To all the first-time fathers this Father’s Day—congratulations! And if you almost fell asleep just reading the title of this blog, we understand. While everyone adjusts to parenthood a little differently, there is one constant that seems to rein supreme: sleep deprivation. With new dads in mind, Health Talk sat down with University of Minnesota Physicians sleep expert and father of three Michael Howell, M.D., for his sleep tips for both dad and baby.
Sleep when you can
If your baby is napping and you have some free time in between household chores, errands, etc., take a nap to catch up on sleep. Be opportunistic when it comes to sleep.
Take turns or ask for help
If possible, trade off shifts or nights so at least one parent is getting a few hours of—or a night of—good sleep. Don’t be afraid to ask your partner or support system for help if lack of sleep is becoming a problem area.
Limit caffeine intake
It’s very tempting (and easy) to overcompensate for lack of sleep by drinking a lot of coffee or energy drinks. Don’t do it! Large amounts of caffeine will disrupt your sleep pattern even more, making good sleep much harder to obtain.
Invest in some “me time”
New parents have a lot going on, but it’s important to take some personal time to unwind and get your body and mind ready for sleep, even if it’s just for a few hours.
A strong partnership between parents is incredibly important as you make the parental transition. What can you do to help your partner?
Now that you’ve laid a few ground rules for yourself, what about the babe? Howell’s sleep tips for your newborn include:
Don’t wait to establish healthy sleep habits
“For newborns, it’s important to start working on their sleeping habits as soon as they get home from the hospital,” said Howell. “I’ve found through personal experience that by keeping the baby active in the evening, they are more sleepy and ready to go to bed.”
Don’t wake a sleeping baby
If your baby is sleeping, there is no reason to wake him/her up to eat (within reason). They will usually let you know when they’re hungry!
Interactions with parents are like exercise for the baby, helping them to be more alert. Keep the baby active for at least two hours by reading to them, playing music, playing with them, etc.
At least 10-15 minutes of tummy time each night not only strengthens his/her neck muscles, but it’s also the equivalent of going to the gym for the baby.
Full stomach = sleepy baby
After a full night of activities, your baby’s last meal of the day should be at bedtime. This will help keep your newborn satisfied throughout the night and less likely to wake up in the middle of the night hungry. At four months, most babies will be able to sleep throughout the night without a late-night feeding.
Let your baby fall asleep in the crib
Newborns should learn to fall asleep on their own. This helps establish the sleep environment and ensure that your babe won’t wake up scared because you aren’t there.
Give them a sunrise every morning
Help your new babe establish a natural sleep rhythm by keeping their shades open a tad. At least 30 minutes of sunlight (or a light box that mimics the sun) will help adjust your newborn to a 24-hour clock.