Updated: Mar 24
Motherhood is hard. Suddenly, baby arrives and you are thrust into this whole new life that revolves around this little human. Life and sleep look very different than they did before the baby and sometimes it is really difficult to handle the change. In the postpartum period, sleep deprivation is extremely common.
The importance of sleep
Sleep is vital to our health and wellness, both physically and mentally. It helps us regulate hormones, emotions and mood, our immune function, process our days and what we learned, maintain our cognitive skills, and it improves our memory retention and attention. Studies show the lack of sufficient sleep each night can affect your health; mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. It can be a conduit for health complications such as obesity, diabetes and depression as well as decrease our patience, and can even make it more difficult to cope with even minor stressors or distort our perception of the world around us. It is the foundation of our health and crucial to our well-being.
Sleep is crucial for young children's physical and mental development. It is during sleep that the body repairs and grows, and the brain consolidates learning and memories. Lack of sleep can negatively impact a child's mood, behavior, and cognitive abilities and growth. According to Rachel Dawkins, MD of Johns Hopkins, for children who are not getting enough sleep, it can lead to high blood pressure, obesity and even depression.
Common signs of sleep deprivation include:
· Lack of motivation
· Mood swings
· Inability to focus
· Weight gain from lack of energy to prepare healthy meals
· Decreased energy
· Sleep latency (i.e., how long it takes to fall asleep at night),
· Daytime dysfunction (i.e., difficulty staying awake during the day),
· Sleep quality (i.e., subjective rating of sleep quality)
· Decreased sex drive
· Mental instability (PPD/PPA)
A study by National Library of Medicine found that mothers with postpartum depression sleep 80 minutes less per night than those without it. And for any new mother, who already is sleeping less, that can have a drastic impact and take a serious toll. While “sleep while the baby sleeps” is meant to be helpful, it is often impractical.
We, as mothers, often have the idea that we need to sacrifice sleep because that’s “just an expected part of motherhood” or that if we need to take a break or practice self-care, we are not a good mom. These misconceptions could not be further from the truth.
Thankfully, there are some steps you can take to overcome those sleepless nights.
1. Bedtime routine
Establishing a consistent bedtime routine can help signal to your body that it's time to wind down and prepare for sleep, which can lead to more restful and consistent sleep. This provides structure, predictability, routine, and a sense of calm in an otherwise chaotic day for both baby and mama. Some tips for creating a relaxing, calm, consistent bedtime routine include things like bath, lotion, night-nights, books, songs and a special goodnight phrase. It is best to have your final feeding at the start of the routine to avoid feeding TO sleep. If you don’t have a bedtime routine in place or would like to improve yours, check out the this Bedtime Routine Guide or alternatively, this Neurodivergent Bedtime Routine Guide so that you can get an easy to do bedtime routine going tonight!
2. Take Shifts
Taking shifts with your partner can help overcome sleepless nights by allowing each of you to get enough rest. By dividing the night into shifts, one person can sleep while the other stays awake to attend to the baby or any other tasks that need to be done. This can help both partners feel more rested and better able to handle the demands of the day. Additionally, sharing the responsibility can strengthen your partnership and help you feel more connected as a team.
If you are breastfeeding, it can be exhausting feeding every 2-3 hours. Consider using formula or trying to build a supply so that you and your partner can take turns feeding overnight to get longer stretches of uninterrupted sleep. For example, mom can feed before baby goes to bed and when baby wakes overnight, the other parent can feed. Then swap so each parent can get about six hours of uninterrupted sleep. Feeding your baby is best. For those who breastfeed, there is no shame in using formula overnight and breastfeeding during the day; or building a supply and letting dad bottle feed. Your sleep and mental health are worth it.
3. Ask for help
As a parent we are our child’s advocate, and that starts with you being your own best advocate. If it is within the budget, a night nurse or postpartum doula can help you catch up on some zzz’s, even if just for a night or two. If a friend asks what she can do to help, be honest. Take her up on that offer. Ask family or friends to come over during the day so you can take a nap. Talk to your partner about bringing baby to you when she wakes, or changing the diaper or washing the bottles (and there are just SO. MANY. BOTTLES and PARTS!) If you’re pumping, ask your partner to bottle feed while you pump so the time awake for you both is decreased. Even if you don’t have a village, just one person’s support can helpful. It’s OK to ask for help. Often parents have an ‘I must do this on my own’ when in reality, it is okay to ask for help and realize that you don’t have to sacrifice sleep to be a good parent.
4. Be Kind to Yourself
It is important for mothers to practice patience and forgiveness – of herself. Some ways to be kind to yourself include practicing self-care, taking breaks when you need them, and avoiding negative self-talk. If the crying is a bit more than you can handle in the moment, it is okay to place the baby in a secure, safe space and take a breather and reset and walk away for a minute or few. Ask your partner or family or friend to watch the baby so you can read a book, shower, get your hair cut, nails done, go shopping, or just take a walk alone; whatever will allow you to practice some self-care. And know that motherhood is hard. You are doing the best you can. Practice affirmations and practice self-love. Be kind to yourself.
5. Practice safe sleep
Give yourself peace of mind and reduce the risk of SIDS by practicing safe sleep. American Academy of Pediatrics recommends following the ABCs of Safe Sleep. If you aren’t familiar, this means Alone, Back, in Crib. Baby should sleep Alone, on the Back, in the Crib – with nothing but a tight, fitted sheet on a firm mattress. There should be no toys, bumpers, pillows, blankets or loose fitted fabrics. Place baby on his/her own safe, flat, sleep space. Baby can sleep in your room (roomsharing) on their own sleep surface but not on your same sleep surface.
6. Practice healthy sleep hygiene with Sleep Shaping
While sleep training is not recommended until around 4 months, you can begin Sleep Shaping with newborns. That means starting from day one, you can begin using healthy sleep habits to set the foundation of healthy sleep. No matter their age, it is never too late to start good sleep hygiene. Practicing sleep shaping for newborns can help establish a healthy sleep routine, which can reduce the likelihood of sleepless nights. Sleep shaping focuses on teaching them to fall asleep by creating a consistent sleep environment and routine for your newborn, setting a regular bedtime, and creating a calming pre-sleep bedtime routine. By doing this, your newborn will learn to associate the routine with sleep, ( which is a positive independent sleep association) making it easier for them to fall asleep and stay asleep. Additionally, sleep shaping can help reduce the frequency of night waking and encourage longer stretches of sleep for both you and your baby.
7. Early wakeups:
Are you not sleeping because your child is waking and ready to start their day between 4-6am? Use this guide 5 Reasons Your Child is Early Waking to troubleshoot what’s going on in your home.
8. Make a plan for change
If your child is struggling with sleep, let's schedule a Free 15-min Sleep Assessment to discuss your family's specific sleep situations and learn how we can help you reach your sleep goals. Let's make sleep easier and help everyone in your family get the sleep they need.
Mama, sleep is not a luxury. It’s a necessity. Sleep deprivation may be common, but it does not have to be your normal. It is not a badge of honor. When baby does sleep, you sleep. When you sleep, you are able to better take care of yourself, and your family, and you will start to feel better. There is no shame in asking for a little help and prioritizing sleep and wellness for your family.
Caryn Shender, founder of Sleep Tight Tonight, and author of My Scar is Beautiful, is a mother, certified pediatric sleep consultant, and safe sleep ambassador who has guided thousands of families through the exhausting world of newborn, baby, and toddler sleep. She is trusted by parents and parenting coaches. As an entrepreneur, author, and mother of a heart warrior, she understands the weight and frustration of being sleep deprived, and the anxiety that crying can cause parents, while also understanding the power and importance of getting restful, restorative sleep so she is dedicated to helping families turn sleepless nights into easy, peaceful nights and sweet dreams. Being a mom is hard. Being an exhausted mom is next to impossible. Together, we’ll make sleep easy.