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
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 8 pm and 2 am – 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.
If family and friends ask how they can help you in the early days, suggest that they come and watch baby while you sleep. They can wake you if baby needs a feed or if you need to do anything but you can try and grab some sleep in the meanwhile.
2. Have your baby in the same room and learn to breastfeed lying down
Having your baby in the same room as you help 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.
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. During 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:
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:
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, caffeine and alcohol from your diet. All of these will reduce the quality of your sleep.
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.