Sleep deprivation may feel like it’s a rite of passage for new parents, but that doesn’t mean you should just give up and remain chronically drowsy until your baby starts sleeping through the night. Good sleep is not just about getting your beauty rest, though that would be nice; it’s about your health and safety, too.
Sleep-challenged people are more likely to get into car accidents. (Official government statistics say that 1%-3% of vehicle accidents are caused by drowsiness, but that may be underestimated; a 2018 report by AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety put the number closer to 10%). And if you’re already feeling blue or suffer from postpartum depression, sleep deprivation can make that so much worse.
Here are some ideas to try, starting before the baby even arrives:
1. Discuss your sleep needs with your partner. Maybe one of you is better at coping with shorter bursts of sleep, or is able—perhaps thanks to a more flexible work schedule—to take naps during the day. Take turns dealing with night feedings if possible so at least one of you can get longer stretches of shut-eye. (If you’re breastfeeding, you can either pump so your partner can give the baby a bottle, or nurse while in bed and have your partner handle the changing and soothing afterwards.) You might also consider saving up to hire a night nurse, at least for a short while.
2. Sleep when the baby sleeps. Everyone will tell you this, but how many new moms and dads do it? Not enough! Try as best you can to at least lay down and close your eyes when your baby’s dropped off—avoiding the temptation to do the dishes, write thank-you notes, or catch up on the shows you DVR-ed at the end of your pregnancy.
3. Limit other responsibilities. Be judicious with what time and energy you have, saying no to anything that’s not strictly necessary in favor of rest. Of course you’ll take your older child, if you have one, to preschool—but maybe skip volunteering for the school’s fundraiser this year. Keep it simple.
4. Nourish yourself. When you’re exhausted, it’s easy to grab food that’s not that great for you, or to “forget” to drink enough water. Both those habits leave you more, not less, exhausted. Keep a big bottle of water close at hand at all times, and try to consume nourishing meals and snacks throughout the day to keep your energy up.
5. Prepare & organize. To make middle-of-the-night feedings easier and calmer, be sure your baby changing area is stocked (so you’re not scrambling to find diapers or wipes in the dark), your nursing supplies (pillow, breast pads) are ready, and bottles are prepped.
6. Feather your own nest. You have precious little time to settle in and sleep, so make your sleep environment cozy and conducive to rest. That means comfy bedding and pillows, black-out shades, and whatever else makes you think “sanctuary.” Get a nightlight so you don’t have to turn on overhead lights at feeding times. And don’t worry that, if you do fall into a deep sleep, you won’t hear your baby cry: New parents are wired to respond to their baby’s cries. That said, you don’t need to hear every rustle and gurgle, so consider a white-noise machine to buffer any sounds that would disturb your (brief) slumber.
7. Don’t despair. Those nights you’re rocking a sleepless baby and it seems like everyone in the world is in bed but you may make you feel lonely and frustrated, and it can seem like this bleary period will never end. But—spoiler alert—it will, and you’ll all be sleeping more soundly soon enough.