The average adult should get eight hours of shut-eye each night, but with wee ones in the house, that’s an unlikely scenario. The U.S. National Sleep Foundation found that new parents lose 350 hours (that’s 14 days!) of nighttime sleep during a baby’s first year. And a 2008 study found Canadian parents slept fewer hours than their childless counterparts, losing up to five days-worth of sleep annually in households with kids under 15 years of age.
Every parent has a tale of car keys mistakenly tucked into the freezer, irons or stove burners left on all day, or sweaters worn to work inside-out, but fatigue is no laughing matter. Fragmented rest wreaks havoc on memory, metabolism, decision-making abilities, and our ability to multi-task. Mothers in particular get short-sheeted, averaging less than five hours of nightly sleep during baby’s first year. They also spend more time in the lightsleep cycle, and wake before reaching the deep REM sleep stage so vital to a good night’s rest.
Recent studies also indicate that lack of sleep worsens the symptoms of post-partum depression in new moms. Partners of new moms take a hit, too, schlepping to work every day with bags under their eyes. Who wants their dental surgeon or fork-lift driver running on a mere four hours of sleep? Or a drowsy parent behind the wheel? American figures estimate that there are 100,000 fatigue-related car crashes each year, resulting in 1,400 deaths.
As you pace the floor at 3 a.m. with your newborn buddy, it won’t be sleep science and stats that you’re thinking about. No worries. We’ve got strategies to help you make it through the night.
BE KIND TO YOURSELF:
We know the laundry won’t do itself, and there’s a teetering stack of dishes in the sink, but get your exhausted self to bed whenever you can. This is your official pass to slack off.
Take a timeout, call a friend, hang a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign on the front door, whatever. Catch a break whenever you can.
LISTEN TO YOUR MOTHER:
We hate to nag, but her advice is right. Find some quiet time before bed to wind down with a caffeine-free bevvy. Fill up on healthy foods. Get out and get some
fresh air and exercise. You’ll feel better for it.
Split your night into four-to-six hour time slots so you and your partner can get solid chunks of dream-time. When you’re off-duty, find a dark, quiet baby-free zone to catch some zz’s. Turn off the phone, slip on a sleep mask and earplugs, and use a white noise machine or fan to block out ambient noise.
If you must get up, keep the lights low so it’s easier to slip back into bed. If you’re breastfeeding, try to express milk during the day so your partner can take over a nighttime feed.
YOU NEED HELP:
No, really. Your parenting partner is a great ally, but when you’re feeling overwhelmed, lean on grandparents, girlfriends, the teen next door, or anyone who owes you a favour to help with meals, housekeeping, or taking any and all kids outside so you can rest.
CALL IN THE PROS:
And if you don’t have a buddy to lean on, consider hiring a sleep consultant or doula, who can provide a friendly ear, an absorbent shoulder, and sound advice. Doulas can get you through early days at home, but there’s a growing number of sleep consultants who can cajole night owls of all ages to sleep. Consultations start at about $250 and go up, incorporating text and email support, and in-house sleep training sessions (for the kid, not you). But ask any parent of a sleep-resistor, and they’ll tell you that investment is worth its weight in down-filled duvets.
GET INTO TRAINING:
Everyone and their mother (and your mother, and your partner’s mother) has an opinion about kids and sleep, not that you asked for it. There are books, the Internet, Twitter and parenting forums devoted to parents desperate for tips. In the dark of the night, parents everywhere are composing mental hate mail to so-called sleep experts. (Those letters are never posted as most of us are too bleary to find a pen the next morning.)
Despite the competing voices, you’ll find a solution that works for your family. When a baby hits four-to-six months, and on the advice of your doctor, you can begin to introduce sleep-training methods – from co-sleeping and attachment parenting, to cry-it-out Ferberization methods, and everything in
And remember this during what seem like the longest nights of your life, your child won’t be doing this forever, By three months, 90 percent of babies are sleeping for six to eight hours stretches. Someday, you’ll look back on those nights fondly. We promise.