Like a rite of passage, you can’t experience newborn sleep deprivation until you’re a parent. When you don’t have kids, you could make up the lack of sleep the next night. Parenthood, meanwhile, is a series of all-nighters for the next several months.
How to deal with newborn sleep deprivation after baby arrives
With its inevitability, what are a few sleep deprivation coping strategies we can try?
1. Conserve your energy
Keep life simple. Now is not the time to run a zillion errands or resume your exercise regimen. Spend the day watching shows and movies. I still associate How I Met Your Mother with my eldest, and The Avengers with my twins. Read a novel or bond with your baby. Save the strenuous activities for later months.
We forget that we tap into our energy resources throughout the day. Already running low on sleep, conserve your energy for when it matters. What does this mean?
Combat sleep deprivation with its best antidote: sleep and rest. I remember trying to be several steps ahead, thinking I was saving time by doing a task now instead of when I really needed to.
On one hand, it’s less stressful to prepare (we’ll get into the benefits of preparing soon). But for many tasks, put them aside, even if it’s not “efficient,” and rest instead.
Make sleep and rest a priority. Guard your opportunities to rest and take it seriously. Expect life to get chaotic and disgusting (think piled up dishes and unwashed hair). But rest assured that this is all temporary. Knowing it won’t last forever means you can forgive yourself for not cleaning or taking a shower.
Find different ways to get the rest you need, as well. For instance, use disposable dishes and utensils for less washing. Ask friends and family to care for the baby or run errands so you can take a nap. Shop in bulk beforehand so you have all your household supplies stocked. This way, you can be more efficient with your time and allot most of it to resting.
2. Track feedings and diaper changes
Your brain will feel foggy from lack of sleep. Use notes or apps to keep your life organized. I used good old paper and pen to track feedings, sleep and poop patterns.
During the early weeks, you’ll need to track your baby’s eating and diaper changes to know how much he eats and how often. You’ll also record whether he has wet and dirty diapers and what kind of poop he had.
Rather than trying to remember all these little details, write them down. You’ll be foggy with sleep deprivation. The last thing you need is remembering when your baby had a green poop and when you fed him last.
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3. Eat good food and drink plenty of water
It’s amazing how the food and drink we consume can affect our day. Downing a burger and soda can make you feel extra sluggish. Instead, eat healthier options as much as you can: Homemade meals, even those pre-made from frozen dinners. Fruit and vegetable smoothies. Soups and salads.
Not only will healthier food make you feel better, it’ll also help you recover as well. Your body will be healing, so it’s even more important to eat the right kinds of food.
If you can’t—if the only thing you can think to eat is delivery pizza—that’s okay, too. We’re talking about the newborn days here, so we can’t always be picky with what we eat. You may not always have the option to eat healthy, but the more nutritious your choices, the better you’ll feel.
And water! Don’t forget to drink tons of water for all its benefits. You’ll stay hydrated and avoid headaches, and ensure your body is performing as best as it can.
4. Take a walk
When you’re ready or feel like air and sunshine could do your body good, take a walk. Sometimes, feeling cooped up at home can weigh you down. Bring the baby in a stroller and start small. Light exercise can invigorate your body with much needed endorphins. A slow walk around the block can be all you need to feel refreshed.
Start small. Maybe go on your own without the baby, even for a few minutes. Later, take him for a stroll with another adult.
My walks were my sanity-saving activities, especially when I felt frustrated or helpless. I’d either get a quick break away from them by myself, or I’d push them in the stroller. This would usually calm them down or at least give me something to do with them.
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On one hand, you’ll want to conserve your energy and rest as often as you can. Don’t worry about the toys your toddler scattered on the floor or the mess on your kitchen counter.
But you’ll also want to prepare, especially when doing a task last minute takes more time or causes you more stress. For instance, middle of the night wake ups were not my best times. I was delirious, incoherent and downright grumpy, and I knew I would already be feeling that way regardless.
So imagine how much more helpful it was to have everything I needed organized and within reach. This meant keeping my nursing pillow, feeding tracker and infant gas drops in the same place.
I stocked the changing table with diapers and wipes so I wasn’t fumbling around in the dark. I also had my water bottle by my bedside table so I wouldn’t have to go to the kitchen when I was thirsty. These are the things I prepared before going to bed, knowing I’d be in a worse mood without them.
For you, maybe it’s washing your pump parts ahead of time so you always have a clean set ready to go. Or packing your diaper bag the night before going to the doctor’s office. Little things you can do that, if you were to postpone them, would stress you out even more.
You don’t want to get too ahead of yourself though and prepare so much that you don’t allow yourself to rest. Do enough to get through the next scenario, and give yourself the remainder of the time to sleep and relax.
6. Laugh about it
There might be a time (or two) where you’re so sleep deprived you’re almost looney about it. Instead of letting your problems weigh you down, laugh instead. It’s more refreshing to laugh about yet another skipped nap than to grumble under your breath. Laughing keeps things in perspective.
Yes, it sucks to rock your baby for 45 minutes only for him to wake up the minute you put him down. But at the same time… it’s just a nap. And the more we can laugh about the absurdities of life with a baby, the better we can cope.
Another idea is to surround yourself with funny things. I’m talking movies, television shows, standup skits. Anything to watch or keep you entertained and remind you of life beyond caring for a baby, a life you’ll go back to down the line.
As you can see, you can find ways to combat sleep deprivation. You won’t get rid of it, but you can use smart strategies to cope.
7. Understand that sleep deprivation ends
Don’t think that you’ll be stuck in perpetual sleep deprivation. You won’t, and when you’re in the thick of it, remember—this too shall pass. I was the last person to ever believe this, both with my eldest as a first-time mom and again as a mom of twins. I couldn’t fathom how this could improve at all, or imagine my life going back to normal.
The good news is, it does. It’ll take time, but with the right resources and frame of mind, you’ll survive newborn sleep deprivation.
All these ideas are ways you can manage during the day with little sleep. Now let’s talk about actually getting as much sleep as you can during this crazy newborn stage.
8. Create an inviting sleep environment
One of the most painful and annoying things about middle of the night feedings is falling back asleep. Think about it: Not only are you jostled awake by your baby’s cries, you now have to go back to sleep. If your baby cried as as mine did, you’d have an hour and a half to do that before the same thing happened again.
With such a short window, create an environment conducive to sleep. This means making your room pitch black, adding white noise to muffle newborn baby sounds (it’s crazy how those sounds wake you up!), and even making your bed. A comfortable, peaceful environment makes falling asleep easier.
9. Ask for help
Many of us have friends and family ready to watch the baby, especially during those first few weeks. My biggest advice: Don’t turn down help! I know many parents prefer to spend the initial days as a family unit, away from others and building their bond.
But with the challenge of caring for a baby, I encourage you to accept and ask for any help you can get. Even if you want to be alone as a family, have others on stand by in case you reach a breaking point and realize you can use some help.
Remember too that help comes in many ways:
- Visitors can hold and watch the baby so you can nap, take a shower, or even get out of the house for a few minutes.
- Accept any gifts such as food or baby supplies.
- Visitors can help clean your home, cook or run quick errands so you can sleep.
- Friends and family can spend the night (or several nights) at your home. They can have night duties such as holding a fussy baby or changing diapers.
And consider hiring help as well. Night nurses to help during the sleep-deprived and challenging hours of the night. A babysitter to play with your older kids or help during the frenzy of the early evenings. A cleaning crew so you don’t have to worry about the upkeep of your home. If it’s within your budget, consider hiring if you don’t have family and friends nearby.
I was lucky because our families live nearby, so we had a supply of food, help and company during the first few weeks. My mom also slept over a few weeks, especially in the early days, and again when my husband returned to work. These are the sanity-saving “it takes a village” tactics that make all the difference.
10. Sleep early
Before I had kids, a typical bedtime was around midnight, 11pm if I slept “early.” With a newborn, bedtime moved up waaaay earlier.
Remember those eight hours I mentioned I used to get in total? That was only possible because I slept early. Aim for an 8pm bedtime, both for you and the baby. It’ll be dark and late enough at night for him to settle in. It’ll also be good for you to establish a routine—yes, even this early—to get him used to sleeping at night.
And sleeping early gives you as much time as you can to add up those hours of sleep. Yes, they’re broken up into chunks, and you’re not getting that long stretch of deep sleep, but chunks of sleep are better than none.
11. No caffeine close to sleep
As much as you may love coffee or caffeine, begin to lay off the drinks after a certain time. Figure out your cut off, and hold back on the coffee after then. It’s pretty hard trying to fall asleep when you’re wired to stay awake.
I don’t drink coffee so my body is pretty sensitive to the small amounts of caffeine I get from tea. I know that any caffeinated drinks I consume after 12pm will only spell trouble for me come bedtime.
12. Nap when you can
One of the most common pieces of advice: nap when the baby naps. At first I thought this was ridiculous. When else would I be able to [do this] or [do that]?! I thought.
Seriously though… nap when the baby naps. Or at least nap for one of his naps so you can still reserve the other times for tasks and to-dos. They’re not full eight-hours of sleep, but clock in as much as you can (better some than none, right?).
Yes, the times when your baby naps can be golden opportunities to do so many things. Clean, prepare, shower, run errands. Except I’m going to circle back to what I mentioned earlier about your priority. You’ll have a few must-do tasks here and there, some which you can only do when the baby is sleeping. But for the most part, your priority (at least one of the top ones) should be to rest and sleep.
Imagine you had just left the hospital for another procedure, not for child birth. Would you expect yourself to be up and about, cleaning, cooking and running errands? Probably not. More likely, you’ll confine yourself to bed, resting the hours away.
With a newborn, you won’t get long hours to rest, but you should still consider yourself a patient as well as a mom. Your body is also still healing, so you need to sleep as much as you can. Do the important tasks you can’t neglect, then focus on napping throughout the day.
13. Treat yourself to a hotel night
One of the best decisions my husband and I made was to book a night at a nearby hotel. We left all three kids in the hands of willing sitters. Baby duties, baby crying and all that baby stuff didn’t interrupt our sleep for one full night.
I was still nursing and had to set my alarm to pump (so no straight eight hours for me). But I allowed myself to skip a pump without becoming too engorged or depleting my supply.
If you’re pumping, bring milk storage bags. (These Medela storage bags worked pretty well for me) And make sure the hotel room has a refrigerator. Then enjoy a night of blissful sleep!
You won’t be sleep deprived forever. I know it’s hard to see it, especially if you’re trying to survive the newborn stage as a first-time mom. Before then, follow the tips above to get you through these challenging days and nights.
Want resources to help your baby sleep well, especially if he only sleeps in your arms? I created a guide just for you! Learn about “How to Get Your Baby to Sleep without Being Held” here.
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