Strategies for sleep-deprived parents

Sleep deprivation is something most new parents go through. But what can you do to keep things from getting out of hand?

Sleep deprivation is something most new parents go through. But what can you do to keep things from getting out of hand?

Are you the parent of a newborn or a young child? If so, congratulations for keeping your eyes open while reading this. You’re probably craving a nap right now!  

Sleep deprivation is a given for most new parents, so how on earth do you cope with it? 

Getting the right amount of sleep

The amount of sleep most adults need to feel refreshed is between seven and nine hours a night, though the exact amount required varies between individuals. 

“The average is around eight hours and there needs to be good-quality deep sleep in this period to reboot the brain,” says Bupa doctor Gillian Rawlings. 

Of course, it’s possible to function on less; however, you won’t be performing at your best.

Signs of sleep deprivation

Although sleeping when the baby sleeps is common advice, Dr Rawlings says to try to stick to a regular bedtime. 

“If you want a nap, try to grab it before 3pm for no more than 20 minutes, as long daytime naps can interfere with nocturnal sleeping, possibly making sleep deprivation worse.” 

If you’re not getting enough sleep at night, share the feeding load with your partner.

Ongoing sleep management

By six months most babies don’t need nocturnal feeding, which means many of them are, mercifully, sleeping throughout the night. However, you still might be tired if your child’s an early riser, or if you’re getting up early for work. 

To get the most out of sleep, limit alcohol and caffeine, take a relaxing warm bath before bed, make sure your bedroom temperature’s right (not too hot or too cold) and save worrying for when you’re awake. 

“If you can’t sleep, get up and have a warm drink,” says Dr Rawlings. “It’s better to do something relaxing than spend hours tossing and turning.” This way you don’t train your brain to associate bed with sleeplessness.
woman in bath

Seeking medical help

Dr Rawlings says some sleep deprivation with a newborn is normal. 

“It’s very common for babies in their first three months to wake often, particularly if they’re breastfed. But if your sleep is still very disturbed after that point, and you feel like you can’t cope, talk to a doctor.” 

She does stress, however, that there’s no magic solution that can simply pep up your energy when you’re fatigued. 

“People want a quick fix, but we need to treat the cause. For example, does the baby need assistance in sleep techniques so it won’t wake as much, or could relatives babysit more often to give you a rest?” 

Don’t hesitate to get help if nothing seems to settle your child. Reach out to your doctor, maternal and child health nurse, or staff at a community early childhood centre for advice and support.

Healthier living for energy

Exercise and healthy eating can also help you feel more energised.

“New parents should accept they’ll be waking more frequently with a baby and getting less sleep. However, they shouldn’t be too fearful of being tired.” 

Concentrate on making the most of the sleep you do snatch. And remember it’s only temporary. Before you know it your baby will be a teenager refusing to get out of bed!
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