First Things First: Why is Sleep so Important?
Humans spend roughly one-third of their entire lives sleeping, or at least they are supposed to. We sleep to rest, to heal, to learn, and to dream. This bodily function that we often put off intentionally is designed to help the mind and body recover from the day’s events and to prepare us for tomorrow. Scientifically speaking, sleep is essential for cementing memories and information. It is also vital for keeping your natural circadian rhythm (your internal body clock) on track.
More on How Circadian Rhythms Work for Moms and Babies
Your circadian rhythm is directly related to, and often influences, how well you feel and are able to show up in the world (whether it be at work or in a familial setting). Think about the rise and fall of the sun; as the sun ascends into the sky in the morning, your melatonin levels drop, and your cortisol levels rise. This is how your body knows to wake up, eat and exercise, and to be productive at work. Conversely, as the sun begins to descend below the horizon, your cortisol levels drop and your melatonin levels rise again. Melatonin is the key ingredient that your body needs at night in order to fall and stay asleep.
If you’re a new mom, then you’ve probably noticed that your new bundle of joy also came with some disruptions to your own circadian rhythm. In fact, studies show that with each additional child in the home, a mom’s risk of getting insufficient sleep increases by as much as 46%.
Newborns typically only sleep for three to four hours at a time, even at night. That’s because babies need time to actually develop their circadian rhythm in alignment with the rise and fall of the sun. This means that even though you’re accustomed to a schedule that naturally allows you to sleep at night, your child isn’t necessarily working on the same clock as you. If your baby is awake, then so are you. This can lead to fragmented sleep for you, subsequently making you feel tired, negatively impacting your memory, raising your risk of depression, and putting you at risk of drowsy driving.
Note that many moms deal with disrupted sleep beyond the baby stages and into the toddler years. Read: Toddler Sleep Training 101: Foolproof and Gentle Techniques to Help Them Sleep Through the Night
The Changing Face of Motherhood
Motherhood has long been regarded as the role responsible for raising kids, maintaining the house, and preparing meals for the family. But in today’s world, most moms are faced with a balancing act between caregiving for their families, having fulfilling careers, and maintaining their own health.
The term “second shift”, coined by sociologist, Arlie Hothschild, is used to describe the household labor a woman performs in addition to the paid work they do in their professional career. Studies show that an average of 54% of women do all or most of the household work, compared to 22% of men. When women have kids, that gap increases, even when they are the primary breadwinners.
Statistics You Should Know
Health Consequences of Sleep Deprivation
Remember that light and temperature play a huge role in regulating your circadian rhythm. During the daytime, you want more exposure to natural sunlight and your body temperature should be slightly elevated. At night, you want less light exposure and to keep your bedroom cool; it should have a cave-like environment so that you feel comfortable falling and staying asleep.
Society’s “always-on” culture encourages us all to stay awake longer with the use of artificial lighting. Think: street lights, digital devices with LED screens (smartphones, tablets, computers, televisions, etc.). From our homes to our offices, gyms, malls, airports, and even grocery stores, the lights are always on, even when it’s dark outside.
In order to get a good night’s rest, moms should:
Tips For New Moms to Get Some Shut-Eye During the Day
To Sleep When Your Baby Sleeps, Or Not?
Probably yes, but perhaps not always. This common saying often gets some harsh criticism because it doesn’t account for all of the responsibilities that today’s mom actually has. It also may not be appropriate if you are experiencing other health issues (e.g. postpartum insomnia).
Still, sleeping when your baby sleeps is *generally* a good approach and recommended for new parents, even if you only catch 20-30 minutes at a time. Power naps truly are powerful; just laying down for short periods of time can still make you feel more alert and happier.
The best way to induce deep naps quickly while your newborn is snoozing is to wear sleep-hacking glasses that block out as much artificial lighting as possible. These glasses are effective because they essentially tell your biology that it’s dark outside as soon as you put them on — which helps your body produce more melatonin naturally.
Pro tip: sleep-hacking glasses are available for kids too! As your child grows older and begins using digital devices with LED screens more frequently, consider getting them eyewear that protects their eyes, mind, and body from overexposure to artificial light sources. During summer months, it’s also important to help your child(ren) maintain a regular bedtime routine despite the long hours of daylight.
Remember that sleep is a family issue. If you’re raising your baby with a partner, also consider splitting up the baby watching duties, especially at night, between the two of you. Creating two different shifts will allow you and your partner can take turns waking up to provide food, comfort and, or a clean diaper. While one parent is on duty, the other will get to sleep for a longer stretch at a time. If you’re breastfeeding, you should also try to save some extra milk in the fridge for your partner ahead of time so that they can offer solace to the baby while you catch some extra Z’s!
Another thought to consider: as hard as it may be to relinquish control over the messes that accumulate throughout the house during the day, the dirty laundry and sink full of dishes can have your attention after you and your baby get the sleep you need!