As a relationship counsellor I work with new parents everyday on all aspects of their relationships and their lives. A big factor that leads to conflict, irritability and even depression is sleep deprivation. While sleepless nights and disrupted sleep are part of the journey of parenthood, ongoing sleep deprivation can impact your health, your sanity and your relationship. Going without sleep for 28 hours is reported to be as debilitating as having a high blood alcohol reading, so it will impact your ability to do your work and even drive a car! There are practical strategies which both you and your partner can try to improve the quality of your sleep and your relationship.
1. Take shifts with your partner
Some couples find that taking shifts to get up to their baby can be a good way to ensure that they both get protected sleep time. Having sleep at the same time each night means that your bodies can adapt to a regular schedule. For example you may have your first shift as 10:30pm to 2:30am, with the second shift from 2:30am to 6am, with each of you designated on for a set shift each night. This works well when you express milk or if you are bottle-feeding. Another idea is to take it in turns with your partner to have one night on, one night off. That way you both get a full night’s sleep every second night.
2. Go to bed when your baby does
Although it can be tempting to get all those household chores done late at night or during your baby’s naps during the day, these can be the best times for you to get some sleep and rest as well. Those naps in the day may be just as refreshing for you as they are for your baby. Even if you don’t feel sleepy, lying down with your feet up and resting can really support your energy at this important time of your life. Resist the need to be doing something every minute, and embrace the opportunity to slow down and rest. Your body and your mind will thank you for it.
3. Limit your technology before bed
The light emitted from smartphones, tablets and televisions can interfere with the melatonin in your body, the hormone that is responsible for setting your sleep patterns and rhythms. Limiting your usage of these devices before bedtime and developing a more calming sleep routine can improve your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep. Listening to music, reading books, having a bath are all activities that are calming and sleep inducing.
4. Seek professional sleep support.
Babies usually settle into a routine in which they sleep for five or more hours by 2 to 3 months of age, with almost all babies able to sleep through the night by the age of 6 months. However, you may find that you are still getting up to your baby during the night even when they are a year old. It’s important for both you and your baby to get good sleep, so getting professional support may be what you need. Enlisting the support of your paediatrician, mothercraft nurse, services like Tresillian, or maybe even a baby whisperer can help you, your partner and your baby develop good sleep routines and habits. Many couples find that professional support for improving their baby’s sleep routine has incredible benefit for both their baby and their relationship.
5. Address anxiety and depression
Sleep problems such as an inability to fall asleep due to an overactive mind, or early waking can often be a sign of anxiety or depression. Feel tired even after having a full night’s sleep or wanting to sleep all the time may be signs that there is an underlying mental health concern. Many women and men may experience anxiety or depression after having a baby so talking to your GP to find out if these may be the cause of your sleep concerns is critical.
If these strategies are not enough to get your sleep sorted out, then seeking professional support is key. As a couples counsellor and psychotherapist, I work with a network of professionals who specialise in supporting new parents. I guide and support my clients to find the resources and professional support that they need. Contact me now to find out how I can support you in improving your sleep and your relationship. Let’s talk before it breaks.
Ginny Lindsay is a Sydney based relationship counsellor and psychotherapist who supports individuals and couples moving from pregnancy into parenthood. With 40% of divorces happening during pregnancy or in the first 3 years of a child’s life, Ginny established From 2 to 3 to offer support early before a relationship breaks down.