How new parents can survive sleep deprivation

We speak to experts about how to make it through these bleary early days.
A new baby typically feeds between eight and 12 times every 24 hours, which leaves little time for sleep. iStockphoto
A new baby typically feeds between eight and 12 times every 24 hours, which leaves little time for sleep. iStockphoto

A friend of mine recently posted on Facebook: "Can you die of sleep deprivation? Because I think I might."

Exhaustion has a huge effect on the lives of new parents and recent research found that sleepless nights caused by crying babies can take their toll on marriages. The poll, which was commissioned by Channel 4 in the UK, surveyed 2,000 parents and found that 30 per cent of those who had divorced or separated blamed interrupted nights caused by their children.

In a bid to save your sanity and your sacred vows, here are some tips on surviving sleepless nights.

Rest, rest, rest

"It is normal for a new baby to feed between eight and 12 times within 24 hours, which can be hard for mothers as tiredness tends to be accumulative," says Dru Campbell, the head midwife at Health Bay Polyclinic, Dubai (

"This is why you should try to get as much rest as possible. During night feeds, dim the lighting and sit in a comfortable chair so you get a chance to rest at the same time, or feed your baby while lying down in bed. Never do this on a couch, or if either parent has been smoking or drinking."

Work as a team

"On average, most people require six to eight hours of consecutive sleep a night," says Dr Raymond Hamden, a sleep expert and clinical psychologist at the Human Relations Institute, Dubai (

"Therefore, you and your partner need to work together and set a schedule for sleep. This may involve daytime naps to compensate for broken nights." Perhaps you can have an hour's nap when your husband gets home from work, or you can take it in turns to have lie-ins at the weekend.

For those precious moments, arm yourself with an eye mask, ear plugs and a boring book to help you sleep easy.

Let your house get dirty

Simply sleep when your baby sleeps; everything else can wait. "It is very tempting to try to do chores, wash dishes, sort out laundry and clean floors when your baby is asleep. But accept that your house is dirty and messy and go to sleep because once baby is up, you have to be up, too," says Dr Margaret Park, a sleep specialist at Rush University Medical Center, Chicago.

Maximise your sleep potential

Your baby might not be physically able to sleep through the night, but there are ways of making sure that you sleep well when you have the chance. "Good sleep patterns can be achieved with a diet of no sugar or caffeine, plenty of fruit and vegetables and five glasses of water a day," says Hamden.

"One hour before you go to sleep, drink some herbal tea and 15 minutes before bed have a warm bubble bath. Make sure your bed is a place just for sleep. Don't watch TV or use your computer in bed."

Zap anxiety

Many new parents feel anxious and this can make it difficult to sleep, especially if you're worried that you won't hear your baby cry. "A baby is a natural alarm clock and mothers in particular tend to be attuned to their baby's crying," says Park.

If you are concerned that you won't hear your baby or if the nursery is far away from your bedroom, buy a monitor and keep it near you. Remember that your baby is safe, and if he cries for a few minutes before you hear him, he will be OK.

Take a break

"Make sure you look after you," says Campbell. "Take some time out, even if it is just for an hour to go and have a coffee and read a magazine by yourself. Taking a break is OK. Remember this is the most important job you will ever have and you will not be able to do it if you aren't looking after yourself."

Avoid clock-watching

It's easy to get caught up with how many hours (or minutes) you've had to sleep, or how long feeds are taking and how long it will be until the next one. This can make you feel stressed and highlight how little sleep you're getting. Instead, try to relax so you find it easy to nod off once your baby is satisfied.

How to get your baby to sleep through the night

Some babies can sleep through a six-hour stretch from as early as six weeks old. For most, however, it won't happen until they are four to six months old. Here's how you can encourage your baby to sleep for longer stretches.

• "I recommend mums use an app like Baby Connect or Baby Log to track their baby's behaviour as it will help you understand their sleep patterns," says the Dubai-based midwife and parent educator, Cecile de Scally (

• Stick to a routine so your baby knows when sleep time is near. A warm bath, a book or a song can help a child wind down.

• From the time he is about six weeks old, give your baby the chance to fall asleep on his own. Put him down on his back when he's sleepy but still awake. "It won't work at first, but the more you try, the better it becomes," says de Scally. If you rock or feed your baby to sleep, he may struggle to settle himself when he wakes in the night.

• Let your baby nap if he needs to. The better he sleeps during the day, the easier it will be for him to fall asleep at night. Avoid letting him become overtired.

• Try not to rush to your baby. "Attend but do not pick up your baby at the first cry," de Scally says. "Go to your baby and put your hands on him and talk in a reassuring voice." After a few minutes, he may settle himself.

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Published: April 30, 2013 04:00 AM


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