How to Regain Your Sleep and Sanity After a New Baby
While you were probably warned about the lack of sleep that comes with parenthood, there is no way to understand just how it feels until you are waking up multiple times a night with a crying baby. While the newborn phase is a time of great joy, it can also be a time of extreme exhaustion and exasperation. Don't be surprised if a few tears escape your own eyes as you sit awake for hour after hour during the night trying to console your child. While this is completely normal, there are several things you can do to ensure that you and your baby are ready for the night and have the best chance at peaceful slumber.
Schedule Sleep Time
First, set a schedule. Many experts recommend that the best way to keep your little one calm and restful at night is by following a set schedule during the day. Babies thrive on rhythm, and by going to sleep at the same time each night, your child will begin to automatically start getting tired at that time.
Many parents shy away from schedules because they don’t want to restrict their own lives based on when baby needs to go down. While you don’t have to stick exactly to a schedule, it does help for babies to be able to expect what is coming. It can also be helpful for parents to know what their baby is going to need at each time so they don't have to constantly guess what is wrong. There are several methods and philosophies available, so find the one that works best for you and your baby.
Practice a Sleep Routine
Another way to let your baby know that it is time to sleep is by setting up a sleep routine. What you do and how long you take is completely up to you. Some options you can choose from include the following:
- A warm bath
- A bottle or nursing session
- Reading a book
- Infant massage
- Singing a song
- Rocking in a chair
- Turning off the lights
You can choose whatever works for your baby, but these are things that many parents find help their little ones calm down and realize that sleep is coming. Before naps, you’ll want to do a shortened routine. Be aware that you’ll need to start the routine well before your baby is tired to make sure you are finished and heading to bed before your little one gets overtired.
Experts at the Sleep Foundation state that it does not matter what you do, as long as you do it in the same order each night. The routine can be long or short, but it’s the consistency that really matters. If your child can learn what’s coming, he or she will know that it is sleep time now and be ready.
Learn Tired Cues
Another important step is learning to watch for tired cues. Many new parents (and even seasoned ones) don't recognize these signs. They may wait until their child is drifting off before or inconsolable heading to bed, but most children are well past the point of peaceful rest by then. Some of the most common signals for tiredness in newborns include rapid blinking or staring into space for several seconds. These are the first stages of feeling tired and the best time to put your child to bed.
You want to put your child in bed before he or she becomes overtired because by then, baby will have a harder time calming down. Even if he or she is exhausted and passes out quickly, the sleep will likely be less calm and baby will wake more at night. If you miss this window of opportunity, you'll have an overtired baby to deal with all night long. This can lead to a vicious cycle of short naps, wakeful nights and restless sleep for you and for baby.
Setting the Stage
Another trick to getting a good night’s sleep is to set the perfect environment. You want your baby’s surroundings to mimic the womb in the early weeks to make the transition to this new life easier. Your womb was a dark and noisy place, with constant sounds from your insides and plenty of amniotic fluid to swallow. This can mean that having a white noise or heartbeat sound machine, keeping the lights off, making sure your child is warm, but not too hot, and offering something to suck on, such as a binky, can make your baby feel comfortable and relaxed. While you may not want these habits to continue, babies are dealing with several new changes at once and it can be very difficult for them to calm down with all the excitement. Having a womb-like room can create a peaceful atmosphere so that they sleep better (and you can, too!).
In addition to setting the right stage at bedtime, you can make these changes even more obvious by making your baby’s waking environment different. Open the blinds to let in as much natural light as possible, avoid offering a binky when it’s not bedtime and reserve the nighttime noises for bed. You should also talk to you baby and play, saving cuddling and swaying movements for your sleep routine.
Put Baby Down While Awake
One of the main reasons you are making sure baby is tired and comfortable, but still awake, when you head to bed is because babies who learn to fall asleep on their own can also go back to sleep by themselves if they wake up in the night. You may love the feeling of your baby falling asleep in your arms at bedtime, but you probably don’t appreciate it as much at 2 a.m. Many babies will never need to cry it out if their parents follow these steps. Your baby should be able to learn to fall asleep alone if you head to the crib when he or she is full, warm and drowsy.
Getting enough sleep is not only important for your baby’s growth, it’s also vital to your physical and mental health. While it can be hard to focus on routines and schedules when you’re tired, putting forth the effort now can mean more sleep at night and happier days for both of you.