The One Thing All New Parents Talk About!
A Guest Blog Post by Alyssa Veneklase, Co-owner of Gold Coast Doulas.
There’s one common topic I always hear about from parents while pregnant or with a newborn. Whether it’s a client, a friend, or a family member they all talk about one thing. Nope, it’s not feeding. Not car seats. Not diapers.
Nobody values their sleep more than a new parent. And if they didn’t value their sleep before, they do now. It’s almost unfathomable that a human can survive on such little sleep for so long. How do we do it?
We wouldn't have made it this far as a species if humans couldn’t survive a brief period of sleep deprivation after a baby is born. But when weeks turn into months and years, we now have a problem. A big problem.
According to the National Safety Council, losing 2 hours of sleep is like having 3 beers. Most new parents are losing a lot more than 2 hours of sleep at night. This means they are driving while impaired. Drowsy driving accidents are the leading cause of workplace deaths, accounting for 21% of all fatal crashes.
I’ll let that sink in.
So what’s a parent to do? How do we optimize our sleep while we have a little human at home who won’t comply?
5 Tips to Optimize Sleep
There are a few things parents can start anytime to optimize sleep, whether pregnant, just home with a newborn, or they have several children at home. It’s important that parents are the role models for their children to respect sleep and make it a priority in their home. If you do not respect the need for sleep, your children will not either.
TIP #1 - Keep a schedule
It doesn’t matter how old we are, most of us thrive on a schedule. This means most of the time we wake up, eat, have social interaction, and go to sleep at approximately the same times every day. Of course we all have off-days, but then we get back on track as soon as we are able.
For adults, it’s important to stick to a set bedtime and eliminate overly-stimulating activities and exposure to blue light right before bed. So turn off that computer, stop working, and stop scrolling Instagram. Give yourself a half hour or so to read, journal, or do something calming before bed.
For kids, it’s even more important that they have a schedule. When kids get overly tired (stay up too late) they are more likely to have behavioral problems throughout the day (tantrums, melt-downs) and then actually fight going to bed at night more (drawn-out bedtime routine) which then leads to a vicious cycle of late bed times.
Most babies tend to be on a 7pm - 7am sleep schedule. This aligns with their natural circadian rhythm. As they get older you might find your 8 year old can sleep from 8pm - 7am, and then your 11 year old can easily stay up until 9pm. You have to follow their cues and figure out your child’s unique sleep needs.
TIP #2 - Create a safe sleep space
Many of us sleep with our phones right next to our head on a bedside table. In the nursery, our baby sleeps with a monitor next to the crib. Our older children have iPads next to their beds. All of these emit Electromagnetic Frequencies which can cause a host of health problems and also disrupt sleep.
Keep wifi routers, baby monitors, cell phones, and tablets away from you while you sleep (10-15 feet minimum if possible). During sleep is when our bodies rest and restore themselves. Your children’s brains develop and their bodies grow. Our immune systems rebuild, emotions regulate, and short-term memories are turned into long-term memories. We are learning so much about why we sleep and the importance to our physical and mental health.
Consider a low emissions baby monitor like those from Bebcare!
Another big part of safe sleep for babies is making sure they are sleeping on a hard, flat surface (crib or basinet), on their back, with no pillows, blankets, crib bumpers, or stuffed animals. Once a baby can roll on their own, stop swaddling arms in. Make sure nobody is smoking in the baby’s room, there is good air circulation, and the room is not too hot.
TIP #3 - Stay cool
Many parents tend to bundle their babies up, especially at night. We actually tend to sleep better and longer when our bodies are cooler! There are always exceptions such as a baby in the NICU that needs to be kept warm, but the majority of us wake when our body temperature rises. Remember that phrase “circadian rhythm” I mentioned earlier? Temperature is part of that too. When the sun rises, it naturally starts to heat the earth, and when it becomes light outside and gets warmer, our bodies wake.
Keep your bedroom cooler at night and don’t over bundle your baby. Bedrooms should have a fan for air circulation and if you don’t have an air conditioner or your house is very warm, do your best to keep your baby cool with only light layers and fans.
TIP #4 - Sleep in the dark
Darkness produces melatonin in our bodies, the hormone that makes us feel sleepy. This is the other side of circadian rhythm I mentioned in Tip #3. When the sun goes down and the temperature cools, our bodies get ready for sleep.
It’s important to have a dark, cool environment for your children to sleep in. This will help them sleep longer, which is what all parents want!
TIP #5 - Bedtime Routines
For children this is a critical element of night time sleep. Kids thrive on routine and are less likely to act out when they know what to expect. Talk to your children, no matter what age. Narrate life to your baby. Tell your toddler what’s going to happen that day. Give them advanced notice so that transitions are easier. Set boundaries so they know what’s expected of them, and stick to them. All of this builds trust between you and your child.
If you create a solid bedtime routine that lasts 30 minutes and your child knows what to expect, you are more likely to have stress-free bed times. A good routine for a baby is to offer the last feed of the day, change their diaper, put on pjs, dim the lights, turn on the sound machine, and sing a song or read while you cuddle and get them drowsy. Let your older toddler or child have a say in structuring the bedtime routine. Maybe they go potty, brush teeth, put on pjs, read one book, sing one song, and get 5 kisses. Or maybe they want to make up a story together while you lie in bed, or make shadow puppets on the wall. Whatever they want that makes it special is great, as long as it still fits within the timeframe given for their bedtime routine. If you stick to that, they will be excited for bedtime and fight less, especially when you set boundaries and stick to the routine.
About Alyssa Veneklase and Gold Coast Doulas
Alyssa Veneklase, is a Certified Infant & Child Sleep Consultant, Newborn Care Specialist, and Certified Elite Postpartum & Infant Care Doula. She co-owns Gold Coast Doulas and co-founded The BECOMING Course.
Alyssa offers sleep consultations virtually and has helped families all over the world find rest.
Reach out to learn more.