“If you’re tired, just sleep when your baby sleeps.”
Sounds familiar? If you’re a new or expecting mama, you’ve probably heard this more times that you can count. In theory, it’s a great recommendation! But in practice… it doesn’t work for everyone.
We’ll start with the most obvious problem: many new moms have to go back to work a few weeks after their babies are born and don’t have the luxury of catnapping throughout the day. (Though hats off to you if you’ve figured out how to pump and nap simultaneously at work!)
But even for those mamas who are at home with their babies, it’s oftentimes impractical to snooze during the day. We’re busy ladies; we have tasks to accomplish! Most stay-at-home moms are also the primary family caretakers and, as such, are responsible for household chores such as cooking, cleaning and laundry. One new mama recently said to me, “I’ll sleep when my baby sleeps… if I can cook when he cooks and clean when he cleans.” While in theory we could sleep during the day, an overflowing laundry basket often seems more urgent.
Lastly, maybe you don’t want to use the limited quiet moments of your day for sleeping. As a new mom, I found it much more appealing to watch an episode of Scandal, read some chick lit, or serenely cook dinner without having to simultaneously bounce my son’s Baby Bjorn with my foot. I was exhausted, but still needed time to do something to feel like me.
So, without further ado, some recommendations for mamas (or papas) who can’t (or don’t want to) sleep while their babies sleep, but also need to be functioning humans during daylight hours.
1. Schedule some time for yourself. Once your baby’s nap schedule has become more predictable (usually around 4-5 months), use your newfound freedom to reclaim some much-needed “me” time. While many of your baby’s naps may be dedicated to household chores or work, be sure to intentionally schedule in some time for yourself. One of my clients recently told me that no matter what tasks she has to complete that day, she always reads for 30 minutes during her baby’s morning nap. If you’re a working parent, be sure to schedule in some time for you during weekend naptime.
2. Ensure that the quality of your nighttime sleep is as good as it can get. Our bodies are designed to sleep in quiet, cool and dark environments. If you’re room-sharing with your baby (or even just a snoring partner), I highly suggest using white noise. If you live in a big city with lots of ambient light filtering into your bedroom, invest in high-quality blackout curtains to create a super dark sleep environment.
3. Unplug an hour before bedtime. New parents tend to be super attached to their smartphones: that's how they connect to the outside world, and many use apps to track their babies eating and sleeping patterns (while also being sucked into the black hole of social media). No one’s taking away your beloved Instagram feed, but do try to unplug 1-2 hours before bedtime. Studies show that people who are exposed to screen time before bedtime not only have trouble falling asleep but also feel less well-rested the next day.
4. Bedtime routine for the win. Just like babies need bedtime routines, so do parents. Create a short, predictable routine 20-30 minutes before bedtime that will signal to your brain to calm down. There’s no “right” routine -- you do you. It could be reading a book, doing bedtime yoga, journaling, or just chatting with your partner about your day.
5. Caffeinate wisely. Holistic Nutrition Coach Andrea Moss says that she survived her new mama haze by opting for espresso twice per day instead of drinking drip coffee throughout the day. She notes that, contrary to popular belief, a double shot of espresso actually contains less caffeine than a 6 or 8-oz cup of drip coffee; plus it contains natural oils found in espresso beans make it easier to digest and metabolize. The takeaway? Opt for an espresso or frothy cappuccino instead of day-long drip coffee binges. You’ll get a gentle caffeine boost without a drastic drop in energy levels later in the day.
Hadley Seward is a certified sleep consultant and founder of Bonne Nuit Baby. Based in France and New York City, she works with exhausted parents around the world to get their kids’ sleep back on track. Meet her + follow her adventures at @hadleyinfrance.