This week is National Sleep Awareness Week, and while we don’t think new parents need reminding about sleep, we do think it’s a great time to look at some tips that can help us get some more, much-needed shut-eye! 😴
Every living creature needs to sleep. Sleep restores us physically, mentally, and emotionally and it helps us process our day, problem-solve, learn, and remember things (hmm, this explains a lot!😲). It also boosts our immunity and resilience.
The same goes for our babies and children, sleep also helps children grow, so they may need more sleep during growth spurts. Getting much-needed sleep is easier said than done however, particularly for new parents!
Here are a few helpful tips that can assist the whole family – parents and children alike…
1. Shining a light on sleep cycles and circadian rhythms 🌙 Circadian rhythms are regulated by light and dark, or day and night, and take time to develop. Your baby's circadian rhythms develop around four to six weeks. By the end of the first month, most babies are sleeping more at night and are awake and sociable during the day. Your baby has been having sleep cycles even while you are pregnant!
There are two ‘types’ of sleep that both children and adults experience, Non-REM and REM sleep:
Non-Rapid Eye Movement (NREM) or 'quiet' sleep, is when our body goes into “repair mode” and when important hormones are released in children for growth and physical development.
Rapid Eye Movement (REM) or 'active' sleep is when we do most of our dreaming. In “active” sleep, babies’ brains are developing and consolidating new mental and physical skills. For adults, this is when our mind processes the day’s events and lays down long term memories.
As adults, we have typically 5 sleep cycles a night, each one lasting 90-110 minutes in length. In each cycle we go from light, then transition into deeper sleep, then into REM sleep. You are most likely to wake in the lighter phases of sleep. It is common to wake up between sleep cycles briefly, and not remember waking.
A baby’s sleep cycles are shorter, (around 45-50 minutes), so they may fully or partially wake up when moving between cycles in the lighter stages of the sleep cycle. The good news is that over the next six to twelve months most babies gradually learn to self-soothe and settle themselves back to sleep over time. As a baby grows, the sleep cycles will start to extend and look more and more like the adult version. Eventually, by school age, your child will be sleeping in cycles of 90 to 110 minutes much like us grown-ups.
Top tip: 🌟 Babies are more easily awakened when they first fall asleep (during the 'active' REM stage - unlike adults, babies enter sleep via REM sleep), so try and minimise disturbances at this time. During 'quiet' sleep stages, babies are less likely to be woken up - similar to how adults are less likely to wake up during deep sleep.
When going for a longer nap of 2 or more cycles, pay attention around that 45-50 minute mark. Of a 90 minute or more sleep, maybe they will need a little resettling at the mid-way point.
2. Set up, and stick to a bedtime routine 👶
Bedtime is where a familiar pattern is helpful for all of us. It’s widely accepted that babies benefit from a solid bedtime routine, and so do adults, but it's often overlooked for the rest of us! Our brains associate certain activities with sleep, telling our body its time for sleep, so have a set series of wind down activities for yourself, as well as your baby, that lead to settling in bed.
For baby, a warm bath 🛁 followed by quiet time with a book, a lullaby 🎼, and a cuddle finishing with a kiss goodnight are all great bedtime routine steps. Being an exhausted parent, you might be asleep before your head hits the pillow but having some structure around your own bedtime will help your body get the most out of your precious sleep time. Try and make bedtime the same time each day. Your wake up schedule, however, will no doubt be guided by your little one!
3. Make up for lost sleep when you can 💤
As tempting as it is to jump onto household chores while your baby naps, new parents should try and use this time to rest when possible. A 20-minute nap or lie-down and closing your eyes will refresh you and boost your precious energy levels. If your baby isn't on a regular daytime sleep schedule, take advantage of any offers of help from trusted friends and relatives to look after your baby while you rest for a while.
If you are a member of the new parent 'walking-weary', it’s important to remember that there is light at the end of the tunnel and things will get better and easier. Don’t forget that help is always just a click or call away in the app. Visit the 'Helplines and support' section in 'More'. 😊
What about getting 'back' to sleep when on night duties? 💭
Getting up to tend to your baby’s needs in the middle of the night not only means interrupted sleep but could mean you struggle to get back to sleep when you do get back to bed. If you are prone to this, try one of these three things:
Count backwards by 3’s from a crazy number like 6,534. It is hard enough that it will stop those pesky thoughts, yet boring enough to help you fall back to sleep. If you lose your place, just start again at any old number. If this is too hard, just count backwards by 1's or 2's. 🌱
Focus on your breathing using the 4-7-8 technique. Exhale completely. Breathe in to the count of 4 in your head. Hold your breath for the count of 7. Then make a whooshing sound as you breath out for the count of 8.
While we wouldn't usually recommend using your phone, if the above techniques haven't lulled you into slumber, try one of our meditations for this purpose; autogenic training where you are taken on a journey to feel each body part, or the visualisation meditations. Maybe the soothing sounds will be enough to put you back to sleep. 🎵
Finally, If none of the above techniques do the trick and you have been awake for longer than 20 minutes – The best thing to do is GET UP! There is no point tossing and turning and making yourself more anxious about trying to get sleep.
You want to reinforce the connection of bed with sleep, not bed with worry, stress, anxiety and tossing and turning. Get up and do something relaxing until you feel the heaviness of sleep return. Then put yourself back to bed. Remember, rest is good too, you will get through this. 💪