Coping with sleepless nights

Every baby is different, but most new parents will have some sleepless nights. Here are some tips on how to cope.

Your newborn baby’s sleeping patterns

Newborn babies sleep a lot (up to 18 hours a day), but your baby will have their own pattern of waking and sleeping.

Whatever this pattern is, it’s unlikely to fit in with yours. Newborns don’t know the difference between night and day, and it’s very normal for babies to wake up regularly. You’ll probably be up several times during the night to feed, change and comfort your baby.

This can be very difficult to cope with when your body is recovering from birth and you’re adjusting to life with the newest member of your family.

Apart from feeling extremely tired, if you’re having sleepless nights you may also feel:

  • irritable, stressed and more emotional
  • unable to concentrate and make decisions
  • hungrier than usual.

A lack of sleep can also lower your immune system, making you less able to fight off infections.

Tips for coping with sleepless nights

Having a good night’s sleep may seem impossible right now. But there are things you can do to make it a little easier.

Talk to other parents

There will be some new mums whose babies sleep through the night but if this is not you, don’t worry. Although it may feel like it in the middle of night, you’re not alone. Most parents will have reassuring stories to tell about sleepless nights. They may even have a few useful tips of their own that may help.

Talk to your health visitor

After your baby is born, your midwife will hand over your care to a health visitor. As well as checking your baby’s development after birth, they can also help you get your baby into a bedtime routine.

Your health visitor will probably ask you about sleep during their first few visits. There’s no one answer for how to get a baby to sleep, but your health visitor will be able to tell you about things you can try and reassure you about your baby’s sleep habits.

Find out more about safer sleeping

If you’re a first-time parent, you may be anxious about the best way for you and your baby to sleep safely. If you’re not sleeping well, this can increase your anxiety levels.

The Lullaby Trust provides safer sleep advice for babies. This may help give you peace of mind that you’re doing the best you can to get a good night’s sleep in the safest environment possible for you and your baby.

The safest place for your baby to sleep is in a separate cot or moses basket in the same room as you for the first 6 months, even during the day.

Some parents choose to share a bed with their babies. If you want to do this, try to follow the advice provided by The Lullaby Trust. Following this advice can help reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), which is commonly known as cot death.

Never sleep on a sofa or armchair with your baby, this can increase the risk of SIDS by 50 times.

Your health visitor will also be able to tell you more about safer sleeping.

Sleep when your baby sleeps

It would be great to have at least 8 hours uninterrupted sleep, but that may be impossible right now, especially if you’re breastfeeding.

You may have to try and catch up on sleep as and when you can, and the best time will be while your baby is sleeping too. You may be tempted to spend this time cleaning up, but try to get some sleep too. If you can’t sleep, just rest. Even half an hour with your feet up can help.

Eat well and drink lots of fluids

You may feel hungrier than usual if you’re tired, plus you may not have a lot of time to think about what to eat. You may find yourself getting caught out and making unhealthy food choices.

When you can, try to eat a healthy, balanced diet, which will help keep your energy levels up. Don’t skip breakfast and try to eat at least 5 portions of fruits and vegetables a day.

Try to avoid sugary foods such as sweets, cakes and biscuits. This will give you a rush of energy, but it’ll wear off quickly.

Make sure you stay hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids, water ideally. (6-8 glasses a day). An occasional cup of coffee may help, but don’t rely on caffeine energy drinks to pick you up. They can boost your energy temporarily but can disrupt your sleep patterns even further in the long term.[3]

Ask for help

If you have a partner, they can help. If you’re breastfeeding during the night, they may be able to wind the baby and put them down again so you can go straight back to sleep.

If you’re formula feeding you may even decide to sleep separately to your partner every now and again if you have the space, so one of you can have a full night’s uninterrupted sleep.

If your partner goes back to work and needs to sleep well during the week, perhaps they can take the baby downstairs for a few hours in the morning at weekends or for a couple of hours in the afternoon, so you can catch up on your sleep.

“I would sleep next to the cot from Sunday to Thursday because my partner went at work early. He would then sleep next to the cot Friday and Saturday and sort the first feed of the day, so I could have a lie in and catch up on my sleep.”

Karin

If you’re very tired during the night, you must be careful when giving feeds that you’re not in a position where you and your baby could fall asleep in the bed together. You may find it helpful to turn a light on, sit in a nearby chair, or ask your partner to talk to you while you feed if you’re feeling sleepy.

Slow down

Life will feel a bit more hectic after you have a baby and you may find it more difficult to stay on top of things, especially round the house. This will be even harder if you’re sleep deprived, your energy levels are down and you’re having trouble thinking clearly.

Make life easier for yourself and slow down. Your priority right now is your baby, who is probably demanding all your attention for most of the day. Leave the washing up or ask someone else to do it. Do your food shopping online and forget about cooking complicated recipes.

“Batch cooking meals and storing these in the freezer is very useful, especially on the more difficult days when you don’t have any energy to cook.”

Yasmin

You may be used to multi-tasking and achieving a lot every day, but sometimes just muddling through is enough.

Have a bedtime routine

The best thing to do if you’re not sleeping well is have regular sleeping hours, but that may not be possible with a newborn. Still, having a regular bedtime routine and finding effective ways to wind down and get ready for bed may help you nod off faster when you can. You could try:

  • going to bed at the same time every night
  • having a warm bath in the evening
  • reading a book in bed
  • making your bedroom sleep-friendly (as well as baby-friendly). Don’t watch TV or look at your phone in bed, and keep the room dark, tidy and quiet.

Try to remember that this isn’t forever

This may sound dramatic, but when you’re having poor sleep and you’re overwhelmed, it can sometimes feel like every day rolls into one and the nights never end. Don’t despair. It may be tough now, but eventually your baby will start sleeping for longer and so will you.

Get help if you’re struggling

If one bad night can make you irritable, it’s no surprise that weeks or months of sleep deprivation can lead to mental health problems such as depression and anxiety.

If you’re feeling low, remember that you’re not alone. Up to 1 in 5 women develop mental health problems during pregnancy or in the first year after childbirth.

It’s natural to feel a bit emotional in the first few months after giving birth. But if you’re having negative feelings that won’t go away, this could be a sign of something more serious.

Some women may find it hard to talk about feeling low at a time when everyone expects them to be happy, but no one is going to judge you. Tell your health visitor or GP how you feel. They will help you find the treatment and support you need to manage your symptoms and stay well.

Find out more about your mental health after the birth.

Going back to work

You may find that your baby is sleeping better by the time you finish maternity leave. If not and you’re still getting up several times a night, it can be difficult to feel ready for another working day.

Some days will be better than others, and there are things you can do to make balancing your work and home life easier.

Ask for flexible working

All employees have the legal right to request flexible working. You must have worked for the same employer for at least 26 weeks before you apply (these rules may be different in Northern Ireland).

Flexible start and finishing times or working from home from time-to-time may help take the pressure off and give you a chance to catch up on an hour or two’s sleep.

Your employer can refuse your application if they have a have a good business reason, but they must deal with your request ‘in a reasonable manner’.

Visit Gov.UK to find out more.

Get organised

If you’re sleep deprived it can sometimes feel difficult to remember your own name, never mind what you have to do at work that day. Getting organised can help. Use a diary, set up automated reminders or make lists to aid your memory. Try to plan your day so you’re doing the toughest tasks when you’re feeling at your best (probably in the morning).

Take a day off

Depending on their childcare arrangements, a lot of new mums are tempted to save their annual leave for days when their baby needs them. For example, when they need to get their vaccinations or if they are poorly. Or you may also be planning your first holiday as a family.

But if you’re feeling sleep deprived, it’s a good idea to take a half or full day off every now and again to have some time to yourself. You don’t have to spend the whole time sleeping (although you may want to). Even if all you do is watch a film or have lunch with a friend, this may be enough to help you feel a bit more rested and ready to go.

 

 

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    Your body after the birth

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Sources

NHS Choices. Helping your baby to sleep https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/getting-baby-to-sleep/ (Page last reviewed: 02/05/2018. Next review due: 02/05/2021)

NHS Choices. Why lack of sleep is bad for your health. https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/sleep-and-tiredness/why-lack-of-sleep-is-bad-for-your-health/ (Page last reviewed: 30/052/2018. Next review due: 30/05/2021)

NHS Choices. The energy diet. https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/sleep-and-tiredness/the-energy-diet/ (Page last reviewed: 04/05/2018. Next review due: 04/05/2021)

NHS Choices. How to get to sleep. https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/sleep-and-tiredness/how-to-get-to-sleep/ (Page last reviewed: 14/07/2016. Next review due: 14/07/2019)

The Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists (February 2017) Maternal Mental Health – Women’s Voices https://www.rcog.org.uk/globalassets/documents/patients/information/maternalmental-healthwomens-voices.pdf

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Last reviewed on May 1st, 2019. Next review date May 1st, 2022.

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