Sleep deprivation – top tips for parents!
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Mandy Gurney
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Former Director of the Sleep Clinic at the NHS St Charles hospital in London and Director of Millpond Sleep clinic. She also works as an NHS Sleep educator to health professionals across the UK.
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Baby Sleeping

Sleep deprivation - top tips for parents!

There is one topic that probably preoccupies parents of babies and young children more than any other - sleep and how to get more of it.
In Short
Sleep deprivation for parents of babies and children is very common. The Essential Parent online sleeping courses are aimed at helping parents getting their children to sleep better - but what about the parents themselves? The top seven tips for getting more sleep as a parent are presented below.

Support your baby’s sleep

The first, and most obvious, thing is to make sure your baby or child is sleeping as well and as long as they can for their age. All this information is available in detail from our experts in the baby and child sleeping articles and courses.

Now – on to YOU.

Top 7 tips for better sleep for parents
Planning your own sleep opportunities

You need to be realistic – with a little baby, you’ll be waking through the night to feed, and there’s nothing much you can do about that. But as your baby gets older and they have a period of, say, 6 hours, sleep between around 8pm and 2am – you can plan to sleep through that time as well. It means your social life will suffer, but during those first few months, sleep is more important for most of us.

Plan as many naps as you can through the day as well – if you can, sleep when your baby sleeps. Easier said than done when you have a life to lead as well, and jobs to do, but try when you can.

Have your baby in the same room and learn to breastfeed lying down

Having your baby in the same room as you helps reduce the impact of breastfeeding through the night – you don’t have to actually get up – you can gently bring your baby over near you, feed them and hopefully get back to sleep more quickly. Learning to breastfeed lying down means the whole process can be done (ideally!) when you’re both half-asleep.

Reduce your cortisol levels

Cortisol is the sleep/stress hormone which controls when you wake up. Cortisol levels should be as low as possible when you go to bed. Through the night, cortisol levels gradually rise, and when they reach a certain level, you will wake up.

If you’re consistently waking up too early, or you are not able to get to sleep, that means your cortisol levels are too high when you went to bed, and you need to lower them.

To reduce your cortisol levels at night:

  • Do not watch TV, look at a computer, or look at your phone for at least an hour before you go to bed. The light flickering from these screens raises cortisol levels by tricking your brain into thinking it’s daytime.
  • Try meditating – even 10 minutes of mindfulness exercises can help enormously.
  • To relax and decrease general noise and stress levels.
Increase your melatonin levels

Melatonin is the sleep hormone that triggers sleep. In the days of cavemen, at nighttime, it became cool and dark – and that triggered the release of melatonin.

So the key is to replicate these conditions about an hour before you want to sleep.

To increase your melatonin levels at night:

  • Do not have a long, hot bath right before bed – it will increase your body temperature and then hopping under the duvet straight away will keep it high. The idea is to bring your body temperature down.
  • Turn the heating down to around 18 degrees.
  • Dim the lighting.
  • Stop watching TV and all screens at least an hour before you want to sleep.
Nap as much as you possibly can through the day

You might think that napping through the day (if you’re lucky enough to be able to) will prevent you sleeping at night – but the opposite is true.

If you are over-tired when you go to sleep, you will be stressed, and your cortisol levels will be raised.

Counterintuitively, if you go to bed very late and very tired, your cortisol levels will be raised and this will cause you to wake up earlier. It’s a vicious cycle – and one that can be helped by napping as much as you can on and off through the day. “Sleep breeds sleep” as the midwives say about babies – it’s the same principle for adults.

Reduce or cut out sugar and caffeine

Reduce or cut out sugar, caffeine and alcohol from your diet. All of these will reduce the quality of your sleep.

Exercise and getting outside

Exercise is hugely helpful in increasing the quality of your sleep. It reduces stress, and therefore your cortisol levels won’t be as high when you go to sleep.

As much as you can, get outside into the fresh air through the day. Even a long walk is great exercise and will help reduce stress levels and promote better sleep.

References and further reading

References

Teach Your Child To Sleep, Millpond / Hamlyn, Revised 2016.

Sleep Faring, Jim Horne / Oxford, 2006.

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Take Charge of Your Child’s Sleep, Judy Owens and Jodi Mindell / Marlowe and Co, 2005.

Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Children, Dr Marc Weissbluth / Vermilion, 2010.

Sleeping Better, A Guide to Improving Sleep for Children with Special Needs V Mark Durand / Brookes Revised Edition 2014.

Outcomes at six years of age for children with infant sleep problems:

Longitudinal community-based study Anna M.H. Price, Melissa Wake, Harriet Hiscock et al, Sleep Medicine 13 (2012) 991–998

Short Nighttime Sleep Duration and Hyperactivity Trajectories in Early Childhood,Tourchette et al. Pediatrics. 2009.

Sleep and Depression in Postpartum Women: A Population-Based Study; Dorheim SK et al, Sleep 2009; 32(7): 847-855.

Fragmented maternal sleep is more strongly correlated with depressive symptoms than infant temperament at three months postpartum. Goyal D, Gay C, Lee K, authors Arch Women’s Ment Health. 2009;12:229–37.

Sleep problems in young infants and maternal mental and physical health, Jordana K Bayer, Harriet Hiscock, Anne Hampton and Melissa Wake, Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health, vol 43, issue 1-2, January/February 2007.

Longitudinal analysis of sleep in relation to BMI and body fat in children: the FLAME study. BMJ 2011

Short sleep duration is associated with increased markers in European adolescents

International journal of Obesity (2011) 35, 1308-1317 M Garaulet et al.

Sleep and the epidemic of obesity in children and adults; E Van Cauter & K Knutson, 2008.

The use of MElatonin in children with Neurodevelopmental Disorders and impaired Sleep: a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled, parallel study (MENDS),Re Appleton, AP Jones, C Gamble, PR Williamson, L Wiggs, P Montgomery, A Sutcliffe, C Barker and P Gringras. Health Technology Assessment 2012; Vol. 16: No. 40 DOI: 10.3310/hta16400

Kids’ behavior impacted by lack of sleep, Jase Donaldson, Insight Journal, Feb 13 2006.

What affects the age of first sleeping through the night? S M Adams, D R Jones, A Esmail and E A Mitchell, Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health, vol 40, issue 3, March 2004.

Behavioral Treatment of Bedtime Problems and Night Wakings in Infants and Young Children; An American Academy of Sleep Medicine Review, Jodi A. Mindell, et al SLEEP, Vol. 29, No. 10, 2006

References are reviewed on a regular basis and are updated when applicable.

Sleep Training NHS staff since 2007
If you or your colleagues want to know more about children’s sleep and how you can help the families you are working with, Millpond Sleep Clinic run one-day Sleep Workshops aimed at health care professionals.
These highly engaging sessions are based on proven research and years of experience and are suitable for all staff working directly with the families of babies through to school aged children.
The workshop is fully certified and approved by The CPD Certification Service.
If you would like to find out more about the sleep workshops please contact Millpond direct on:
Tel: 020 8444 0040

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DISCLAIMER
This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Essential Parent has used all reasonable care in compiling the information from leading experts and institutions but makes no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details click here.