New parents who are busy caring for their newborn whilst also juggling their busy work schedules and house chores have limited time to sleep. As such the recommended 7-9 hours interrupted sleep each night are a rare unicorn. So does quantity triumph quality? When exactly do you benefit the most from your sleep?
Since we are parents to young kids here at Bubnest we were really keen to know the secret to feeling well rested on limited sleep which made us look into this further. There is hope, here is what we found:
Sleep encompasses various stages:
This stage takes the first 1-7 minutes of your sleep. You know that feeling of breaking away when you first close your eyes? That’s caused by a high activity of alpha and theta waves. This light sleep stage doesn’t feel like sleep at all, you might even feel annoyed if someone wakes you up.
This stage is considered a part of light sleep as well, lasting up to 25 minutes. You’re more oblivious to stimuli in the environment, drifting further away as your heart rate decreases. Alpha waves, which are linked to attention decrease, make more room for theta waves that relax your brain further.
Stages 3 and 4
This is when you go into a deep sleep with a high increase of delta waves. Within this stage it is pretty difficult to be woken up unless, of course, you hear your baby crying. These stages are a non-REM sort of sleep like stage 1 and 2, but they’re the most profound and restful of as your brain relaxes and recuperates itself.
REM stands for Rapid Eye Movement and is a stage of sleep where you begin dreaming. Dreams have a capital role in memory consolidation, meaning you are able to register new information and store important facts. REM sleep lasts for about 25% of the total sleep duration.
Sleep Stages, Napping and Rest
Research shows that your body benefits the most from the sleep had during both the deep sleep and REM stage. So what does that mean for parents who are trying to day nap when their baby is sleeping, or get some shut eye early in the night even knowing their baby will wake soon?
If you’ve drifted off to sleep during the day and then woken up in the first two stages of a sleep cycle, you might feel even more tired, irritated, confused and have a beautiful headache to top it all off. That doesn’t sound really restful, does it? However, each sleep stage gives your body and mind a different type of rest. Even if you haven’t gone into a deep sleep the alpha and theta waves have an important influence on your brain by relaxing you. This indicating that the first two stages of sleep are like meditation, but better. So perhaps the main purpose of a day nap, or the quick sleep you get in before your little one wakes for the night, is about soothing and unwinding your body and mind.
So instead of having that extra cup of coffee to make it through, why not allow yourself to doze off when your little one does? Even the shortest day naps can most definitely help fight sleep deprivation.
Interrupted vs. Uninterrupted sleep
The next question to ponder is whether or not interrupted sleep is as valuable as uninterrupted sleep? The short answer: unfortunately not. According to scientists, interrupted sleep can cause mood swings, a negative influence mental health, an inability to concentrate and forgetfulness.
More often than not uninterrupted sleep is very unrealistic for new parents. Your new little bundle of joy may be incredibly adorable and make your heart so full, however they probably didn’t get the memo on how important sleep is! So what does that mean for new parents? Is interrupted sleep completely invaluable? The short, and very fortunate, answer is no. Hooray! If you wake up soon after going to bed but recall dreaming, it means your brain already experienced the restful stages of sleep. What a relief.
The first sleep cycle runs from stages 1-4 and a short REM stage. The second cycle takes you back to stages 4, 3 and 2 before you’re in REM again, this time for longer. Considering that the duration and timing of each stage vary so much depending on your individual sleep cycles, your brain gets rest even if you don’t feel like it has.
For many new parents it gets to a point where sleep becomes a matter of quality over quantity. Below are some ways to make the most of what you have:
- Nap during the day with or when your baby naps
- If you’re breastfeeding, consider placing the baby’s crib next to your bed and nursing in a side-lying position. That way, you’ll fall back into deep sleep faster.
- Time your sleep with the baby’s, so you sleep during their longest stretch of sleep, even if that’s between 8 to 12 pm.
- Say goodbye to procrastinating on the Internet after baby’s asleep. Screen time before bed makes you more tired, apart from losing precious minutes of sleep.
- If you’re formula-feeding, ask help with nighttime feeding at least once per night.
- If you’re breastfeeding, dream-feed the baby right before going to bed so they won’t wake you up right when you start falling asleep.
- Eat right, to nourish yourself.
- Go outside often and get some exercise to release endorphins and relax.
- Change your mindset from “I need to sleep” to “I need to relax”.
- Ask for help with house chores and spend plenty of time resting to conserve precious energy.
Lack of sleep won't last forever
The reality is a solids night sleep each and every night is a rarity for most new parents. Take comfort in knowing that you’re not in this alone and that the lack of sleep won’t last forever. You most certainly can also get a lot out of the day naps or short bursts of night sleep, and asking for help or timing your sleeps better can be beneficial. Remember to be kind to yourself and try to not feel too disheartened if you aren’t able to get much deep sleep. Aiming to give your body and mind a rest to cope with the day ahead, instead of stressing about the lack of sleep, is a great focus to have!
We hope you rest well tonight, love team Bubnest