Baby is finally here, and you probably feel overwhelmed with emotions with your new arrival. As you get to grips with the feeding, changing, visitors and cuddling, you will probably also start to feel the exhaustion taking hold.
Although you may have expected to have a luck of shut eye, you never know how much a lack of sleep will affect you.
Some of us are blessed with babies that sleep right from the get go. If yours is one then consider yourself very lucky.
Most babies seem to think that sleep is for the weak and keep you up all night. And very soon you can feel truly exhausted.
Hopefully it’s a phase that will pass as baby gets older and sleep for longer stretches. But until then we’ve put together 20 ways to cope with sleep deprivation as a new parent.
How much sleep do new parents get?
Research has shown that, on average, new parents get 4 hours and 44 minutes of sleep per night during the first year of their baby’s life.
They also rack up the equivalent of 2 miles a day rocking their baby. No wonder we’re so knackered.
Researchers also found that the parental yawns might go on for a staggering 6 years. The most gruelling time (in terms of broken sleep) is thought to happen when your baby is about three months old.
Parents gradually get more sleep throughout the first year as their baby grows. But the study has shown that mums, especially, were still sleep deprived 4-6 years on.
What are the effects of lack of sleep?
Your body needs enough sleep, in the same way it needs enough food and drink, to perform at its best.
Science has found that a lack of sleep can lead to a number of negative health effects.
These can include weight gain, memory issues and a weakened immune system. So sleep is worth taking it seriously when your baby gets old enough to sleep longer stretches at night.
‘Pregnancy brain’ after pregnancy
Your brain forges pathways through the nerve cells while you sleep. This helps you remember new information.
When you don’t get enough sleep this doesn’t happen enough. You find it more difficult to concentrate and remember things the next day.
Lack of sleep also affects your emotions, making you feel more irritable and prone to feeling down. All this adds up and can hit you in some pretty weird ways.
In a recent study new parents shared the bizarre ways a lack of sleep affected them.
44% said they forgot what they were saying mid-sentence.
8% forgot their baby’s name.
A massive 64% of new parents polled looked back on their first year and were ‘amazed’ at how they got through:
I once put cat food in the washing machine dispenser instead of powder
Putting a bottle of milk in my baby’s ear instead of the mouth
Pushing the pram out and realising the baby wasn’t in it
Baby sleep facts
Newborn babies are not programmed to sleep through the night. Their tummies are tiny and they need to fill them often, meaning they will wake with hunger. Babies also don’t have regulated circadian rhythms. That means sleep happens in uneven chunks.
Some other factors that affect newborn babies’ sleep are:
Babies sleep more lightly than adults – spending about 50% of their time in active sleep (REM sleep). This means they’re prone to wake more easily and need soothing to go back to sleep. Their sleep patterns are learned and developed over time.
Babies are born with no established sense of night or day.
When you were pregnant they may have picked up on cues from you while in the womb. When you were walking around (generally during the day) they may have been rocked to sleep. When you were sleeping and inactive, they may have found it a good time to kick about. This can lead to come babies getting night and day backwards at first. They might be awake at night and sleep longer in the day. It takes some time for them to get night and day the right way round.
It’s all understandable, but still tough on you as a knackered new parent.
20 tactics to survive sleep deprivation
We all expect that we’ll face a lack of sleep when our newborn baby arrives. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t a few tricks to help you through.
We’ve put together 20 ways to cope with sleep deprivation and maximise the sleep you do get.
It might take a bit of planning, creativity and support from friends and family. But you can do it.
Wake and refresh
Your baby will probably wake you up at the crack of dawn after a broken night’s sleep. Keep a glass of water by your bed and try to drink it all.
You’ll instantly feel more awake and refreshed. Drinking water can boost the blood flow to the brain as well as your adrenaline levels.
The teaspoon trick
Need an instant pick me up to shake awake tired eyes?
Keep two teaspoons in the fridge to pop over your eyes when you’re weary. It gives you some zing and makes you feel more alert. You can also run your wrists underneath the cold water tap.
If your partner can take over early morning baby duties then use the time to get out of bed and grab a shower.
A blast of cold water before you get out can shake you awake. After your shower, massage in some body lotion. As well as making you feel pampered, the stroking action will get your circulation going.
You’ll feel recharged and ready to face the day.
Exercise might be the last thing you feel like doing when your body is weighed down with tiredness.
However, a short, sharp burst of activity can wake you up and give you a quick boost.
Try doing 10 star jumps or climbing up the stairs a few times quickly.
High energy brekkie
A good breakfast can help combat tiredness and give you a boost to get you going in the morning.
It’s hard to prepare foods when you’re juggling a newborn baby, so do what you can. But ideally get in some proteins, whole grains and fruit and it can help you function on little sleep.
Try hard boiled or scrambled eggs on granary toast, porridge with berries or a nutty granola with yoghurt and fruit.
Feel like you need matchsticks to prop open your eyelids?
Stepping out into the big wide world can help. Fresh air and sunlight makes you feel more alert. It can even trick your body into feeling more awake. And the walking will help boost blood flow and make you feel more energised.
When you’re flagging try this trick.
Research has found that chewing gum can reduce sleepiness by boosting your brain activity. It’s a temporary fix but might get you through those tough times when you feel like you might fall asleep standing up.
Sleep when your baby sleeps
If you hear this too many times it can become a bit of an annoying piece of advice. It sounds good on paper. But in reality you are more likely to try to do all the things you need to do when your baby sleeps and catch up with life.
Or you find you’re too wired to switch off whenever your baby naps.
Baby nap times are precious though. If you can nap, rest or sleep while they slumber to boost your energy, then do it. At least for some of their nap times. Grab those zzz’s while you can.
It’s what out mothers used to tell us. How very wise they were.
If you can’t sleep when you get the chance to do so then lying down and resting is the next best thing.
Close your eyes, and even if you don’t sleep you’ll feel more rested afterwards.
Find some support
So you’re sleep deprived. And we can bet your bottom dollar that your new mums friends are too. Feeling you’re not alone can help so much as a parent.
Seek out similarly knackered friends and create your own support system. Be there for each other. You could look after each other’s babies while the other sleeps. Or just be there to support each other through the weariest days.
You can find great support from other new parents online too. You might be up at 3 am but there will be hundreds of other mums up too.
Chatting to them makes you feel so much better that you’re not alone and you’ve all got this.
Sometimes, getting the right gadgets can be a form of support too. Smart baby monitors (see our top 3 baby breathing monitor recommendations here) can help track baby’s breathing, sleep, or temperature. This may help ease your worries so you can rest better as well.
Take care of you
You might not be able to control how much sleep you get but you can make sure you eat well and stay hydrated.
If you haven’t got the energy to cook then order in healthy meals. Keep a water bottle handy so you can sip away through the day.
Cut yourself some slack
No matter what you try, there will be days when sleep deprivation feels like it will floor you. On those days cut yourself some slack. Don’t try and be super-mom. Use whatever shortcuts you can to get yourself through the day.
Let the laundry pile up, put on the TV to entertain your baby, lie down whenever you can. Do the minimum jobs and get through the day as best you can.
Make life easier
Every now and then take a moment to think about the jobs you do every day. Is there anything you can do differently and simplify?
You’d be amazed how small changes can make a big impact on your daily life. They might give you more time to rest between looking after your baby. Or they might just help you feel less overwhelmed and more in control.
Some ideas include:
- Shop online. Shopping for groceries online once a week instead of running to the store when you need things.
- Do laundry in bigger loads. Waiting until there is a full load of laundry before putting it on, rather than washing constantly throughout the day.
- Freeze meals. When you do get the time to cook yourself a meal, make extra. You can then divide it into meal sized portions and freeze it for speedy suppers later
- Try disposable bottles. If you’re formula feeding baby, but the washing and sterilising after every feed is getting on top of you, why not try using disposable bottles?
Pull your hair
It may sound a bit wacky but tugging your hair gets the blood flowing to your head and makes you feel more awake.
When you’re ready to nod off this one’s worth a try to wake you up a bit.
Go to bed early
We mean super early. If you need to crawl under the duvet at 7 pm then do it.
It might feel like you’re being boring, You might have 1001 things you wanted to do in the evening. But, there are times when you need to sleep.
Hit the sack and accept that – right now – your own bedtime is on par with your baby’s bedtime.
Make your own sleep-anytime-toolbox
Your sleep patterns are so messed up that when you get the chance to let your own head hit the pillow you just can’t sleep. Make a toolbox of sleep aids to help you grab sleep whenever the opportunity arises.
In the daytime this could be doing some relaxation exercises or listening to a calming sleep story on an app.
If you’re not sure where to start then try this quick exercise. It’s great for when baby’s drifted off to sleep in their crib and you want to grab a nap too.
- Sit or lie down somewhere comfortable with your eyes closed for 2 minutes.
- Clear your mind. Try not to think of jobs, or worries or to-dos. Relaxing music can help with this as it provides something to focus on.
- Take 20 deep breathes. Count slowly as you breathe in for 3 and out for 3. Try to feel your stomach expanding with each breath, rather than your chest.
- Let the tiredness in. Do this for the full 20 breathes and you may feel a wave of tiredness rush over you. Let it and allow yourself drift off to sleep.
Some other ways to wind down at bedtime include a warm bath, a milky drink and lavender spray.
Get your partner involved to share night time wakening. They might not be able to breastfeed, but they can change nappies and rock your baby back to sleep.
If you’re expressing breastmilk they can give baby a bottle feed of milk that you pumped earlier.
If you’re formula feeding they can give baby their bottle feeds one night so that you can catch up on sleep.
Slow right down
When you’re sleep deprived you’ll find yourself dropping things and having little accidents if you try to do everything at full speed. Try to slow right down and adopt a gentler pace of life.
You may have been used to getting things done quickly and efficiently before baby. It’s hard to alter this pace when your little one comes along. But it’s also impossible to hurtle through the day with a newborn. Take it slow.
If any close family or friends offer to help out and give you a break, snap up their offer. Don’t hesitate. And use the time off to sleep.
When it comes to getting behind the wheel, sleep deprivation can have similar effects on your body as drinking alcohol.
It makes you less alert, less able to concentrate on the road ahead and impacts how quickly you make decisions. And there is also a very real danger of nodding off as you drive.
If you’re super sleepy, take extra care when you drive. If it’s too far to walk, maybe take the bus or a taxi instead.
Be aware of PND
Sleep deprivation takes it toll and can make you feel pretty miserable. But, as a new mum, you need to be aware of postnatal depression too. If your mood is always low. If you feel anxious or irritable. If you feel like you can’t cope – then seek help. There are so many people who want to help and support you.
You can find Postnatal depression and support services near you on the NHS website search function here (for UK).
You can also help wherever you are by calling your Postpartum Support International hotline on 800-944-4773 or by searching for a Local Support Coordinators near you here.
Lack of sleep is one of the hardest parts of being a new parent. There are no quick fixes or magic cures.
In many cases your baby will start to sleep better and things will get easier. It’s hard to believe that will ever happen when you’re in the trenches.
Until that happens try our top tips to get by and to rest as much as you can. They can make things a little easier. And remember – you’re not alone.
When you need to get help
Some babies find their rhythm and naturally sleep more as they get older. Others can end up waking more and more in the night and seem to become increasingly dependent on you to get back to sleep.
If this is the case for you, after a few months you may start to feel it taking it’s toll on your own health and well-being.
Don’t suffer alone, get some help from your partner or a family member so that you can catch up on sleep.
If you feel it’s getting out of control then you’ve probably considered getting advice from a sleep consultant.
Baby Sleep Course
One baby sleep consultant who we can recommend is Dana Obleman.
She has an online course and ebook that has helped over 100,000 parents get a better night’s sleep.
You can start with a Free Sleep Assessment that’s sent to you based on your answering 6 main questions:
Disclosure: this article may contain affiliate links.
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- “Why don’t babies sleep at night? You asked Google – here’s the answer”, The Guardian
- “New parents get less than five hours sleep per night, study claims”, The Independent
- “Still sleepy? Perk up with these 10 energy-boosters”, Today
- “Influence of Having Breakfast on Cognitive Performance and Mood in 13- to 20-Year-Old High School Students: Results of a Crossover Trial”, Pediatrics
- “Study claims chewing gum can reduce daytime tiredness”, OliverNieburg
- “How to wake the hell up”, Lifehacker