Parents and sleep: Even before you become a parent, you’re told that babies equal sleep deprivation. And yes, most babies do wake regularly —initially for feeds, and then after that for a whole host of other reasons too. It’s true. Babies do come hand in hand with a lack of sleep, but what makes for lost sleep for one family may not for another — and it might not always be the baby’s fault! Here are the top three reasons why parents lose sleep.
When you become a parent, life can suddenly take on a whole new meaning. Overnight you turn from a carefree adult responsible only for yourself, into a considerably less carefree adult responsible for a whole new, very dependent little person. This can be hugely daunting! And parenthood itself can introduce worries over things that previously weren’t necessarily issues before. Money, work, childcare, diet, nap times, nappy contents … the list goes on.
So many parents tell me that worry keeps them awake at night just as much — if not more, in some cases — as baby does. If this sounds familiar, you could try keeping a journal and writing down everything that’s on your mind. Lots of people find it helpful to do this just before bed, so that they can close the journal on the worries for the night and go back to them the next day when they’re feeling a little more rested. It also helps to talk. If you have worries that are keeping you awake, don’t keep them to yourself. Talk to a friend or family member and solutions may become obvious.
You finally get the baby to sleep, so now it’s your turn to sleep. Only you spend literally hours waiting and waiting for sleep to take you … and nothing happens. Lots of parents suffer from insomnia from time to time, and experts aren’t always in agreement as to why. It can be a combination of worry and anxiety (see above) but it could also be a combination of other external factors too. Is your bedroom dim? Are you using a screen too close to bedtime? Are you drinking too much caffeine? All of these factors can affect the amount of sleep that we get each night and can lead to insomnia — which is the last thing you need when you have children to take care of!
Diet and exercise
It can be something of a vicious circle at times. You’re tired so the last thing you want is to go to the gym, and all you want to eat is comfort food. But what you eat and how often you move your body can directly link to how much (or how little) sleep you’re getting at night. So many parents neglect their own health and place their own wellbeing at the bottom of their priorities, and this can be a huge reason why you’re not sleeping well. Too much sugar, caffeine and fatty foods can play havoc with your sleep cycles, and a lack of exercise can result in lethargy and broken sleep.
Try to plan out healthy meals and aim to get outside for a walk at least once a day if you do nothing else. Drink plenty of water and make your own health a priority. Better sleep should follow, and you’ll benefit from a new lease of energy during the day too.
This column was previously published on childrenssleepconsultant.com.
Editor’s note: Publication of an opinion piece does not mean Seattle’s Child or its staff endorses the views of the author.
More on sleep:
Sleep training for parents: After young kids, adults often have to relearn how to sleep soundly.
New Mom Dispatch: Confessions of a sleep trainer
Sleep consultants offer solutions to children’s sleep problems