Are you a new parent and wondering when you will finally be able to sleep through the night? Know that you are not alone! Becoming a parent is a wonderful time of life but it also comes with many challenges including sleep deprivation. From birth, sleeping patterns are not regular. Sleep is fragmented into several periods of two or three hours with no difference between day and night. Therefore, your baby will need you frequently during the night! So yes, becoming a parent involves significant sleep deprivation for parents, both during pregnancy and the postpartum period.
Sleep changes during pregnancy
Already during pregnancy, expectant mothers begin to experience changes related to their sleep. As fatigue and the need for sleep increase (especially during the first and third semesters of pregnancy), several challenges arise that interfere with sleep:
- The more the pregnancy progresses, the more frequent the need to urinate becomes…even during the night! In addition to causing multiple awakenings in order to go to the bathroom, it can sometimes be difficult to get back to sleep afterwards.
- Body changes and back pain also cause discomfort and sometimes it becomes more difficult to find a comfortable position to sleep.
- Gastric reflux is a common disorder during pregnancy that can also affect sleep.
- Hormonal changes associated with pregnancy can also interfere with sleep patterns.
- Although charming, the baby’s little kicks can also make it difficult to sleep!
- In addition to the normal changes associated with pregnancy, certain sleep disorders may also appear during this time, such as obstructive sleep apnea and restless legs syndrome. Sometimes, worries about pregnancy or the upcoming arrival of the baby can also promote or exacerbate the presence of nightmares and insomnia. If in doubt, it is important to talk to your doctor.
The more the pregnancy progresses, the more the body of future mothers is transformed and therefore, these challenges tend to increase.
Tips for improving sleep during pregnancy
Sleep is important at all stages of life, but special care should be taken during pregnancy as the baby is developing. Maybe you think that sleeping well during pregnancy is an impossible task? Here are some tips to help you!
1. Focus on your sleep hygiene
Focusing on good sleep hygiene is always the basis for quality sleep. For example, avoid screens before sleep and caffeine at the end of the day, favour light meals before going to bed, make sure to have blackout curtains, ensure that the temperature of the room is not too hot or too cold and above all, maintain a regular bedtime and waking up schedule.
2. Stay hydrated
Staying hydrated is essential during pregnancy and can also help you sleep well and reduce muscle cramps. On the other hand, it is advisable to avoid drinking too much at bedtime so as not to increase nightly visits to the bathroom!
3. Adapt your sleeping position
It is generally more comfortable for pregnant women to sleep on their side. Some women enjoy and benefit from using a body pillow to find a more comfortable sleeping position. Sleeping with your head slightly elevated can also help reduce breathing difficulties and gastric reflux.
4. Stay active!
Staying active during the day and participating in moderate physical activity can also contribute to good sleep. If in doubt about the type of activity, do not hesitate to talk to your doctor
This is it! The baby has arrived!
Welcoming the baby: how lacking in sleep are you?
Parents’ sleep deprivation is an inescapable reality of the postpartum period. The baby’s sleep patterns are not yet regular and he/she will frequently need their parents during the night. Not only is parents’ sleep duration reduced, but sleep also becomes more fragmented, meaning that there will be several awakenings during the night. Some studies show that parents’ sleep remains disrupted for years after the birth of a child, so you are not alone!
When we think of babies waking up, we often think of the mother waking up to breastfeed or the parent getting up to bottle-feed. However, even the parent who does not get up to feed the baby also feels an impact on their sleep. Sleep deprivation in the postpartum context, which can affect both parents, should not be underestimated.
Being a parent also means being caring…even at night!
Not only do parents see their sleep diminished and fragmented, but there is also the stress of potentially being woken up at any time, much like healthcare workers or first responders. When we are attentive and alert at night, our sleep is less restful. This alertness about the baby’s crying also increases the possibility of developing chronic insomnia.
What are the direct impacts of lack of sleep on parents?
Becoming a parent is a wonderful and exciting time. However, don’t forget that this is an important life transition. Like all life transitions, it comes with moments of happiness, but also with challenges. This should not be forgotten! In addition to adjusting to their new roles, parents also have to cope with severe sleep deprivation. When we lack sleep, several aspects of our lives are affected.
- MOOD: This is often what you notice first! When we lack sleep, we become more irritable, we feel more easily frustration, sadness, anger…all our emotions become more intense. Some parents feel guilty about not always feeling happy during this time. You have to give yourself the right to experience this range of emotions. In addition, a significant drop in hormones after childbirth can lead to “baby blues” (about 80% of women). It is generally temporary (a few hours to 15 days) and most of the time disappears without intervention. However, if symptoms of depression and anxiety set in and persist, do not hesitate to discuss them with a healthcare professional.
- COGNITIVE FUNCTIONS: Maybe you feel like your attention, focus and judgement are not functioning at full capacity? Or that your memory is playing tricks on you? It’s also a consequence of your lack of sleep! In fact, since sleep is essential for the proper functioning of your brain, sleep deprivation also has effects on cognitive functions.
- SOCIAL RELATIONS: Now that you are spending a lot more time at home with your baby and your partner, it’s a new way of life. Considering your lack of sleep and the emotional and cognitive impacts, you may also see effects on your social interactions. It is normal to feel irritated by your partner and baby once in a while. However, if these feelings persist, it is a good idea to talk to your doctor and to look to those around you for support. It is important to communicate well with your partner and to spend time with him/her during this period when you are developing your relationship with your baby.
13 Tips to improve your postpartum sleep situation
Talk to your partner about your sleep, both during pregnancy and regularly after your baby is born. Your sleep needs can change over time, and while this is obvious to you, it may not necessarily be to your partner. Ideally, discussions should take place during the day at a quieter time and not…in the middle of the night!
2. Take turns
If it is convenient for both of you, you can agree on a schedule to take turns looking after your baby overnight. Some parents rotate the nights; other parents divide the night in half according to their preferred schedule.
3. Involve your partner
Know that even if you are breastfeeding, your partner may be in charge of your baby’s awakenings. He or she can be alert for awakenings, pick up the baby, change his or her diaper and bring him/her to you for breastfeeding. This will make your sleep much less disturbed than if you had done all of these tasks yourself. Some breastfeeding mothers choose to express their milk ahead of time so that their partner can take over at night as well.
5. Learn to say no to extra responsibilities!
Lower your demands and prioritize sleep: it doesn’t matter if your cleaning and the dishes are not done! And notifications on your cell phone can certainly wait…!
6. Avoid screens during the night
During nocturnal awakenings, avoid television and social networks and try to dim the light. The screens stimulate you emotionally and cognitively, in addition to sending a wake-up message to your brain and to your baby’s brain with blue light.
7. Select light meals before bedtime
8. Avoid alcohol consumption
Alcohol makes sleep more fragmented. It causes frequent nocturnal awakenings, sometimes prolonged ones (inability to go back to sleep), or a very early morning awakening. It greatly shortens the duration of REM sleep (the period of sleep during which we dream), a stage of sleep that is nevertheless very important for maintaining a good mood and for several cognitive functions. Most importantly, alcohol can have negative and dangerous impacts on your baby if you are impaired and/or choose to consume while you are breastfeeding. It is advisable to follow the recommendations of the Public Health Agency of Canada.
9. Avoid caffeine
When consumed in the evening, caffeine can affect the quality of your sleep. This is true even when you are able to fall asleep after a cup of coffee or other caffeinated beverages and even if you feel like you have slept well. The magnitude of caffeine’s effects on sleep can differ from person to person depending on age, our sensitivity to caffeine, when we drank coffee, how much we eat and our genetics! (For more information on the effects of caffeine, click here)
10. Avoid stressful tasks during the evening
11. Stay active!
Exercise during the day as recommended by your doctor, but avoid exercise for two hours before going to bed. Prioritize morning walks. In addition to being in good physical shape, you will be exposing yourself to light and sending a clear message to your body clock (day-night contrast), which will help improve your sleep.
12. Get emotional support
Talk and get help from a sleep specialist if you think you have a sleep disorder, talk to your partner, those around you, your doctor or a psychologist, if your mood becomes affected and you feel that the “baby blues” are getting worse .
13. And most importantly…
Try to develop realistic expectations about your baby’s sleep! It is normal for a baby to wake up at night and to have very different sleep patterns from night to night and it’s also different from baby to baby. Don’t feel guilty about this! Understand that sleep is a developmental and dynamic process that will help you better get through this time. It’s like learning to walk. It doesn’t just happen in one step!