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"Having peace, happiness and healthiness is my definition of beauty. And you can't have any of that without sleep." - Beyonce
When it comes to sleep, we’re willing to bet plenty of new parents have found themselves humming Joni Mitchell’s Yellow Taxi - “don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.”
Whether you’ve always been a great sleeper or had your fair share of struggles, nothing compares to the havoc that the arrival of a new baby will wreak on your sleep schedule. Suddenly, a tiny human who is brand new to the idea of daylight is controlling when everyone in your house rests or wakes. And between multiple nighttime feedings and friends and family offering the well-meant but impossible to follow advice to “Sleep when the baby sleeps,” it’s easy for sleep deprivation to kick in and make everything feel kind of impossible.
Disrupted sleep is a new parent rite of passage, but it doesn’t have to be all chaos and no zzzs. By setting your baby, and yourself, up well for the best possible sleep, you can bypass some of the hardships of sleeplessness and help everyone find a sleep rhythm that works for the whole family.
For starters, have a consistent bedtime routine - for everyone.
Humans are creatures of habit, and our minds and bodies respond well to consistency and routine. Figure out a time that’s realistic for your household to start moving toward sleep, and use it as the starting point of a routine you all can stick to. Maybe your routine will start after dinner:
6pm - All screens go off
6:45pm - Family walk around the block
7pm - Bath time for baby
7:30pm - Nightime feeding
7:45pm - Baby to bed with a lullaby
8pm - Nighttime house chores (like preparing coffee for the next day, starting the dishwasher, etc)
8:30pm - Rest and bonding time for parents
9pm - Lights out for parents
Your nighttime plan should feel right for your family - there aren’t really any rules. The idea is to practice consistency, which allows your body to pick up on cues and prepare for what’s coming next.
Keep screens and devices out of the bedroom.
As useful as our phones, tablets, and computers are, there’s pretty compelling evidence that they can significantly mess with our sleep. Create a charging station somewhere outside your family’s bedrooms, and make your sleep spaces a no-screen zone for everyone.
Use the natural rhythm of the sun.
Our brains and bodies respond to light, and using the natural light changes throughout the day can help your new baby find a solid sleep rhythm. Consider two layers of curtains on your nursery windows - blackout and sheer. Use the sheer curtains to allow the natural light you want, like the morning sun and the evening twilight, to filter into the room, and the blackout curtains to create sleep-signaling darkness for nap time.
If you’ve never tried waking up with natural light as your alarm, this might be a good time to let the light in - you may find it to be a gentler wake up!
Create a safe, soothing sleep environment.
Where you sleep matters almost as much as when. For baby, you’ll want to make sure their sleeping space is free of extra blankets, pillows, bumpers, or stuffies - just a fitted sheet and a sleep sack are all you need! Choose soothing colors and natural materials to create a sense of calm, and aim for a temperature that’s slightly cooler than might be in comfy in a tshirt - in the high 60s/low 70s. A white noise machine can mimic the sounds of the womb and drown out distracting noises that might keep baby awake. And remember to always lay baby to sleep on their back, at least up until their first birthday.
For yourself, try to keep the bedroom a sleep-only sanctuary whenever possible. Limit laundry mess or clutter to other parts of the house, and surround yourself with colors, scents, and textures that you love.
Prioritize movement and play during the day.
Another good way to create a healthy sleep rhythm is to get into the habit of moving, at least a little, every day. Whether it’s a walk in the fresh air, play time at the park, or a family dance party after breakfast, moving your body when it’s wake-up time will pay off when sleep time returns.
Soak up the snuggles.
Oxytocin - also known as the cuddle hormone - travels through some of the most ancient biological systems in our bodies to reduce stress and encourage bonding, calm, and well-being - all of which can lead to better sleep! Turning on your oxytocin production is simple: just snuggle your baby close to you. Skin-to-skin time with baby on your chest is one of the most effective ways to activate a little oxytocin magic for both you and your little one. Build some snuggle time into your daily routine, or your bedtime rituals, for an extra boost of “all is well” calm.
There are hundreds of strategies for baby sleep out there, and the truth is that every baby, and every family, is different. Our best advice is always to listen to your baby, your body, and your gut - over time, you’re bound to find the routines, rituals, and rhythms that work best for you.
Wishing you sweet dreams and easy sleep!