Sleep when the baby sleeps - Play Nourish Thrive

Sleep when the baby sleeps

Sleep when the baby sleeps.

This mantra making me feel increasingly more agitated as I lay in my darkened bedroom in the middle of the day. Unable to relax enough to fall asleep. Its advice that well-meaning people love to hurl at new parents.

It does make sense, and for some it works beautifully. Newborns can sleep up to 17 hours a day (1). So, why not take advantage of all that time and get some ZZZs yourself? 😴

Except that newborns sleep in short bursts (30mins to 2hrs) (2). Half of which is in ‘active sleep’, where they grunt, kick, and are just generally very noisy (3). It is also normal for newborns to need a caregiver to help them fall and stay sleep.👶 Not forgetting the added complexities for parents without any domestic help, or with multiple children. You can imagine my frustration at not falling asleep when I had the chance.

Turns out I am not alone.

One study showed that 60% of postpartum mothers met the DSM-IV criteria for insomnia (4). New mothers report feeling unable to sleep when they want to, and experience added fatigue due to the weight of their new responsibilities (5). Racing thoughts, raging hormones, and powerful primal instincts telling you to just check on the baby…again.

So, what is an alternative?

Out of frustration, I tried something different: ‘Do something just for you’ when the baby sleeps. There are variations of this, such as ‘don’t do anything you could do while the baby is awake’ or ‘be intentional with your time’. This could mean entirely different things to different people, but some examples include:

🌿call a friend
🌿stretch, light exercise or meditation
🌿cross something off the to do list, or re-engage in a hobby
🌿a warm bath or shower
🌿quiet activities with older children

If you are struggling with sleep, you are not alone (6); you are worth reaching out to your GP or health professional. ❤ Get as much help as you can afford/is practical and honour your natural rhythms for sleep. For the rest of us, let’s do our best to support new parents as they go through pat/matrescence.


(1)         Galland et al. 2012. Sleep Med Rev. doi: 10.1016/j.smrv.2011.06.001
(2)         Mindell et al. 2016. J Sleep Res. doi: 10.1111/jsr.12414
(3)         Barry et al. 2021. Psychol Rep. doi: 10.1177/0033294120909447
(4)         Sivertsen et al. 2015. BMC Pregnancy Childb. doi: I 10.1186/s12884-015-0577-1
(5)         Powell et al. 2007. J Perinat Neonatal Nurs. doi: 10.1097/01.JPN.0000270628.51122.1d
(6)         Pacheco. 2020. Postpartum Insomnia.

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