Irregular sleep patterns, frequent feeding intervals, and near-constant soothing of newborns can all spell sleep deprivation for new parents.
In addition to being exhausted as a general matter of course, new parents are also tasked with navigating the best way to do things. Advice comes from every direction, and these disparate pieces of wisdom can make it difficult to discern truly helpful parenting tools from background noise, making finding a course of action for, say, maximizing sleep, hard to do.
That's where medical studies and well-established parenting hacks come in handy. Sunday Citizen looked at data on sleep, along with medical studies and websites, to curate a list of 10 sleeping tips for new parents.
These nuggets of wisdom are extensively tried and tested, well-researched, and proven time and again to help ensure guardians can maximize what little sleep time they get—from choosing the proper sleep swaddle to creating a bedtime routine that will help everyone—baby included—fall asleep fast.
Proper sleep goes hand in hand with mental health; getting a good night's rest has been proven to aid in treatment for anxiety and depression during pregnancy and after birth, along with other treatment options.
While you may not be able to control the frequency of middle-of-the-night wakeups, altering certain pre-bedtime habits and daytime behaviours can help you maximize the sleep you do get.
Create a strong sleep environment and relaxing bedtime routine
A study involving 10,085 mothers from 14 countries who claimed fewer than half of their young children and infants had regular bedtime routines, published in the May 2015 issue of Sleep, found that children with regular bedtime routines slept better and for longer.
Predictable, repeated behaviours, such as brushing teeth, bath time, and a bedtime story, correlated with more time spent asleep, fewer wake-up times throughout the night, and less time in bed before falling asleep.
Bedtime routines extend to overtired parents too: Dim lights, relaxing music, and a strategically set alarm 30 minutes before bedtime can all help to prime family members to fall asleep fast.
Get the right sleeping swaddle
Swaddling—a secure blanket-wrapping method leaving only a baby's head exposed—has myriad benefits, from protecting babies against their natural startle reflexes to easing anxiety by mimicking the womb or a guardian's touch.
While swaddling isn't necessary for infants, it may help significantly with soothing and overall safety during sleep. This can elongate sleep time for the baby, which can mean more uninterrupted sleep time for parents.
Roughly 3,500 infants die each year in sleep-related incidents, according to the CDC, with sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS, and accidental strangulation and suffocation posing threats swaddling can help avoid. The right swaddle will be fitted around the infant's arms and roomy in the hips and should never conceal the baby's face or head.
Swaddling can be used until an infant is between 6 and 8 weeks old, or sooner if the baby has begun trying to roll. All babies younger than 1 year should be put to bed on their backs without objects such as toys, pacifiers, or bottles in the crib with them.
Sleep when your baby sleeps, and go to bed when your baby does
Prior to establishing their circadian rhythm, babies can follow extremely irregular sleep patterns. For that reason, it's essential for parents to catch some Zs wherever possible—and the biggest opportunity presents itself as soon as the child falls asleep.
Depending solely on overnight hours for sleep can spell sheer exhaustion for parents; catching naps wherever possible can be lifelines for quick resets throughout the day.
Dirty dishes, laundry, general house-cleaning, and social media can wait. If the baby is napping, it's the perfect time to turn off phone notifications and let household chores slide.
Take turns waking up with the baby throughout the night
To keep things equitable, many couples get up together to tend to newborns, ultimately to the detriment of both parents' sleep cycles. Breaking down overnight parenting responsibilities into shifts will help each of you catch some extra REM cycles throughout the week.
Shifts can be split up for feeding times, all nighttime duties from diaper changes to soothing, or by three- or four-hour blocks. Breastfeeding parents can pump on their nights (or shifts) off so the child can be bottle-fed by the other parent.
Avoid electronics before bed
To ensure you're able to fall and stay asleep until the baby wakes up, turn off your phone or put it outside of your bedroom. Electronic devices may push bedtime off by keeping your brain stimulated. A phone that lights up with every notification can also wake you up while you're getting necessary sleep.
Start sleep training as soon as your baby has begun to develop their own rhythm
At its simplest, sleep training involves getting your little one to fall asleep on their own. Some pediatricians recommend parents start sleep training when a baby is as young as 4 months old, as around this time is when their circadian rhythm kicks in and their sleep cycles mature.
Sleep training can start out as simply as putting an infant to bed as soon as they appear drowsy, with the caregiver sitting in a chair next to the crib. As soon as the baby is asleep, the caregiver can leave the room and return to the seat should the infant start to cry. After a few nights of this method, the chair can be moved further and further away from the crib until it is outside the room.
Make relaxing routines part of your everyday
Staying grounded with non-baby activities, whether going out for a quick walk, catching up with an old friend, journaling, or making time for a cardio workout, all lower stress levels throughout the day. Lower stress levels mean an easier time getting—and staying—asleep.
Be safe when sleep deprived
Exhaustion interferes with everything from cognition to motor skills, making it essential to take extra safety precautions when caring for an infant while overtired.
New parents who are severely sleep-deprived should avoid driving a vehicle, opting instead for delivery and shipping services when possible. Putting off nonessential tasks and errands can make space for what absolutely has to get done. Those suffering from exhaustion should also avoid caffeine and alcohol, which can worsen symptoms.
Importantly, overtired parents should resist the temptation of co-sleeping or laying a fussy baby belly-down—each of which significantly raises the odds of SIDS or suffocation-related infant deaths.
Find support and people to talk to—take help when you can get it
This is the time to leverage friends and family by asking for help. From picking up groceries or takeout to watching the baby so you can nap or run errands, it truly takes a village to maintain mental health and balance during those first, vital few months with an infant.
Calling a friend to vent, taking advantage of counselling (virtual or in-person), and dividing up responsibilities with a partner can help take some of the burdens off and offer essential breaks to a newly hectic lifestyle.
If you are a breastfeeding parent, balance the need for sleep with the need to pump
It can be difficult for breastfeeding parents to extricate themselves from feedings every two or three hours. Pumping after a morning breastfeeding and storing the milk, however, can provide a much-needed break at a later feeding if another parent or caregiver can bottle-feed with the expressed milk.
Some parents find pumping at night also does the trick, as pumping or breastfeeding overnight helps maintain milk production—and production is often highest overnight or in the very early morning.
This story originally appeared on Sunday Citizen and was produced and distributed in partnership with Stacker Studio.