New Parent Insomnia: Coping With the Sleep Problems that Come with Having a New Baby

BY Nathan Wilson | July 14, 2016
New Parent Insomnia

Congratulations on being a new mom/dad, and welcome to the weird and wonderful world of parenting! Now that we’re done with the pleasantries, let’s get down to business. If this is your first time having a baby, you’re going to experience more than just a couple of sleepless nights and days.

This is completely normal and common for new parents. Think of ‘new parent insomnia’ as a rite of passage. Wear those sunken eyes with pride – it’s a sign that you’re doing everything you can to take care of your baby.

The good news is that there are plenty of tried and tested ways to take care of a newborn baby while still remaining sane, functional, and productive.

Understand Newborn Sleep Patternsbaby sleeping

One of the first things every new parent needs to do is read up on the typical newborn’s sleeping patterns. This will give you an idea of what to expect from your baby. For babies 0 to 3 months old, the National Sleep Foundation recommends 14 to 17 hours of sleep over every 24-hour period. As you can tell, this already conflicts with the recommended daily amount of sleep for adults aged 18 to 64, which is just 7 to 9 hours. It’s important to understand these facts because the difference between adult and newborn sleeping patterns is the root of a lot of parenting-related sleeping problems. During the first couple weeks, you have no choice but to adjust to your baby’s strange sleeping schedule, whatever it may be. For most parents, this will inevitably lead to bouts of ‘new parent insomnia’ or erratic sleeping patterns.

Another thing to watch out for is the fact that unlike us adults, newborn babies still haven’t fully developed their circadian rhythms – the biological clocks that naturally regulate wakefulness and sleep. For some babies, it could take months for them to adapt to sleeping during the night and being awake and fully alert during the day. And when they finally do adapt to sleeping with most of the world at night, they’ll still need to take naps in the morning or afternoon.

Sleep When the Baby’s Asleep

This is one of the simplest ways to stave off new parent insomnia. Obviously, this could be impossible to do if you’re also holding down a regular nine-to-five job. But if you’re a stay-at-home parent or if your work is home-based, you should be able to get you and your baby’s sleeping schedules in sync with one other. Doing this will allow you to be alert and awake when your baby is up, which means that you can better take care of his or her needs.

This may mean sticking to somewhat irregular sleeping patterns for some time. Again, for new parents and babies, this is normal. Just make sure that you get about 7 to 9 hours of sleep a day while your baby gets around 14 to 17 hours. As long as both of you gets the right amount of hours asleep, you can work with whatever sleep schedule your baby sticks with.

Don’t worry because pretty soon, you won’t have to work with erratic sleeping schedules. When your baby’s about 6 to 8 weeks (around 2 months) old, his or her sleeping patterns become easier to regulate. This is the time to make sure that your baby sleeps the longest during the night and gets frequent enough naps throughout the day.

Create and Stick to Your Baby’s Sleep Schedule

How many hours does your baby normally sleep throughout the night? How many naps does he or she take during the day and how long do these naps last? Take this all into consideration with the fact that newborns need a minimum of 14 hours of sleep per day. From there, create a sleeping schedule for your baby, and no matter what happens, stick to it.

It’s perfectly fine to wake your child before he or she oversleeps after a long sleep or a nap. Babies may cry and protest when prematurely awakened, but that’s only because they don’t know it’s for their own good. The better you can keep your baby’s sleep schedule on track, the better you can ensure that you yourself can get enough sleep and stay functional and productive as a working parent.

Design and Schedule Activities around Your Baby’s Sleep Schedule

Teaching babies to stick to regular sleep schedules is going to be crucial to their having normal sleeping patterns as they grow up. You can aid in this process by designing activities that are conducive to regularizing your baby’s sleeping patterns.

– Expose your baby to natural light during the day. This helps a lot in developing your baby’s natural hormonal responses to light and darkness – the biological rhythms that control wakefulness and sleep. For the same reason, when your baby naps during the day, make sure it’s in a dark, cool, and quiet place that’s highly conducive for sleeping. 

– Schedule playtime and other stimulating activities in the morning. Your baby is most active and alert several minutes after waking up from a long, restorative sleep. Take advantage of this by engaging your baby’s mind and body during these hours before he or she takes the first nap of the day. This lets your baby know early on when he or she should be alert, awake, and engaged. It also helps tire your baby out so it’s easier to put him or her to bed come nighttime.  

– Create and develop bedtime rituals. Read a story to your baby before bedtime. Put your baby in the comfiest pajamas you can find. Sing a sleep-inducing lullaby while cradling your baby to sleep. As your baby shows signs of sleepiness, lay him or her down on the bed. Any pre-bedtime ritual that’s done with love and consistency can help calm and relax your baby when it’s time to go to sleep.

– Split baby duties with your spouse. If you’re lucky enough to share the responsibility of parenting with another adult, split the baby-related chores 50/50. Alternate nights when one of you has to get up to feed the kid. Schedule which hours of the day which parent is primarily responsible for all the baby’s needs. Two heads are definitely better than one; take full advantage of this by planning schedules that work for you, your co-parent, and the baby.