Sleep loss can truly be one of the most difficult aspects of parenting, as lack of sleep has such a profound effect on your mental health and physical wellbeing. Sleep deprivation can lead to mood swings, difficulty performing everyday tasks, and can impair your ability to function and care for your baby. 

Sleeping well with an infant may seem impossible, but understanding and tracking your baby’s sleep patterns whilst adopting effective strategies to optimize your own sleep, can help.

In this article we’ll cover:  

Understanding your baby’s sleep patterns

Most of us feel better (and sleep better) when we stick to a regular sleep schedule. The same is true for your child. Keeping a simple sleep diary of your child’s nighttime sleeps and daytime naps can help you track this. The journal in the Sleep Cycle Kids app does this for you, so you better understand their optimal bedtime. 

For example, a 1-month old who can sleep for 6 hours during daytime, can have 4 naps, at 90 minutes each. Keeping track of their naps (and when they’re likely to occur) will help you fit in much-needed breaks for yourself, during these times as well. 

As your baby grows, their needs will change. Nighttime sleep will stabilize and daytime sleep will reduce. Journaling this in the app, will help you anticipate and recognize as these changes occur. Furthermore, familiarizing your child with their bedtime routine and helping them learn to self-soothe, will promote healthy sleep habits for your child as they grow. 

Finally, a better understanding of sleep patterns will help reduce the time it takes for your child to fall asleep (and hopefully in the process reduce any anxiety on your part). It can also identify other behaviors that could be stopping sleep. 

Top 9 tips on how to get more sleep with a newborn

If you’re desperate for some more shut-eye, using Sleep Cycle’s Sleep Program collection ‘Parents and Sleep’ is a great way of exploring better sleep habits for parents. In the meantime, check out our top 9 tips below:

1. Sync with your baby’s sleep schedule

As mentioned above, aim to get your child’s daytime naps regular so you know when to expect them and can plan to catch up on your own sleep at the same time. Try to forget the dishes and the laundry. Remember that younger infants sleep almost as long during daytime as nighttime. In the early days, they also have more disrupted sleep at nighttime, so napping during the day, while your baby naps in those early months is a good idea.  

2. Alternate nights

If you have the option, consider alternating nights with your partner to care for your baby. This way at least one of you is fully rested to take on the day. 

3. Ask for help

Enlist family and friends, to care for your baby while you take a nap or just indulge in some much needed R&R. They will most likely be happy you asked. 

4. Relaxation techniques at bedtime

It’s frustrating when you’re too wired to fall asleep at nighttime, especially when your child is sleeping peacefully. Consider incorporating guided breathing exercises, body scan/muscle relaxation exercises into your bedtime routine to help make it easier to fall asleep. 

5. Daytime hacks for nighttime sleep

Walking outside, getting early morning sunlight, low intensity exercise, being mindful of caffeine intake – all can help to make it easier to fall asleep at nighttime. 

6. Prep your bedroom

part from creating a relaxing space conducive for sleep, where noise and light have minimal impact, also consider keeping essentials (baby wipes, bottles etc) next to you in an organized unit. If you are sharing a bedroom with your baby, then keep a dim light next to your bed, to avoid fully waking your baby (and yourself) up during nighttime feeds and nappy changes. 

7. Explore sounds and music

This can be helpful for you and your baby. Classical music and white noise can have a calming effect on your child. Ambient sounds and relaxing music can also help you drift off easier. 

8. Clear your diary

If you haven’t slept, don’t arm wrestle yourself into following through with non-essential appointments. Simply cancel and give yourself a break (and a nap).

9. Say No!

Remember it’s ok to say no and avoid doing unnecessary household chores that sap your energy – use that time to catch up on sleep . 

Even with the best intentions, there will be times – especially after a disrupted night, when you will have to manage on little or no sleep. For those times, check out our tips on how to survive the day after a sleepless night. 

What our sleep expert says: 

Sleep Cycle’s Head of Sleep Science, Prof. Mike Gradisar comments on key points that should be top of mind, when looking to address sleep-related concerns in your infants. 

“At this age, it’s really about consistency to help train a newborn’s circadian rhythm of sleep-wake timing, including regular scheduling of naps, episodes of outdoor light exposure, and routines prior to naps and nighttime sleep.”

The amount of sleep your child is getting and when they’re likely to fall asleep is hard to pin down. The perception is often subjective and if you’re exhausted, it may feel like your child just never sleeps. Tracking their sleep will help you recognize this.

And remember, although it may appear distant, for the majority of parents, sleep deprivation is temporary. It will pass.

Summary FAQs

1. How can I cope without sleep whilst caring for my baby? 

Although we hope that journaling and planning will help you plan naps during the day to cope better, you can also follow our ‘How to cope on little sleep’ advice above. Combine it with our ‘Tips on getting more sleep with a newborn’. If you’re finding prolonged lack of sleep is causing impaired functioning and difficulty performing everyday tasks, then you should speak to a doctor. 

2. How long do sleepless nights last with a newborn?

Infants aged 0-3 months old can sleep as little as 6 hours a night, so even if they sleep several hours during the course of 24 hours, nights in the early stages can still be very difficult, with fewer hours of sleep during night time, and more disruptions with the multiple feeds and nappy changes. This will typically stabilize, from 6 months onwards and often earlier and as your child grows, daytime naps reduce and nighttime sleep increases. Even though it may not seem like it now, sleepless nights will pass. Again always seek further advice, if you’re not confident your child is getting the sleep they need. 

3. How can I fall asleep when I’m anxious about my baby? 

It’s worth reminding yourself of the old adage – ´You can’t pour from an empty cup.´ Anxiety around your child’s welfare can stop you from getting the crucial rest you need to care for them well. Once you know that your baby is safe and comfortable in their sleeping space, then focus your energy on a bedtime routine for yourself. Employ the relaxation techniques listed above, run a hot bath, listen to some soothing music, try progressive muscle relaxation exercises and really try to avoid doing late night chores. If you still feel anxiety and stress is stopping you from falling asleep, consider speaking to a doctor for help and advice.   

4. Can both parents sleep while the baby sleeps? 

Spoiler alert – we’re strongly for parents getting sleep and rest whenever they can! Although we’ve listed alternating nights as one of many coping strategies when you need to get some sleep, both parents can of course sleep while the baby sleeps. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) even recommends sharing a room with your baby, but strongly advises against sharing a bed.