flickering light can interfere with your body’s clock. Opt for reading, soft music or hobbies such as knitting or puzzles right before bedtime instead.