Hush, little mama: Sleep strategies for tired mothers

Think: quality, not quantity

Hush, little mama: Sleep strategies for tired mothers

I was a medical student, resident, and fellow before I ever became a mom.


Sometimes, I worked 30+ hours straight as often as twice a week when on call.

I learned how to run on 5-6 hours of sleep most nights.

So when I had a baby, I was certain I’d be fine.

Sleep deprivation and I had a long history.

But, I. WAS. WRONG.

You see, there’s a huge difference between 5-6 hours of refreshing, restful sleep and the equivalent in fragmented ‘new mommy’ sleep.

Studies have shown that new moms actually get a decent amount of sleep—an average of 7.2 hours to be exact—but they don’t get the quality, deep sleep they desperately need.

Their sleep patterns actually resemble those of people suffering from sleep conditions like sleep apnea where one spends enough total hours asleep but not enough hours in restorative sleep.

So how does this work exactly?

Patterns of sleep typically happen in 90-minute cycles.

So, a new mom whose sleep is interrupted by a crying baby may not get enough full cycles of sleep.

And sometimes, she may not get any at all.

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That’s why you’re better off getting 6 hours of high quality sleep than low quality sleep for a longer period of time.

Quality is better than quantity when it comes to sleep.

And if, like me, you’re a new mom with a baby or even a one-year-old who makes a full night of uninterrupted sleep a rare luxury, here are some things to think about:

Nap smart: Try to get in a full cycle of sleep

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If you’re severely sleep-deprived, a 15-minute power nap probably won’t do anything for you.

So when your baby goes down for a nap, put aside your To-Do-List and try to sleep for 90+ minutes (or as much of that as possible).

Naps can be really restorative especially when you’re not guaranteed to have a perfect night of sleep.

Teach daddy how to help

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No one ever said you had to do all of this alone. In fact, it’s really important to ask for help.

Teach daddy how to do a nighttime feeding so that you can get in some much needed shut-eye.

Even if you’re exclusively breastfeeding, you can pump and have your partner bottle feed at night.

Pay attention to your mood

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The baby blues and postpartum depression are real medical conditions.

If you feel like you may be affected, be sure to see your doctor.

Sleep deprivation can definitely impact your mood and often unmask feelings of sadness, guilt, hopelessness and more.

The first several months of your baby’s life can be the most challenging when it comes to sleep deprivation for you.

You are not alone and things will get better. I, too, remember feeling like a zombie during that first year, but prioritizing naps over household chores really helped.

And, self-care was high priority for me. Remember to take care of your own needs—especially your need for sleep.

It’s not optional.

Cheers to all that you hardworking, loving, selfless mamas do!

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