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Sleepless nights and newborns go hand in hand, and new parents can kiss goodbye to the idea of 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep. Although babies sleep a lot – up 16 to 17 hours a day – they generally don’t stay asleep for more than 2 – 4 hours at any given time. Furthermore, newborns don’t know the difference between night and day, so expect to be woken up several times during the night to feed, change and comfort your baby. It’s no wonder new parents suffer sleep deprivation as they cater to this round-the-clock care.

Hang in there – this erratic sleep schedule will stabilise once your newborn is a bit older and establishes better sleeping patterns. In the meantime, you’ve got some long nights ahead of you, so here are some survival tips to encourage good sleep habits for you and your baby, and keep your physical health and sanity intact!

Sleep when your baby sleeps

You may have heard this advice before, and it’s spot on. It’s wise to catch up on sleep when the opportunity presents itself – while your baby is also sleeping – instead of waiting and missing your chance. Especially if you’re already feeling drowsy, resist the temptation to spend the quiet time cleaning up mess, and don’t discount the effectiveness of a short daytime rest. According to the National Sleep Foundation, 20-30 minutes is all it takes to experience benefits like better mood and improved alertness.

Set the mood for sleep

To induce sleepiness and give you the best chance of quality sleep, your bedroom environment will play a big role and should be ready before your baby’s arrival. The room should be quiet, dark, and set to a cool temperature to mimic the ideal conditions for sleep. As you’ll be sleeping at different periods in the day, the use of light-blocking window shades will be a lifesaver. As much as possible, you need your bedroom to resemble an inviting oasis, so minimise clutter that will remind you of housework, and avoid mental distractions such tv or using your phone right before bed.

Pay attention to your baby’s ‘tired’ signals

Newborns exhibit cues or signs of tiredness before the need for sleep. Catching these early and responding quickly, prevents them from getting distressed and makes it easier for you to put them to sleep. Look out for grimacing, frowning, sucking, staring, yawning, rubbing of eyes, snuggling in, fussiness, clenching of fists or crying. Just make sure you place them snugly in their cot before they fall asleep, as it will be easier for them to learn to self-settle in their cot, and they’ll gradually become less reliant on your presence to drift off to sleep.

Utilise support napping

 If you’re raising a newborn with a partner, remember that team work makes the dream work. Alternating baby duties is an excellent way of catching up on sleep when it’s needed most, and is important if one parent is more disproportionately affected by sleeplessness than the other. Every couple has different lifestyle and work arrangements, and it’s not about keeping score, so you just need to find a system that works for the both of you.

For example, if your partner works the standard 9-5 and needs to sleep well during the week, they can take care of the baby for a few hours in the morning/afternoon on weekends, so you can catch up on your sleep. Ideally, your partner will take the baby out of the house (equipped with a pre-prepared bag of  nappies, wipes, and a bottle of milk) to give you the best chance of getting an uninterrupted sleep.

Preserve a morning versus night routine

When you’re in the thick of newborn care, it might seem like night and day has converged into one, and will throw off parents’ circadian rhythm (sleep/wake cycle). It’s important to salvage as much of this day/night distinction as possible in your daily habits, towards preserving your body clock. Going for morning walks has a dual benefit of helping reset your circadian rhythm after a sleepless night and also helps an infant develop their own regular sleep/wake cycle that will prep them for future sleep training. Furthermore, the exercise may make it easier for you to fall asleep when you finally do get a chance to nap.

Maintain healthy food habits

Try your best to avoid the temptation of sugary foods such as sweets, cakes and biscuits. Sure, they will give you an initial boost of energy, but it will be short-lived and potentially leave you more depleted than before. In nourishing your baby, it’s common to neglect your own dietary intake; especially when it comes to hydration levels. Ensure you drink plenty of fluids – ideally water at 6-8 glasses per day. An occasional cup of coffee may be your preferred pick-me-up, but avoid caffeine-based energy drinks as a stimulant. They can boost your energy temporarily, but risk disrupting your sleep patterns even further in the long term.

Develop bedtime rituals

Although a set sleep schedule will often go out the window with newborns, it’s still important to establish nightly bedtime rituals that encourage sleep at the right time – for both you and your baby. Here are some effective methods to help your baby wind down:

  • Set a start time you can stick to, and dim the lights a couple of hours before sleep,, so your baby starts to associate darkness with night, and by extension bedtime. When paired with natural light in the daytime, it will help develop their circadian rhythm.
  • Add a soothing bath to their routine. When babies (or adults) start to fall asleep, their temperature drops, so a warm bath will first raise and then drop your baby’s temperature to create the conditions conducive to sleep.
  • Breastfeed (or formula feed) close to bedtime so they are less likely to wake from hunger, but not immediately before, to avoid your baby associating food with sleep.
  • After you’ve pulled out the Little Ones© to give your baby a fresh nappy, use gentle rhythmic patting, rocking, stroking, talking, or soft singing/music before putting your baby into the cot for sleep.

Accept/request help from family

When you and your partner are both stretched beyond capacity, or your partner isn’t home, call in family members or trusted friends to assist with caring for your little one. Remember that sleep is not a luxury – it’s a medical requirement, so don’t entertain any feelings of guilt. In addition to relieving pressure on you, family members will relish the opportunity to bond with the baby while you practice some self-care. As the saying goes, ‘it takes a village to raise a child’, so remember to lean on others for support in your quest to be the best parent you can be.

You may also like to read:

How To Get A Better Night’s Sleep

Getting A Good Night’s Sleep