Moving Beyond “Sleep When Baby Sleeps”

4 mins read
woman in white tank top sleeping on bed
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Babies are demanding – and rightly so. They feed every few hours, and they require a lot of care and attention. It can be overwhelming, especially if you’re also trying to keep up with life inside and outside the home. But let’s face it: we all need to sleep! We’re all only human, and it’s no secret that having a newborn is hard. So how do you get enough sleep? How do you balance these two seemingly conflicting needs? The answer is simple: you fully commit yourself to doing whatever it takes to get your own rest.

The problem with “Sleep when the baby sleeps.”

“Sleep when the baby sleeps.”

A phrase we know all too well. It’s meant to be helpful, but it’s not — and it can actually make new mothers feel inadequate.

It’s not helpful. When baby sleeps, mothers often find themselves trying to catch up with life and chores. They may have an entire list of things they want to do, but by the time their child has gone down for his nap or bedtime, there’s no time left in the day for anything else.

It can make mothers feel like they are not doing enough. Mothers often feel guilty if they don’t get as much sleep as their baby does — even though this is completely normal! The reality is that babies need more sleep than adults do because their brains are growing so rapidly during these early months (1).

It promotes the idea that motherhood is all about sacrifice and suffering. As if motherhood isn’t hard enough already!

In the midst of chaos, your home is what you make it.

The first few months (let’s face it – the first year) with a newborn are going to be chaotic. You’re sleep deprived, your life is in disarray, and it’s hard to eat well or exercise regularly. In the midst of all this chaos and change, create a home where you can feel comfortable and relaxed.

This means creating an environment that feels safe for both you and your child—one that is organized, clean, welcoming and reflective of your values (allowing for some flexibility as needed). For example: if you value organization but have always been messy by nature then don’t try to change overnight; instead focus on making small changes each day until eventually the clutter has subsided enough so that everything has its place without feeling overwhelming or overwhelming yourself trying keep up with it all at once!

Establish a night routine for yourself.

Treat yourself and your spouse as you would treat a child: with gentleness, respect and compassion. Take care of your own sleep needs just as carefully as if they were those of your baby.

We spend so much time trying to establish a night routine for our babies – to help them sleep better. We know how great a sleep routine can be for children. Bath, book and bed. We spend a small fortune on the best blackout blinds, lavender-scented nighttime lotions and swaddles.

We never consider implementing a thorough night routine for ourselves. We should. We deserve one too. A night routine for parents is about more than just getting ready for bed. It includes all the things that help you relax and unwind after a long day of parenting.

When you go to bed, give yourself enough time to unwind and switch gears from wakefulness into sleep. Learn your own sleep window—the amount of time that is right for you between going to bed and falling asleep easily. The more you understand about your sleep window and the best way to begin a night routine for parents, the easier it will be to relax into sleep.

Give yourself plenty of time to wind down before going to bed. Set aside at least 1-2 hours before you plan on falling asleep. People often find that listening to quiet music, taking a bath or reading helps. Some people do light stretches, meditation and creative visualisation; others try relaxation techniques like progressive muscle relaxation.

Create the best sleep environment

The next step is to create a comfortable environment where your baby can sleep. This means creating a room that’s dark, quiet and cool. It also means using some simple tools, such as fans, humidifiers, white noise machines and eye masks, to block out light or sound that might wake you up. A sleep-inducing pillow spray like this can help relax you, and also train your brain to associate that specific scent with mentally switching off and resting.

Creating this kind of environment for yourself will help you feel more rested when it’s time for bed so you can get up in the morning ready to tackle the day ahead.

It doesn’t have to be all or nothing.

It’s important to remember that you are not alone. You may feel like your partner is the only one who gets enough sleep and you are doing everything, but you are not alone. There will be times when the baby is sleeping and the other parent is awake, but that is normal. It doesn’t mean one of them has to suffer or that either of them is doing something wrong.

It’s also okay if you don’t get enough sleep some nights or even all the time; this doesn’t make anyone a bad parent (or spouse). The point here isn’t perfection or total exhaustion – it’s figuring out how much sleep works for everyone in your family right now, so that everyone can feel good during their waking hours and be able to function at work/school/play while they’re awake!

The baby’s sleep may be erratic for a while, because they’re learning to sleep on her own, so don’t take your lack of sleep personally. And remember that if you focus on caring for yourself as much as possible by sticking to a routine and getting enough rest between feedings, then eventually things will even out and start working again. You’re doing great.

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