The latest studies have uncovered a startling reality: the sleep deprivation experienced by new parents can persist for up to six years after giving birth, with the peak being three months post-partum. This exhaustion is often accepted as normal when in reality, there are many ways to help improve poor sleep for the physical and emotional health of both the newborn and the parents.
As a mother, your new baby needs you more than ever during their first year of life. Building a strong and secure attachment with your child during this period will set them up for life.
So it’s vital to find the balance between caring for your baby and yourself. And that’s where we come in. Read along to find out more about how to navigate sleep deprivation as a new parent.
The Impact of Sleep Deprivation on New Mums
Caring for a new child is a full-time job. With their tiny stomach, they can’t reserve as much food as adults, so that means they’ll require tending to at least 5-6 times a day. Generally, even though babies sleep a minimum of 14 hours a day, they wake up every 2-4 hours.
Establishing a consistent schedule around your baby’s needs is not easy from the start.
During the initial weeks after birth, new mums typically get very little sleep, between 4 to 5 hours a night, which is only half the recommended amount. This disrupts your circadian rhythm, which regulates sleep-wake cycles, hormonal activity, body temperature and eating and digestion. In addition, the sharp decline in estrogen and progesterone levels that comes right after your baby is born leads to major sleep disturbances.
Our body fully rests during REM sleep, which takes around 90 minutes to start, making it challenging for mums without help. As a result, new mums may struggle to fall asleep, which results in a decrease in both the quality and quantity of sleep.
Adding to this, the stress of taking care of a newborn, any physical discomfort and other complications can exacerbate the problem.
The connection between sleep deprivation and postpartum depression is well-documented, with studies showing an increased risk of insomnia or any other sleep disturbance among postpartum women. It’s no wonder that up to 75% of new mums experience “baby blues” after delivery, with another 15% developing more serious postpartum depression.
In addition, mothers who experienced poor sleep tended to have lower parenting self-efficacy, health problems, more days of poor mental health, postnatal depression, more stress and higher BMIs.
While symptoms such as foggy thinking, low energy, irritability, depressive moods and mood swings are common among new parents, they do not have to be accepted as normal. Taking care of your own sleep in such situations is critical because it can help reduce the risk of endangering your new baby’s safety.
Women, of course, are affected more than men. Men lose an average of 13 minutes of sleep per night after the birth of a child, while women lose more than an hour per night. One reason for this is breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding and Sleep
The way a baby is fed can affect the sleeping patterns of both the baby and the new mother. Although some studies indicate that breastfeeding may increase the number of nighttime awakenings, don’t be discouraged.
Breastfeeding your baby is always superior to formula feeding. A study shows that it can reduce the risk of sleep disorders and breathing issues in the future. It can also help babies fall asleep faster and regulate their body clock in the long term.
For mothers, although breastfeeding can be tiring, it helps release oxytocin, a hormone that reduces cortisol levels and induces a feeling of calmness. This feeling is transferred to your newborn as well.
Your baby and you will create a stronger bond and adjust to breastfeeding through sensory experiences like touch, smell, and sight.
Good Sleep Hygiene for New Mothers
Skipping sleep does not give you more time with your newborn; instead, it makes you less productive during your awake hours. So prioritise getting enough hours of sleep rather than overconsuming coffee, which only delays the inevitable need for rest.
Try to establish a consistent schedule with a regular bedtime routine where you and your baby get more rest at the same time. Remember, you and your baby come first at least for the first few months. Try and organise baby duties with your partner or friends and make time for frequent 10-20 minutes naps. They’ll help you reduce stress levels, regain your energy and enjoy bonding with your child.
To beat sleep deprivation and try to curb its negative effect, both you and your partner need to take some action. First, try to keep track of your sleeping patterns to understand in which areas you can improve or how you can sneak in more sleep. How can you make it work best for all your family members?
Additionally, you can also create a comfortable sleep environment by keeping the room temperature between 20° to 22°C. Or incorporate relaxing activities like taking a bath, practising 10 minutes of Sophrology alone or with your partner, reading a book or singing a lullaby to help signal that it’s time to fall asleep. Don’t forget to dim the lights and isolate external noises!
Tracking Your Little One’s Sleep: A Timeline for New Parents
In the first month’s stages, your baby’s sleeping pattern will mainly depend on their feeding schedule. However, as they grow older, you can start implementing a day-night routine to help them establish a healthy circadian rhythm and get better sleep.
Here’s how much your little one should be sleeping:
- Newborns: 14-17 hours
- Infants: 12-15 hours
- Toddlers: 11-14 hours
- Nursery: 10-13 hours
- School-aged children: 9-11 hours
At BeSopho, we don’t recommend sleep training for babies. This is not only supported by the aforementioned studies but also by our belief that connection and caring are crucial in the early stages of a child’s development.
Establishing a connection with a parent is essential for a child to feel safe and secure when it’s time to fall asleep. Constant caring and responsive parenting foster trust and predictability. The sense of safety also helps to alleviate anxiety, which can interfere with sleep.
However, parenting demands can be overwhelming, making it crucial for parents to prioritise and manage their expectations. Drawing on support from family members, friends or professionals can ease the responsibility of parenthood.
Sophrology involves a combination of breathwork, meditation, visualisation exercises and gentle body movements to promote mindfulness of your needs, strengths, limits and capabilities. These science-led modalities help promote acceptance and visualisation work and can help mothers overcome the difficulties of early motherhood, gain perspective and build resilience.
How Can Sophrology Help New Mums With Sleep Deprivation?
Being sleep-deprived can have a significant impact. Even just one night of interrupted sleep can leave new parents feeling exhausted and struggling to handle the demands of caring for a newborn.
Mums that don’t get enough sleep are more likely to experience insomnia, postpartum depression and anxiety. In addition, infants of sleep-deprived mothers may have delayed cognitive development, shorter attention spans and difficulty regulating their emotions.
Even with busy schedules and the demands of motherhood, new mums can still find 10 minutes a day to prioritise their self-care and mental wellbeing. It’s worth the effort, and it can help you cope with the lack of sleep and navigate the tricky first months.
Sophrology is a powerful tool you can use to help manage stress, anxiety, and sleep problems. It can help you find your centre, get more sleep, boost energy and confidence and stay present for your loved ones. It doesn’t require much, practising Sophrology “little and often” can help regulate your nervous system and enter a relaxed state of mind, the key to sleeping like a pro. The 10-minute, easy-to-follow exercises can also fit into any busy schedule and be practised with your baby in the sling, at the breast, or on a walk when they are in the pram.
Moreover, Sophrology also works great when you can’t fall asleep because it calms your entire nervous system in minutes. Lastly, don’t be afraid to tell your entourage how tired you are. Parenting is challenging. Although mothers would prefer to wear their superhero capes 24/7, it is sometimes necessary to change into pyjamas.
By prioritising self-care, parents can better look after their children and create a harmonious sleep environment for their entire family. Sophrology provides the necessary support and reassurance, as well as healthy coping mechanisms for the discomforts of pregnancy, and helps normalise sleep patterns, allowing new mothers to relax and balance themselves, ultimately leading to better relationships and care for their infants.
Join our Sleep Like a Pro 5-day online series for just £12 and learn simple techniques to help you to get to sleep quickly and sleep soundly through the night with just 10-minute practices per day. Sophrology can be introduced to your bedtime routine to prepare you for deep sleep and support your overall health.