Baby’s first year of life is filled with many magical moments…and many sleepless nights. Moms and dads, on average, lose 44 days of sleep in that first year alone. At that rate, instead of counting sheep, you could just count the hours of sleep you’ve lost!
It might seem like poor sleep is some sort of parental right of passage, right up there with matching baby-and-me Halloween costumes. But there are actually some practical things you can do to improve your chances of getting a good night’s sleep during baby’s first year.
We turned to sleep consultant Brooke Nalle of Sleepy on Hudson for advice. She’s worked with more than 1,000 families on getting better sleep. (And she’s a mom of three, so she knows a thing or two about the horror of a sleepless night!)
Here are her tips on how parents of infants can get better sleep:
- Think “happy sleep thoughts”
Adult sleep is kind of like toddler sleep, says Brooke. If a toddler has a nightmare, he might not want to sleep in his bed. Similarly, you might be bringing negative thoughts about sleep into your bedroom at night.
“An adult might look at their bed and associate it with a bad night of sleep,” says Brooke. She suggests countering that negativity with an actual solution. “Rather than stay in bed and toss and turn, go sit someplace else that’s not your bed. The idea is that you learn to only associate your bed with being tired and ready.”
You can look at that time away from your bed as a gift, a rare opportunity to do something for yourself until you feel sleepy enough to go back to bed. “It’s your chance to have some ‘you-time,’” Brooke says. “Read a magazine or a junky novel. Do something that’s not baby-related.”
- Don’t nap when the baby naps
That old adage to “nap when the baby naps” could actually do more harm than good. If you sleep too much during the day, you’ll only mess up your zzz’s at night.
“Unless you’re sick, the most you should take is a 15 to 25 minute nap before 4 p.m.,” Brooke says. “If you’re having a hard time going to sleep, then move that window earlier. The later it gets, then you start to slip into evening sleep and you take your sleep off track.”
- Go for a walk on the sunny side
If you’re really feeling like a zombie during the day, Brooke recommends a naptime alternative that could work wonders.
“Go outside and get some Vitamin D and fresh air. It’s a really good thing for your mood and it’s actually better for your nighttime sleep,” she says. “You can kind of trick your body into thinking, ‘Why would I go to sleep? It’s daytime.’”
- Simplify nighttime wake-up calls
There’s no stopping baby from waking up in the middle of the night. But you can simplify the way you respond to those wake-up calls so you have a better chance of falling asleep once you return to your bed.
“When you get to the baby’s room, have a nice warm blanket that you can be wrapped up in so you keep your body temperature the same,” Brooke suggests. “Instead of going to the kitchen and warming a bottle, move the bottle warmer to your bathroom so you’re only taking a two-foot walk.”
Night lights in the nursery and hallway can also help by limiting your exposure to bright light. (Luckily, Nanit has a night light built right into its camera so you can check on baby without disrupting anyone’s sleep – you can even turn it on and off via the Nanit app!)
- Follow a sleep-friendly diet
Brooke recommends cutting off coffee and caffeine after 1 or 2 p.m. It’s also important to stay hydrated, eat healthy and avoid snacking in the middle of the night.
“A lot of times, you’re feeding the baby at night and then you’re like, ‘Oh, I’ll just get myself a little something to eat,’” Brooke says. “That’s actually a problem because then you’re metabolizing food and you’re up at night and now you’re really awake.”
- Take turns
A little planning can go a long way. Work with your partner to devise a plan for who’ll tend to baby at different points in the evening. Brooke recommends splitting a single night into two shifts, depending on whether you’re more of a morning or nighttime person.
“I’ll ask parents when they get their best sleep and which scenario is more appealing – going to bed at 10 o’clock at night and sleeping until 3 a.m. uninterrupted. Or, staying up until 1 or 2 a.m. and then sleeping until 7 in the morning,” Brooke says.
- Get some peace and quiet
Taking turns with baby at night is a great idea. But, when it’s your time to sleep, make sure your bedroom is actually sleep-friendly.
“When you are sleeping, that means you’ve got ear plugs in or you’ve got white noise,” Brooke says. “You’re not listening to your partner deal with the baby. Your bedroom should become like a baby-free sanctuary.”
- Turn to your doctor
Many parents are reluctant to ask their doctor for help when it comes to losing sleep since it’s such a common parental struggle. But your doctor needs to be kept in the loop, especially if you’re still not getting sleep after baby’s first 8 weeks.
“I really encourage people to reach out to their doctors sooner rather than later so you can get to work on your sleep sooner,” Brooke says. “If you can’t sleep because you could be dealing with postpartum depression or anxiety, you need to be treated for that.”
- Say yes to offers of help
Now that you have a little one, your friends and family might offer to pitch in and help from time to time. Consider taking them up on their offers by asking them to watch your baby for a morning, or even an evening, so that you can get some good, quality sleep. If you don’t feel comfortable doing that, don’t hesitate to call in the professionals.
“There are doula services that can come and take care of your baby in a very loving way and also take care of you so you can get some mothering as well,” Brooke says. “By taking care of yourself, you’re taking care of your child. I’m a better parent when I’ve done something to make myself feel good. Getting sleep for you is actually way more valuable than you think.”