Postpartum Sleep Deprivation: 9 Quick Tips For Parents To Get More Sleep

Contributing writer By Tilda Timmers
Contributing writer
Tilda Timmers is a Netherlands-based therapist specializing in postpartum depression. She is the author of This Is Postpartum: Free Yourself from the Perfect Mother Conspiracy, and has been featured in The Washington Post and Working Mother.
Postpartum sleep deprivation: tips for parents to get more sleep

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The bad news is that there is no magic solution to the problem of sleep deprivation. The good news is there are quite a few tips and tricks to help get you through this really intense period. For some, this period lasts "only" a month or so. For other parents, it takes up to a year or even longer. Read on for my top tips: 

1. Nutrition

I cannot stress this enough: Your engine needs fuel. Fill it up as lovingly as you can every single day. Chocolate is indispensable to me when I'm very tired, because (a) I've earned it, and (b) I've earned it. I also love bananas and eat one every day. They give me significantly more energy than other fruit. I also add nuts to my meals because the omega-3 fats in them are so good for the body. 

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2. Exercise

Moving around really helped me a lot. That sounds a bit counterintuitive because who has the energy or wants to work out when you're exhausted? Yet the endorphins released through exercise really boosted my mood and actually gave me more energy. It was also great to do something for myself and to give myself a short break from doing laundry or worrying about my baby and my lack of sleep. I'm not telling you to work out seven days a week at the gym—far from it. I'd go for a walk most days. I'd stroll around the neighborhood or walk into the city to meet a friend instead of taking public transportation or my car. I love to cycle, so I'd do that when my babies were bigger and could sit in their bike seats. They loved it, too, because there's so much to see. 

In the Netherlands, our kids sit on the front side of our bikes when they're little. You can watch them, and they can see everything that's happening in front of them. And you can give them kisses on their head if you have to wait at a traffic light. Both my girls loved it so much and still do. I loved being outside, and it also helped me tremendously in my recovery from my postpartum depression (PPD).

3. Routine

Try to keep your day and night routines as regular as possible. Everyone will have different advice about this, so I can only share what worked for me. Go to bed as early as possible. Don't wait to see if your baby still wants a bottle at 11 p.m.; just go to sleep. Your baby might ask for that bottle at 1 a.m. and then you will at least have had a few hours of sleep. Every minute of sleep is a win, if you ask me. During the day it's essential to get as much daylight as possible. It helps your body clock reset, and the sunlight will recharge you a bit.

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Quick sleep tips for parents:

  1. Switch your phone to night mode from 7 p.m. This makes the light less bright and the colors on your screen change to sepia tones.
  2. Provide a lot of light during the day; this keeps your natural biorhythms intact.
  3. Dim the lights in your living room; this promotes the production of melatonin.
  4. Put your phone, laptop, or tablet away two hours before you want to go to sleep, in order to stimulate melatonin production so you fall asleep faster.
  5. Open the window in your bedroom; you might sleep better with fresh air.
  6. Don't leave your phone next to your bed, because electromagnetic radiation can disturb your sleep.

A word on mindfulness.

Mindfulness can be practiced every day of your life, both during the day and at night. For example, if after the umpteenth sleepless night, your child starts crying, your first reaction might be, Nooooo! Are you hungry again? I really don't want to get out of bed; I just want to sleep. One of my clients told me that she would get angry at night when her baby cried "again." Whether her baby was hungry or needed a nappy change, my client would be furious. "I just lay in my bed and waited until my baby started to cry. That way I was still awake when it happened. Because once I'm asleep, I can't wake up that easily anymore," she confided. 

Do you recognize this? What if you approach that negative thought about being awake at night with curiosity instead of condemnation? See what happens. Where do you feel the irritation in your body? Where does it manifest? Breathe slowly into that place and let it go. Put that negative thought or emotion in a balloon or boat or basket and let it drift away. Accept that you sometimes feel dejected. Don't judge yourself for getting angry because your baby was hungry. Deep inside, you know as well as I do that you're not angry with your baby; you just feel desperate because you're so incredibly tired, which is very understandable. 

Once you've allowed that negative thought to drift away, see if you can bring yourself into the present moment. What's happening around you? If you're feeding your child, can you notice things about your baby that delight you? Perhaps the baby is perfectly content in his own happy place. He doesn't worry about whether or not he's drinking his bottle in the right way or whether he's opening his mouth enough. You were born the exact same way. You used to be someone who didn't worry about how you should think or feel about things; you didn't judge yourself. By applying mindfulness to your life, you can find that peace of mind again. 

Excerpted from This Is Postpartum: Free Yourself From the Perfect Mother Conspiracy by Tilda Timmers, copyright © 2020. Used with permission from The Dreamwork Collective.

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