Working moms — especially working moms with young infants — juggle a lot of responsibilities. Unfortunately, sleep is often the first thing that gets sacrificed. Research indicates that less than half of mothers get seven hours of sleep a night, and the numbers are even worse for parents with children under six months: just five percent get eight hours of sleep, and almost 20 percent of new mothers sleep poorly every night.
To some degree, losing sleep with a new child is inevitable. Working moms have it especially hard, as tips like “sleep when your baby sleeps” don’t work so well when you’re at work. However, that doesn’t mean that there’s nothing to be done. Here are some tips for working moms to get better sleep, especially with a newborn.
1. Let go of the guilt.
Working mom guilt is a real thing, and it makes you feel like any time not spent directly caring for your child or working on your career is wasted. If you’re not careful, this guilt will keep you from taking care of yourself and doing the things that you need to do (like sleep). It’s important to recognize that you don’t need to feel that guilt, especially when it comes to bedtime. Sleep is not a luxury — it’s vitally important.
How important? Studies show that the cognitive effects of sleep deprivation are similar to those of high blood alcohol content. It inhibits memory, creativity and adaptability. Moreover, sleep deprivation has a negative effect on your mood, making you prone to hostility and irritation. It even increases your risk of postpartum depression. These effects make it impossible to parent well or work well. Stop feeling guilty, and do what you need to do to get sleep.
2. Sleep when your baby sleeps.
As noted above, taking advantage of your baby’s naptimes isn’t practical if you’re at work during the day. So why include this? Before you write this tip off altogether, consider what time you go to sleep at night and what time you wake up. Do you put your baby down and then spend several more hours working around the house or trying to relax? Do you wake up early to take a long shower?
There’s no doubt that “me time” is important, especially for a new mother, but remember the effects of sleep deprivation. Sleep must be a priority. If you need to go to bed at 8 p.m. to get enough sleep, do so. Cleaning can wait, and you can catch up on your favorite shows when your baby starts settling into more regular sleep patterns, probably around months 4 - 6. Likewise, if you can sleep in even a little later in the morning, do it! It’s worth abbreviating your morning routine to get enough rest.
3. Create good sleeping habits.
Start early helping your baby sleep better at night. Keep them active during daytime hours, develop a bedtime routine, and keep the room dark and quiet at night. These habits help your infant recognize that nighttime is for sleeping. As they start sleeping better, so will you. Keep in mind that bedtime challenges will change as your baby ages, and you’ll have to adapt. Check out this article for advice from a pediatrician on dealing with toddlers at bedtime.
It’s important to cultivate good sleep habits in yourself, too. Get more out of the sleep you do manage to get by developing good sleep hygiene. Avoid using screens before bedtime, don’t drink caffeine in the evening and create a peaceful sleep environment. This will help you fall asleep faster and sleep more solidly, even if you only get a few hours.
4. Clear your mind.
A common problem, especially for working moms with a lot on their minds, is lying down at night and finding yourself unable to fall asleep. Good sleep hygiene can help, but oftentimes this is due to a racing mind that won’t slow down. With the stresses of work family, and everything else, it can be hard to relax and fall asleep.
Research has shown it’s possible to combat this insomnia through mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness focuses your mind on the present, which means you can’t worry about everything else that’s going on. Try a simple mindfulness exercise shortly before bedtime to banish stress and slow down your mind. Worries about your baby or your job can wait until tomorrow, and you can get some much-needed rest.
5. Get some help.
As you try these strategies, be sure to enlist help where you can get it. If at all possible, try creating a strategy to pass off some nighttime responsibilities to your partner. This can be more difficult if you breastfeed, but even having your partner take care of diapers or get the baby back to sleep can make a big difference. Have an honest talk with your partner about your needs, and work together to create a strategy that works for both of you.
If you have the means, you can also consider outside help. Getting a night nurse to tend to your baby is one of the best ways to ensure you get nighttime sleep. As an added bonus, many night nurses can help train your baby to sleep better. If it’s too expensive to have someone come every night, try one or two nights a week. Even an occasional night of uninterrupted sleep will make a big difference in your quality of life.
With these tips, your new journey as a working mom can become less exhausting and more rewarding. Try them out tonight, but remember to be patient with your newborn and with yourself. You both will be figuring things out for years to come, but sleep won’t always be so difficult. Celebrate the successes you have, and enjoy the journey.
Alice is a freelance writer specializing in wellness, business and tech. She is passionate about writing articles that help empower others to achieve their goals