There can surely be no greater joy for parents ‘in-waiting’ than their baby’s safe arrival after waiting for ‘almost’ 10 months.
However, nothing can prepare you for the ultimate sleep deprivation of being a new parent even though it’s expected, it can feel like a form of parental jetlag that seems to go on for months and months.
This is all because babies haven’t yet developed their own ‘Circadian Rhythm’, a natural wake-sleep cycle that’s linked to the sun’s daily cycle of rising and setting. So until they do, broken sleep for all involved is quite normal. The first year can feel like a blur…
The key to sanity during this precious period is to be a patient, and do what you can to maximise the priceless commodity called ‘rest’.
Fortunately, there are many things every parent in the know has in their toolbox to keep their eyes open and energy up. Here is my essential list for sleep survival in those precious early stages of your journey.
- Set & stick to a routine
First things first, the setting and sticking to a routine is the number one key to sleep success. From bedtime to mealtimes, keeping a consistent timetable will help balance your baby’s energy and give you a sense of structure that will improve focus and wellbeing. It will not happen overnight though sticking to the same sleep/ wake times will eventually get your little one to learn the difference between day and night and they will start to sleep longer, and so will you!
- Sharing is caring
If you have a partner, family or others that can help, sharing your responsibilities will help you feel more like yourself and less like a zombie. Many single mothers endure parenting alone, and while parents are the ultimate troopers leaning on as much support as you can path the way to a much smoother journey. From splitting ‘night duties’ with your partner to taking a coffee break while Mum babysits, that precious time out from the non-stop duties of parenting will help keep you in a far healthier headspace.
- Nap (whenever possible)
Rest as a parent is a bit like chocolate, it’s all about quality over quantity. Even 30-minutes can be incredibly restorative for both you and your little one. To settle them into the best routine, try and keep naptimes regular. Every baby is different, learn when your little one dips in energy and they are more likely to drift off, allowing you to put your feet up and recharge. If you can’t quite switch off, propping yourself up at a window by the daylight or even sitting in the garden can help you feel that bit more revitalised and ready to parent!
- Sleepy snacks
It is normal for babies to fall asleep straight after feeding on tryptophan which induces the sleep hormone melatonin, though this is not added to baby formula. It is wise for you to fill up on sleep-inducing foods too as this will help you rest around until your baby settles into a more regular sleeping schedule. Turkey, meats, oats, cheese and whole milk all make for great bedtime snacks, also munching on magnesium-rich foods like green veg, nuts and dark chocolate can calm anxiety and promote better sleep.
- Soothe with relaxing sounds
The benefits of sound for sleep are as timeless as the bedtime story. There are many different soothing sounds for babies, both brown and white noise have proven effective, as are natural sounds like the gentle sound of distant waves, or the pitter, patter of rain. Research suggests sounds that they encourage them to breathe more slowly and rhythmically. I recommend my own ‘ABC of Better Sleep’ MP3 Pack which includes my relaxation guided imagery for falling asleep and napping, plus a selection of ambient wave recordings with embedded ‘theta’ and ‘alpha’ frequencies that gently fade to silence to help even babies & tired parents to fall asleep. Each one is 30 minutes long gently fading to silence. Zzzz…
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- Softly Swaddle
While your baby gets used to the new, exciting world it is usual for them to get overwhelmed and anxious. One proven way to calm and relax them at bedtime is to gently swaddle them in a soft, cosy fabric that can recreate the feeling of being in the womb. The softest swaddles I have come across are Panda London’s Bamboo Baby Muslins. The naturally hypoallergenic fabric soothes and is kind to baby skin which can be incredibly sensitive and delicate.
- Low light in the baby room
LED Nursery lights often help infants fall asleep faster and may even help them to stay asleep for longer. As these are not expensive, it’s worth exploring, and the low light they give off can help you to move around the baby room at night more easily.
- Baby Monitors CCTV+
Baby monitors are becoming more and more sophisticated with motion sensors, humidity and temperature sensors, and so on… However, I recommend that you turn off the motion sensors after a week or so once the baby is more settled, because the slightest movement triggers the already sleep-deprived parents to be needlessly woken again and again, disrupting any chance of quality sleep. Keeping the sound and video monitoring your baby is more than enough, and allows you to sleep better as you’ll wake less often for nothing… babies move around and make endless sounds all the time!
Obviously with all these super-sensors you’re going to need to make a judgement call on this one. Speak with other experienced parents and then decide. What did parent’s do before tech?
If you are not a fan of meditation, you are not alone. Many think their mind is too busy to be able to benefit from the practice, the secret? Busy minds are part of the human condition, though even just five-ten minutes of zoning out relaxing can make a big difference. Playing a gentle, guided meditation video or simply sitting in silence with your eyes closed can have you opening them in a far calmer place.
Most importantly remember that being a parent is not easy, be kind to yourself and take each day as it comes. Sleep and rest areas are vital for the mind as nutrition for the body. Getting as much as you can wherever possible will keep you healthy and make the most of every exciting, life-changing moment of being a parent.
The Sleep Coach