Sleep. Oh my god, sleep. The thing as a new parent I was most concerned about – is the baby getting enough, I’m not getting enough, when am I going to get to sleep, and for god’s sake when is this baby going to go to sleep?!
Sleep is a tricky thing with a newborn. Some babies sleep a lot for long stretches and others sleep for a lot of 45 minute stretches (probably more the norm). But it varies greatly. Even the sleep experts give you a ballpark number, 16 – 18 hours a day and that number can vary depending on the expert.
It’s enough to keep a new parent up at night. HA.
Ok sorry, that was cheesy.
So why, you may ask, is a therapist talking about this? Because sleep, both the child and the parent’s, has a whole bunch to do with mental health particularly with new parents.
I want you to think for a moment about yourself when you are over tired. You are probably grouchy, maybe slow to react, thoughts sluggish. Ok, now think of having every day be like that for two weeks straight, a month straight, months at a time. That can be the reality of what some parents are dealing with and dealing with well into toddler and preschool years.
Very briefly, the impacts of this are really big. For the new parents, both being more susceptible to mental health concerns in the postpartum period, adding the additional risk factor of disrupted sleep can send even the most self-care focused parent into a postpartum mood disorder. For parents of older children, late bedtimes and bedtime battles take away from time for the parents to unwind and have time alone as a couple, not to mention making every day more difficult dealing with a potentially over tired toddler.
First I am going to talk a little about what we did with our first, and are now doing with our second, in the first year. I will write another post later about how we tackled issues with our first when our second was born (which included a 3 hour tantrum at bedtime).
Let me be clear and say that I have not revolutionized the baby sleep industry with some innovative new plan – on the contrary, I based everything off a wonderful book that was recommended to me and that I recommend to all new parents: Happy Sleep Habits, Happy Child.
So the first rule my husband and I try to follow is respecting our baby’s sleep schedule. What that means essentially is more often than not, making sure we are putting her down as she is getting tired as well as making sure we are home to do so (not skipping naps). We learned in the book that babies are typically tired after two hours of being awake and sometimes a lot sooner than that. 2 hours is the longest that they should be up! With our first, my husband and I would be watching the clock and watching her and at the first sign of a yawn we would scoop her up and march upstairs.
Our second doesn’t quite get that treatment but overall we get her in bed before she is over tired (which is key – once children are overtired they begin to produce hormones that help them to stay awake, like adrenaline, which makes trying to put them to bed even more difficult).
The second thing the book recommends is bedtime routine. Now I know that most of us parents have some idea that a routine at bedtime is a good one, hell bedtime routines are good for adults, but this is really important for babies and children. They like to know whats next and they rely on a structure to do that. A bedtime routine is a cue for them that sleep is coming and that its time to relax. And bedtime routine should be started anywhere from 30-15 minutes before you want them asleep. For little babies, bedtime routine can consist of various soothing methods (swaddling, rocking, pacifier) and for older kids can be a bath, a book, songs, whatever calming thing they like. The key is that it is consistent.
Do not be fooled, I totally know this is no easy task. My almost four year old is in bed and ready for sleep at 715p the latest and our seven month old is in bed by 630p the latest. They get home from preschool and daycare at 520p.
Yea, I know – not a lot of time for much. It is a little hairy but we can get dinner, bath and bedtime in. And a huge shoutout to my husband who does this alone two nights a week so I can work late! He’s kind of a superstar.
So my hubby and I get about an hour of two of uninterrupted time every night before we go to bed, which is an essential time for us to connect as adults and a couple.
I feel for all my couples who don’t have this, which is usually why we end up talking about this when people with young children come in for couple’s therapy.
I know that our sleep schedule is not perfect for everyone or every child, but what is important from all of this is that parents are getting sleep as well as maybe a little time together.
And for all you new parents out there – don’t be like me and try to go running or do dishes while the baby sleeps (which my therapist promptly corrected me on). SLEEP!!!!
Photo by Bastien Jaillot on Unsplash