Parenting a newborn is no joke!
The tiny little secret about becoming a new parent is that “newborns and exhaustion” go together like peanut butter and jelly.
The exhaustion can feel indescribable for both exhausted dads and sleep-deprived moms. Sleep deprivation is a shock to the system and disrupts your body’s natural circadian rhythm, which can often set the stage for a cascade of anxiety and worry to boot. I vividly remember what it felt like to be up all night with a newborn, desperate for ways to get my baby on a sleep schedule and feel more well-rested myself.
It’s not just you and me who have felt this way -- since the dawn of time, new parents everywhere have craved good sleeping tips. I applaud you for looking for natural ways to sleep better -- you’re not alone in wanting to get off the sleep deprivation carousel you now find yourself on.
Debunking the 8-Hour Sleep Myth
Pre-baby, you may have slept a solid 8 hours and you’re longing to return to that sleep schedule. I'm not a newborn sleep specialist, so unfortunately, I can't get your baby on a sleep schedule. I am, however, a physicist who has spent years studying the science of sleep and can share some good news while you adjust to life with a nocturnal newborn: your own body doesn’t need to sleep for eight hours.
Where did this number come from, anyway?
Historically, we know that one long, uninterrupted period of sleep was not always the norm. But with the invention of electricity and the Industrial Revolution’s creation of the 8-hour workday, our bodies stopped following a close connection to nature.
What you’re aiming for now, mom and dad, is sleep quality instead of sleep quantity. Even the CDC doesn’t list 8 hours as necessary for adults.
Here at ChiliSleep, our team helps people from all walks of life achieve better sleep -- from people who are recovering from an illness or injury to high-performing athletes, from new parents to those who just hate sleeping hot. We have helped so many people create their ideal environment, temperature, and habits that lead to restful sleep.
Sleep Deprivation: 3 Sleep Tips for New Parents
In time, you too will be able to find a “new normal” for your sleep. Sleep deprivation with your baby won't last forever. Strive toward progress, not a magical, arbitrary 8-hour number.
Because you don’t have a lot of time as a new parent, use my quick ABCs to improve your quality of life amid sleep deprivation:
- Aim for exercise
- Be mindful of your health
- Create a consistent sleep routine
Sleep Tip #1: Aim for Exercise
When you’re feeling like a sleep-deprived zombie, everything can seem like a monumental task. The last thing you might feel like doing is squeezing in a workout, too! But trust me, you should aim to exercise, even a little bit, every day. Self-care is not selfish. So put the laundry down. Leave the dishes in the sink.
Back when my kids were younger, finding “me time” felt practically non-existent. But once I managed to drag myself away for a workout, I discovered energy that lasted throughout the day.
For new moms, make sure you’ve gotten the all-clear from your doctor to exercise. You’re not competing against anyone but yourself, so start slow: put the baby in a stroller and try a 30-minute walk around the neighborhood, or find a 20-minute exercise video to do at home. Hey, even spending 10 minutes stretching on your yoga mat can feel amazing.
Worry less about what time of day is best to exercise and just make time -- any time -- to boost your body’s endorphins and other feel-good hormones.
Sleep Tip #2: Be Mindful of Your Health
You’re in charge of a tiny human now -- it’s more important than ever to be at the top of your health game. Just like finding time to exercise isn’t selfish, neither is choosing better-quality fuel for your body.
Focus on eating a rainbow of fresh foods. Choose foods high in Vitamin C, like oranges, broccoli, and strawberries, as well as foods high in tryptophan, like turkey, eggs, and sunflower seeds.
Eating healthier and limiting alcohol will improve your immune system and improve your sleep quality, which can also help you lose weight. Yes, it’s true: what helps burn fat while sleeping is...more sleep! Unfortunately, alcohol raises your body’s internal temperature, which leads to poorer sleep quality because it reduces REM sleep (i.e., the best “fat-burning” phase of sleep).
When the body is well-rested, it’s able to replenish glycogen stores, reduce inflammation, boost motor skill development, and balance hormone levels naturally. If you’re looking to burn calories efficiently, next we’ll discuss why creating a sleep routine can help.
Sleep Tip #3: Create a Consistent Sleep Routine
From Sandra Boynton’s whimsical The Going to Bed Book to Adam Mansbach’s tongue-in-cheek Go the F*ck to Sleep, there’s no shortage of books focused on the oh-so-important bedtime routine.
In fact, creating a disciplined sleep routine now will pay off in the years to come. Once your baby starts sleeping through the night, next you’ll be asking how much sleep do older children need. By establishing consistency from the beginning, you’re instilling good “sleep hygiene” for the whole family.
Here are tips for creating an evening routine that will boost your sleep quality:
- Embrace JOMO. The opposite of FOMO (fear of missing out), a lot of parents develop a taste for JOMO, or the joy of missing out, when they realize that accepting a late-night dinner invitation isn’t worth the inevitable exhaustion the next day. Honoring your circadian rhythm, which helps to regulate your body’s temperature, heart rate, hormone production, organ function, and sleep cycle, will convince you that sticking to a “boring” routine surprisingly feels great!
- Dim the lights. After you swaddle your baby and turn off the lights in the nursery, try to do the same in your bedroom. At the end of the day, your brain is craving cooler, darker temperatures to sleep. Although humans no longer sleep outdoors, our bodies still expect the sun to go down and the environment to cool. Blue light -- whether from your phone or TV -- can also alter your body’s sleep signals, so put those phones away and turn off that late-night Netflix binge.
- Slow your racing mind. Now that you’ve prepped your bedroom for a good night’s rest, take some time to slow your racing mind. Start by focusing on your breathing. If you need help, download soothing sounds or try yoga Nidra (there are some great free samples online). As ChiliSleep’s yoga nidra expert Talei Allen recommends, first become aware of sound, then notice that there are different layers of sound. Talei has taught me that smooth, slow, abdominal breathing sends a signal to the nervous system to relax and return to a rhythm of healing, clarity, and freedom.
- Sleep cooler. If you sleep hot, or sleep next to a hot human furnace, you know that even with the tips above, your sleep quality can suffer. The key to unlocking the deepest sleep lies in temperature regulation. Our products -- Cube, OOLER®, or chiliBLANKET -- drop your temperature for more restful sleep and slowly warm you up at the appropriate point in the early morning. They’re also super-simple to use: just add water to the unit (which is pumped through the pad) and adjust the temperature to choose what works for you. Another great feature is our “WE” mattress pad lets you and your partner set different temperatures for each side of the bed.
Sleep Deprivation, Baby: Better Sleep Ahead
Maybe you’ve heard the cliche “the days are long but the years are short” and thought “Nope, nothing about parenting a baby feels short or easy.” Take my word for it, one day you’ll look back and in the blink of a (weary) eye, your baby will be a soundly sleeping toddler.
As a new parent, you may not always get the quantity of sleep you need. But using my tips above, you will certainly boost your sleep quality.
Sleep deprivation and newborns, the struggle is real! I like to say that a well-rested parent is a happier parent. I genuinely want to hear from you and the steps you’re taking to improve your sleep! Follow me on Instagram at @the_sleep_geek and let me know how you’re doing.