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How to deal with sleep disruption as a new parent

You won’t truly know the meaning of the term “on call” until you’ve become a parent. While the new addition to the family is very much welcomed, their easily disrupted sleep cycles and demanding feeding schedule are decidedly less cause for celebration.

Newborn babies will likely wake up repeatedly during the night, particularly during their first three months, and the impact it has on your own sleep can be tough to handle. By the time your baby is aged between 6 to 12 months, night feeds should no longer be necessary – but teething and hunger can still occasionally cause them to wake and loudly seek your attention.

This can negatively impact other aspects of your life when one parent has returned to work and the world of early morning starts, or if your baby still isn’t sleeping through the night after the mother’s maternity leave has ended.

Your baby’s behaviour is, of course, a completely healthy and necessary part of their development, so you should try to embrace it in the knowledge that it’s impossible to completely stop it cutting into your own sleep.

There are steps you can take, however, that will minimise the negative effects and make the experience all the more positive…

  • Sleep when your baby sleeps: Syncing your sleep schedule with your child’s may be tough when you’re not used to going to bed so early in the evening, but can improve your sleep deficit. And while your newborn may be waking at night, they will spend plenty of their day asleep too. Use this opportunity to rest yourself. Prioritise a nap over household chores for the sake of your wellbeing. As outlined in our new Vhi Health Insights report on sleep, the concept of napping as a way of compensating for sleep shortages has gained ground internationally in recent years. Even a 20- to 30-minute nap has been shown to be quite revitalising. If you’ve more energy, you’ll get through those other tasks far more quickly when you rise.
  • Operate a split shift: Having to wait for a nap window is unlikely to take care of all your sleep needs. If you have a partner for support, you should consider splitting up the night into “shifts”. Alternating who is “on call” every other night can ensure at least one of you will be enjoying a longer period of undisrupted sleep at a time. Sleeping in separate rooms may help.
  • Take help when you can get it: Don’t be too proud to ask for help or to accept it when it’s offered. When family or friends visit, they’ll likely be more than happy to mind the baby while you take a quick nap.
  • Establish daytime and night-time moods: Keeping your baby active during the day will mean they sleep longer at night, so heap attention on them when you’re fully awake. Setting a relaxed evening atmosphere will also help them drift off. Dim lights, lower voices and reduce background noise.
  • Practice good sleep hygiene: You need to maximise the quantity and quality of sleep you have, so all the usual tips apply. Keep the bedroom cool, dark and free from distractions and steer clear of smartphones, tablets, laptops and the TV before you call it a night.
  • Remember it’s only a phase: Missing out on sleep can cause anxiety, which can create a vicious circle where you are unable to relax. It’s important to hold on to the fact that, by six months, your baby will likely be sleeping for 9 to 12 hour periods at a time. So, try not to worry about the short-term disruption and get on with enjoying the early days of parenthood.

For more articles on sleep, click here.