Article at a Glance:
- Sleep is designed to help the mind and body recover.
- Typically, newborns only sleep 4-5 hours at a time.
- Artifical lighting encourages us to stay awake.
- Power naps are truly powerful!
- Sleep is a family issue.
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 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
- The National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults between the ages of 18 and 64 get between 7-9 hours of sleep per night.
- New parents lose about two hours of sleep per night for the first five months after bringing home their baby.
- In the first year of their child’s life, parents sleep an average of just 5.1 hours per night. When compounded, new moms lose the equivalent of at least one whole month of sleep in the first year after their baby is born.
- Around 30% of new dads have fallen asleep at work, 21% of parents have fallen asleep in parked cars, 12% have fallen asleep at the kitchen table and 11% have drifted off in the shower.
- The average parent spends 54 minutes per day trying to get their baby to sleep, adding up to almost 14 days in their first year.
- 64% of new parents look back on their first year of parenting and are “amazed” they were able to function through it all as well as they did.
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:
- Dim the lights in their house, particularly their bedroom, 1-2 hours before bedtime.
- Minimize screen time on digital devices because blue light from LEDs screens suppresses the body’s ability to produce melatonin naturally.
- Wear Sleep-Hacking Glasses 30-90 minutes before bedtime in order to block out all of the blue light from all artificial light sources.
- Use Junk Light Dots to cover up the pesky little blue and green power source lights that are often found on power cords, as well as TV and computer monitors.
Tips For New Moms to Get Some Shut-Eye During the Day
- Ask friends or family members to watch the baby while you have a nap.
- Avoid stimulants that can prevent you from falling and staying asleep, such as caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol.
- If you are bottle feeding, minimize your trips to the kitchen and the amount of time you spend preparing bottles by always keeping a bottle ready next to you.
- Many offices now have designated rooms for employees to grab a quick power nap — go ahead and seize the opportunity!
- Maintain healthy boundaries with friends and family when it comes to visits at the house; if you need to nap, let them know what time(s) you’re unavailable so that you can catch up on sleep.
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!