Sleep in the early weeks and months
In the early weeks and months of your baby’s life, you might find that it’s a challenge to get enough sleep.
For example, newborns don’t know that people sleep at night. They usually sleep in short bursts through the day and night. Even as babies and children get older, they can have trouble settling to sleep by themselves. They might wake during the night and need help getting back to sleep.
You can get help with baby sleep and settling from your child and family health nurse, GP or paediatrician. These health professionals can work with you to find a sleep and settling solution that’s right for your family.
How much sleep you need
In general, adults need about 7-8 hours of sleep a night to feel properly rested, although this varies from 5-10 hours, depending on the person.
You might need more sleep if you:
- find it difficult to wake up in the morning
- feel sleepy all of the time
- can’t concentrate
- feel moody, irritable, depressed or anxious
- are unintentionally having micro-sleeps during the day.
When you get the rest you need, it’s good for your physical, emotional and mental health. And when you’re rested and well, your child will grow, develop and thrive.
How to sleep better and feel more rested
How much sleep you get in the early months depends a fair bit on what’s happening with your baby. But there are some things you can do to feel more rested, which is good for you and good for baby.
These tips can help you get a better night’s sleep:
- Establish a regular bedtime routine.
- Find ways to switch off and wind down before bed – for example, read a book, listen to some gentle music, or use relaxation techniques like deep breathing.
- Avoid tea, coffee, soft drinks, energy drinks, chocolate, cigarettes and other stimulants close to bedtime. They make resting and sleeping harder and affect how well you sleep.
- Avoid using screens in your bedroom, including television, mobile phones and tablets.
It can be hard to wind down after a long day, or to switch your mind off so you can sleep. If you’re having trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep, try not to get worried and frustrated. Instead, try reminding yourself that it’s OK that you’re warm and restful in bed.
If this doesn’t work, it might be worth getting up and writing down what’s on your mind. Then you can try going through your bedtime routine again.
During the day
Making time for yourself can help you feel better. Even just five minutes reading a book, walking around the block or doing some meditation can give you the sense of being rested when you’re not getting enough sleep.
It’s possible to ‘catch up’ on missed sleep, so nap during the day when you can. You can also make up for missed sleep during the week by sleeping more on the weekend.
Physical activity and healthy food can give you more energy, so make time for exercise and eating well – every little bit helps.
Adapting routines, roles and expectations to get more rest
If you can, share baby care with your partner (so you both feel as rested as possible), a family member or a friend.
Taking turns or shifts for night-time duties can really make a difference. This might be harder for mothers who are breastfeeding. In this case, the key is to try to rest when your baby is resting. On weekends, you could take turns having sleep-ins or naps during the day.
Using your energy for the things that are most important to you can help you feel better about your day – even if you’re tired at the end of it. For example, you might choose to play with your children or spend time with family or friends rather than do the vacuuming.
There will be some daily chores that you need to do, but they can feel overwhelming when you’re exhausted. If you break down chores into small steps and focus on one thing at a time, they can seem more manageable – and you can give yourself a reward for finishing each step. But sometimes chores might just have to wait, no matter how important they are.
Lowering your expectations can take the pressure off. Sometimes what we expect of ourselves can be unrealistic. For example, we might expect that we can play with the children, go to work, help at child care or school, cook an amazing dinner, get three loads of washing done, and still go to the gym.
There might be times when you can do all these things. But there might be some days or even weeks when you’re feeling low on energy, and you might need to rethink how much you can get done – and that’s OK. When you chat with other parents, you’ll find that they have these times too.
If you’re struggling to manage daily routines on not enough sleep, it’s OK to ask family or friends for help. And if you feel that lack of sleep is affecting you mentally or emotionally, it’s a very good idea to talk with your GP or another health professional.