tired mom and baby

Coping with Sleep Deprivation: Strategies for New Parents

It's no secret that new parents don't get much sleep, but it's important to get enough hours in to feel your best. To help you cope, we've put together a few effective strategies for you to incorporate into your new routine.

Why Are So Many New Parents Sleep-Deprived?

Every night, our bodies rotate through a sleep cycle with distinct phases of unconsciousness. During each phase, something different happens. Deep sleep during the non-REM phases offers restorative sleep that helps your brain and body prepare for another day, while REM sleep is important for emotional processing and healthy brain development. To function optimally, you need a certain amount of both each night. This means giving yourself enough time to fall asleep and to experience four to five, 90 to 110-minute cycles. Most people without children don't even allow themselves enough time for this, so you can only imagine what happens when you throw parenthood into the mix.

Newborns have a completely different sleep cycle than adults. Their sleep cycles are much shorter, with more time focused on REM. This means light sleep that they can easily be woken from. Infant sleep patterns continue to get stronger as they grow older, but until they sleep through the night, you will wake up alongside them. This can impact new mothers and fathers in tremendous ways, but there are some things you can do.

The Impact of Sleep Deprivation During the Postpartum Period

Not only is it frustrating when you can't sleep, but it can also lead to several issues with cognitive, emotional, and physical health. Not getting enough sleep has been shown to decrease your well-being and can even lead to similar symptoms of intoxication. Postpartum, it's understandable how this can be problematic. Some of the other ways that sleep deprivation impacts new parents during the postpartum period include:

Postpartum Mood Disorders

Sleep deprivation is closely linked to the onset and exacerbation of several postpartum mood disorders, which can be difficult for new moms to navigate. Hormonal fluctuations, combined with the stress of caring for a newborn, create a vulnerable environment for these disorders to manifest. Add sleep and tiredness into the mix, and things can get even more complicated. It's also important to be aware of the signs of postpartum depression and to seek help if you experience any intense or long-lasting emotions.

Irritability and Anxiety

Even one sleep-deprived night can result in increases in anxiety and irritability, which can make it difficult to manage even the smallest tasks. When you also consider the tremendous stress that new parents face, anxiety can heighten and reduce your ability to make rational decisions. Getting more rest can help, but you may also want to talk to a healthcare professional if you continue to feel stressed or anxious after quality sleep.

Accidents or Injuries

Did you know that being awake for 24 hours can have the same physical and mental effects as having a blood alcohol content of 0.10%? It results in decreased coordination, impaired cognitive functioning, and delayed reaction times. Not only can this increase your risk of accidents or injury, but it can also make it difficult to parent your child safely. Getting sufficient sleep is the only way to combat this—being over-caffeinated won't cut it.

Decreased Immune System

There's a clear link between sleep and immune function, which can make it stay healthy enough to care for your newborn. Depending on your symptoms, a compromised immune system may also affect breast milk. Even being fatigued can decrease your milk supply, so it's worth addressing poor sleep habits.

12 Tips for How to Deal with Sleep Deprivation

New mom exhaustion is real, but there are several ways to mitigate sleep deprivation and start feeling like yourself again. Some of the most effective ways to keep away the sleepless nights include the following;

1. Put a Pause on Chores

First things first—stop trying to do it all. You're not going to be able to keep a spotless house, care for your newborn, and get more sleep during those first few weeks. Rather than risk the dangers of a lack of sleep, give yourself a break and rest whenever possible.

2. Use Your Parental Leave

New parents are entitled to take FMLA parental leave to bond with and care for their newborn, so do it if possible. This can help you break up the responsibilities to keep your baby safe and focus on self-care. While you're likely not going to be able to get the same amount of hours of sleep as before, having two people with all-hands-on-deck makes a huge difference. Later, when you return to the office, keep the professional worries at work to maintain a healthy work-life balance.

3. Practice Good Sleep Hygiene

You need to instill some healthy sleep habits to increase your sleep quality and sleep for longer. If you feel like you spend hours trying to fall asleep, you might use too many electronics close to bedtime. The blue light can disrupt your natural sleep cycle and keep you awake. Turn off all electronics at least an hour before bedtime. Another way to help you sleep at night is to limit caffeine intake and try to go to bed at the same time each night. This helps train your body to drift into sleep at a certain time. Finally, make sure you have a positive sleep environment, such as a dark room kept at a cool temperature with minimal distractions.

Talk to your healthcare provider if you wake up and can't fall back to sleep. Several sleep problems and disorders may be affecting your ability to maximize your sleep duration.

4. Find a Routine That Works for You

Another idea is to create a sleep routine that helps relax your body and mind. Taking a warm bath can help you wind down, but so can journaling, listening to relaxing music, or meditating. Find something that works for you and try to do it regularly.

5. Get Some Exercise

Postpartum exercise has several benefits. Not only can it help you lose excess baby weight, but it's also a great way to regulate your circadian rhythm, decrease anxiety and stress, and improve your overall mental health. You can do several postpartum exercises from home, but talk to your doctor before starting any new regimen.

6. Prioritize Diet

Similarly, a healthy diet with plenty of vitamins and nutrients can help nourish your body and improve sleep quality. Some foods increase melatonin production while others balance blood sugar. Aim for whole, nutritious fruits and vegetables with plenty of whole grains, healthy fats, and lean proteins for the biggest impact.

7. Try to Sleep When Your Baby Sleeps

While some say you can't "make up" for lost sleep, getting a quick nap when your little one is down can make a huge difference. Oftentimes, your brain will even go into deep or REM sleep much faster to help compensate for your total sleep debt. Plus, a nap can help you feel reinvigorated and ready to tackle the rest of the day.

8. Practice Safe Sleep Techniques

The risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is higher for newborns between one and four months old, so it's important to practice safe sleeping techniques. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends adhering to the ABCs of safe sleep: placing the baby alone, on their back, and in a crib fitted with a firm mattress and no soft bedding, pillows, or toys. When you put your baby to sleep, double-check to make sure there's nothing that could pose a suffocation risk.

9. Ask Friends or Family for Help

Even months after the birth of your newborn, you might find yourself struggling to balance everything. That's okay. It's completely normal, and it's okay to ask for help. So, don't be afraid to reach out to your friends or family. Chances are they'd be more than happy to lend a helping hand. What's more, don't feel like you need to say yes to all plans that come your way. Get comfortable saying "no" to get some sleep and bond with your new baby.

10. Spend Time Outside

Getting outside during the daytime can also help regulate your circadian rhythm and create positive long-term effects on overall health and wellness. Take your baby on walks around the block or sit at the park to help you soak up some much-needed vitamin D.

11. Make Time for Yourself

In the midst of breastfeeding, caring for your newborn, doing some chores, and trying to find a routine, don't forget to make time for yourself. Whether this means watching your favorite show, reading a new book, or even having your partner take over so you can enjoy some "me time." Self-care is never selfish.

12. Incorporate Sleep Training

Finally, start sleep training around six months. Sleep training refers to strategies and techniques to teach infants and young children how to fall asleep independently and establish healthy sleep habits. Infant sleep training usually involves letting your baby nurture themselves back to sleep to an extent. This can help them sleep for longer stretches through the night.

Hopefully, these tips can help new moms and dads get some much-needed, uninterrupted sleep. To help you split nighttime feedings, don't forget to get your insurance-covered breast pump from Byram Healthcare today. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, all new and expecting mothers can receive one with zero out-of-pocket costs. Browse our breast pump comparison chart and start the ordering process today.