When my son was a newborn and we would visit my older sister, she would always be militant about getting her kids off to bed on time. I thought she was being too firm and she would always look in my direction and say knowingly, “Sleep is sooooo important.” Though, she and I have had very different sleep strategies for our children, over the years I have often come back to the deeper truth in her words. Maintaining good sleep habits or figuring out what that meant for our little one didn’t always come easily to us. Are you experiencing sleep issues with your kiddo? Is good sleep a priority in your household?
Through the Queer Birth Project, I co-host a parenting support group for new parents who are LGBTQ identified. Sometimes this group will discuss topics that are important to LGBTQ parents specifically, but many times the discussion turns to topics that all parents face. At our last monthly meeting, the new parents discussed sleep – and more specifically getting more of it!
Here are some of my best tips and some additions from the group to get more sleep:
- Prioritize good sleep habits for your family. Commit as a family to the importance of getting everyone a good night’s rest. Establish a regular bedtime routine and follow it as many nights as possible. Work to accommodate age-appropriate lengths of sleep. Adults should work on healthy sleep habits as well – sometimes this takes compromise amongst the adults!
- Sleep when the baby sleeps, if possible. This applies to both parents during the newborn period but should also apply to any parent of an older baby/child who is sleep deprived. This isn’t always practical as other responsibilities may make napping or early bedtimes impossible but, when possible, adults should prioritize sleep too. Everyone at the parenting support group agreed wholeheartedly that this is easier said than done!
- Get more sleep to get more sleep. It seems counter intuitive, but for most babies and some toddlers, skipping naps can make for harder bedtimes and increased night waking. Consistent napping and bedtime routines are important for most babies. This can be a balancing act for busy families and those with multiple children.
- Question rigid ideas on where a baby should sleep. Studies show that safe and unsafe sleep happens for babies who sleep alone in a crib and for babies who co-sleep. The key is to find safe sleep practices using sleep locations that facilitate the most amount of sleep for all family members. Keep in mind this may need to change as your baby(ies) change and grow. Babies should always be put to sleep on their backs.
- Have honest conversations about sleep and sleep deprivation among the adults in the household. If one parent is exclusively nursing or can sleep with the baby during the day, it may make more sense for that parent to handle more of the nighttime parenting. Households function better with only one sleep deprived parent. The parent getting the most sleep should step up and handle more tasks to keep the household functioning smoothly. If one parent is doing most of the nighttime parenting during the week due to work schedules, then find creative ways for that parent to get breaks and additional sleep on the weekend.
- Get a 4-hour chunk of sleep at some point in the night. Be open to creativity here. This may mean going to sleep early in the evening when baby goes down initially or maybe staying in bed at the end of the night when partner gets up with baby for the day. Many new parents get 7-8 hours of sleep over 10-12 hours in bed.
- Be wary of aggressive sleep training regimes. If your gut tells you it isn’t right for you or your baby, listen to that.
- Adjust your expectations, Our society has many expectations on what babies and their parents should or shouldn’t be doing and bedtime and sleep is no exception. One of the most common questions new parents get is, “Is she/he sleeping through the night?” New babies aren’t designed biologically to sleep through the night and, as they grow, formula fed and breastfeed babies tend to have different sleep patterns. Generic statements around what babies should and shouldn’t do may not apply to your little one. What matters are the needs of your baby at various stages and how your family chooses to respond to those needs.
- “This too shall pass….” Babies and toddlers change at a tremendous rate and so do their sleep patterns. Know that if your little one is having sleep trouble, they will likely move on to more restful nights in the future.
Some resources that may be helpful:
The No Cry Sleep Solution, by Elizabeth Pantley – www.nocrysolution.com
The Baby Sleep Book, by Martha and William Sears – www.AskDrSears.com
The Science of Baby Sleep – www.secretsofbabybehavior.com
Breastfeeding and Nighttime Parenting – www.kellymom.com
Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory – www.cosleeping.nd.edu
The Gentle Sleep Book – www.gentlesleeptraining.co.uk