As everyone knows, hitting the sack is crucial for mental health. Sleep deprivation—a form of German torture in World War II—worsens depression and directly contributes to manic episodes. After a few days of working double-shifts, even neurotypical people start to hallucinate.
It is for these reasons that the recommendation for daily sleep is an eight hour period, give or take. All right, parents of newborns, say it with me: “Hahahaha! Yeah, right!”
Whew. Now that we’ve gotten that out of our systems, let’s discuss how we can get as much sleep as we can so our mental health isn’t compromised.
In short, do what works best for you. A crib in the room, a crib out of the room, or a playpen somewhere nearby—all of these choices are good ones. I know one mother who slept in a recliner for several years. Just make sure to cover your newborn with a light blanket, and introduce heavier ones more cautiously. Before bed, you can gently massage your child, and then feed them as much as they’ll take. If you have a partner, set a time to discuss who covers which blocks of baby care.
When my son Nolan was an infant, I co-slept with him to make nighttime breastfeeding easier—despite his having a beautiful, untouched crib in the next room. I was lucky that he enjoyed feeding while reclined, so I didn’t have to leave my bed, and was even able to doze. These snatches of sleep helped me regain my sanity during his first two years.
Studies demonstrate a causal link between bed-sharing and the prevention of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Children who slept with their mothers also appear to have a higher self-esteem, possibly because the infant’s signs of distress were more quickly addressed due to the parent’s proximity.
If you’re interested in trying co-sleeping, please take safety precautions. According to research, most fatalities are due to alcohol, cigarette smoke, soft mattresses, or heavy bedding. Older children may also endanger a newborn that they cannot sense while asleep.
Speaking of older children… Kids thrive in a structured environment, so they will usually go down easier—and sleep better—with an established routine. These three things may help:
- A place to call their own. If you can afford a permanent shelter, lay them down in the same bed every night. If not, give them a portable comfort object, like a favorite blanket or toy.
- A set bedtime. Nolan, now a preschooler, goes to bed at 8:30pm.
- One last hurrah. Books, playing, and baths are all wonderful choices. I sing one or two songs while tucking Nolan in. If you’re shy about singing, don’t be! Your babies will love your voice until they turn thirteen.
I hate to offer this advice, because my inconsistent behavior has made this process extremely difficult for me. Like cooking regular meals, enforcing a bedtime requires me to be on the ball night after night—a topic which will be covered in a future post. But despite the snags, maintaining at least this much structure has been the best action I have taken for Nolan.
When he gets his rest, I get mine—and then my whole family benefits.
What lengths have you gone to get your shut-eye? Any advice for surviving the first year with an infant?
Not to be taken in lieu of a treatment plan crafted with medical professionals.