We know sleep is important. The big irony is that sleep is especially crucial for a chunk of the population that historically gets it the least: new parents. On average, mums get six hours of sleep a night, but not the kind of deep, consistent REM that recharges and reinvigorates. Unfortunately between the constant urgency to meet an infant’s needs—feeding, changing, comforting—they’re lucky to get half of that in.
There are few subjects that get new parents riled up as much as talking about their baby’s sleep (OK, and maybe their poop). However much they’re getting, it isn’t enough and they’re not sure how to get their little ones to sleep more.
Sleep deprivation is the number one problem you face as the parent of a young child. It is a horrible nuisance at best; at its worst it can lead to marital conflict and postpartum depression.
It makes it hard for you to lose your baby weight because you’re exhausted and not exercising so you consume extra calories to give you energy – I know I’m guilty of sneaking extra tim-tams to give me a quick boost. And don’t get me started on my caffeine consumption! Often mothers are so sleep deprived they also experience poor concentration and lose all self confidence which can lead to many disorders including anxiety, panic attacks, as well as a hormone imbalance.
There are even studies now that refer to being chronically tired as “drunk parenting“! The concept refers to a state of mind sleep-deprived parents (dads, too) reach when exhaustion becomes a trigger for the kind of forgetfulness, and sometimes depression, that’s not unlike being drunk.
And worst is that studies show when you’re getting six hours of sleep a night or less, you’re the equivalent of drunk. So you can be basically drunk parenting even when you don’t know it! It’s no wonder sleep deprivation is used as a torture technique!
Enter Cheryl Fingleson, aka The Sleep Coach. Cheryl works one on one with families around Sydney helping them with things like settling and sleep techniques, establishing a good routine, discipline in the home, transition from cot to bed, potty training, safe co-sleeping, and identifying signs of postpartum depression.
We recently sat down with Cheryl for a Facebook Live video to talk about her tips on how to get your baby to sleep and in some kind of routine.
Top tips for exhausted parents of newborns
Create a flexible feeding and sleeping routine.
In the early days of parenthood it’s easy to start to feel a bit like a prisoner locked up in your own home. The baby seems to always either be sleeping or feeding. You’ve not managed to shower for days and are surviving on a few bits of toast every now and again or things you can eat with one hand.
We know that it’s important for your own mental health to still stay social and maintain your relationships both with your partner and your friends. But then when you are trying to get your baby to sleep, they find themselves grappling with how to stick to the routine and remain consistent away from home.
Have the same routine every night.
An easy way to help maximise your little one’s sleep is to create a predictable bedtime routine. The key to a bedtime routine is to follow the same predictable pattern of events before bedtime, every night. This signals to your baby or toddler that it is time to wind down and get sleepy. If the routine keeps changing, then you are missing out on all the benefits that a strong routine has to offer. Focus on creating a pattern of pre-bed activities, and then make sure to follow it every night.
Also, the bedtime routine should happen at roughly the same time each night, in relation to your baby’s last nap. However, many families start the bedtime too late, which pushes bedtime even later. Remember, it should take your baby roughly 10 minutes to fall asleep, so you need to get him or her into the cot ahead of time. The goal is always to get your baby or toddler to bed before they are over-tired; helping him or her fall asleep easily – and stay asleep through the night (ironically, an over-tired child will tend to wake more frequently through the night).
Watch for tired signs.
The sleep window is that perfect window of time in which a baby is ready for sleep, and will calmly and happily go to sleep. It’s so important that you read your baby’s sleep signs and don’t miss their window – otherwise you can be sure nap times (and even night times) won’t go to plan.
Every baby has their own sleep signs — a glazed look, a yawn, or some agitated movements (depending on their age) and you need to act straight away, because it’s a very small window! Otherwise your baby will find it so hard to self-settle. You’d think that an exhausted baby would go to sleep really easily and quickly. But in fact the opposite is true. The more overtired your baby is, the harder they will find it to self-soothe and settle. And then what happens is they pass out from exhaustion but will inevitably wake up a short time later, because they land up having a catnap and not a good, rejuvenating sleep during the day, and will wake more frequently during the night. So really those missed sleep windows can set in motion a downwards spiral of difficulty in going to sleep, and staying asleep.
Watch your baby closely, but if your baby doesn’t show sleep signals, then you’ve got to watch that clock! Different aged babies have different awake times, and it’s important to create and stick to your baby’s routine.
Create a sleep-friendly environment.
Black out blinds, to keep the room dark and the right bed linen make the world of difference.
As the seasons change, fluctuating temperatures can make choosing the right sleepwear a bit of a challenge. As the nights get cooler, wrapping your child up in their winter PJs and adding an extra blanket to the bed seems like the obvious next step, but kids can get too hot very fast. Helping them get a healthy night’s sleep means choosing the right clothes and layers, and monitoring the temperatures. Think of how you go to bed at night, then add one extra layer for your children.
Keep it calm.
Ergherm…. this one is particularly good for the Dad’s and Uncle’s to pay attention to. Steer clear of any winding-up activities. The activities that are part of your baby or toddler’s bedtime routine should be calming and soothing. Reading books even from newborn age is a great habit to get into.
Total sleep is 16 to 18 hours, spread over day and night.
Newborns are usually awake for the length of time it takes to feed and change their nappy. At this age your baby may need help to get to sleep if they don’t sleep quickly, once put down. If your baby falls asleep before the 40 minutes, don’t wake him/her! Often newborns battle to sleep for hours, even though you try settling them. Remember they need the sleep, do what you can to help your baby. This is where consistency starts and will help in the end.
For more information, Cheryl has a great guide on her website referring to specific ages. Click here for more.
The best fabrics to choose for your baby to get a good night’s sleep
FLANNEL is a loosely knit fabric typically made from wool, cotton, or synthetic fibres (bedding and sleepwear is usually made of cotton flannel). It is known for its softness, warmth, and affordability.
COTTON is usually a natural lightweight fabric that is soft to the touch. It’s breathable, allowing the air to circulate, and doesn’t irritate the skin. Cotton does not have insulation though, so you can get cold in cooler weather, but for those that get night sweats this is the best fabric to sleep in.
FLEECE is a kind of polyester which warms you quickly, but doesn’t allow air to circulate. You may find it makes you perspire easily, and wakes you by making you too hot.
WOOL fabrics will keep you warm but they do promote overheating. Wool may also irritate sensitive skin, causing itchiness which can wake you.
BAMBOO has a silky feeling on the skin, and is a natural moisture-wicker, so it keeps you at a comfortable temperature. Plus, it’s hypoallergenic and may have anti-bacterial properties that are beneficial for allergy sufferers.
Find sleepwear that is comfortable for your child – a little loose rather than tight-fitting, with no buttons, tags or binding that may irritate them during the night.
For kids who get very cold feet, lightweight socks are a great option, but remember if their feet are too warm, it can cause their entire body to overheat, and wake up.
Sleep Myths Busted
Tiptoeing around a sleeping baby:
There’s this misconception that your baby needs absolute silence to fall and/or stay sleep. What the baby is used to—and is most comfortable with—is the sound of the womb, which is as loud as a vacuum cleaner 24/7. So to keep a baby in a completely quiet room is the equivalent of sensory deprivation—the right amount of noise is an integral part of creating a sleep-friendly environment.
It’s all up to you and your partner:
The biggest lie for new parents is that it’s normal to raise a baby with just two partners; that’s never been the norm in human history, parents always had support. Up until one hundred years ago, everyone had a whole army of nannies—grandmothers, aunts, cousins, and neighbours. Parents today think that they don’t deserve support, that they should suck it up and do it all on their own. In reality, what parents are doing now is nothing short of heroic and they need to pat themselves on the back and accept that they deserve help.
Still having problems? Talk to a sleep consultant.
Google has 18 million search results when you type in “newborn sleep tips” and Amazon has more than 20,000 baby books on sleep! There is an overload of information for parents to sift through. Every child is different and it can be overwhelming to find the correct gentle sleep plan for your child.
Sleep is a learnt skill. Parents can teach their children how to sleep, however this can be a very stressful process. It is comforting to have the guidance and reassurance provided by a trained sleep consultant. A sleep consultant tailors a sleep routine to your family lifestyle and needs, as well as to your baby’s unique requirements.
At 4-5 months some babies are capable of learning gentle sleep skills or “sleep shaping”. However, this should be carefully assessed, preferably by a doctor or a sleep consultant. 6-9 Months is the ideal time for gentle sleep coaching. At this stage they are developmentally ready to learn independent sleep skills and it will more likely be a long term solution.
If you know of, or have used any great sleep coaches in your area, leave a comment on this page below and share their details and website for further information below.
If you liked this, you might like some of the stories in our FREE RESOURCES tab. Check out The 4th Trimester: How to create an after birth plan.