Tired Parents! 5 Alternatives to Sleeping When Baby Sleeps

Tired parents snuggling with a sleepy baby

Feeling like an overcaffeinated, haven’t-showered, groggy, foggy mess? Rest assured – you’re NOT alone! For most new parents, the early months of your precious bundle’s life are not exactly the idyllic scene you imagined when you were waiting for your baby to arrive.

However, new parent sleep deprivation is perhaps the one thing you CAN count on. While some babies are clingy and others easy-going, some struggle to nurse and others battle diaper rash, one fact rings true for all – your baby needs a few months at the very least to develop the ability to sleep through the night. This means, of course, that the great unifier among new parents is sleep deprivation.

And yet. If one more well-meaning friend or family member tells you to “sleep when the baby sleeps,” you might just snap, right?

So, what gives? The simple truth is that although this is practical advice that helps many new parents cope with the loss of sleep during the newborn days, it’s not right (or even possible) for everyone. We’re here to tell you that sleeping when Baby sleeps not your only option.

What Does “Sleep When Baby Sleeps” Mean? 

Essentially, this often-repeated advice for new parents means that any time your newborn baby is sleeping, you should be sleeping, too. When Baby takes a nap during the day, even if it’s just a 15–20-minute doze, you should also take the opportunity to get some shuteye. The idea is to prioritize sleep whenever possible to help combat the exhaustion that comes with caring for a newborn.

Power naps, meaning naps less than 30 minutes, can go a long way in helping you feel more alert and less sleepy. However, when trying to make up the sleep deficit left by night after night of poor sleep, longer naps are more effective and certainly not always an option with a newborn! Still, some sleep is better than none, right? For a lot of sleep-deprived new parents, that’s a big YES.

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Why This Advice for New Parents May Not Be for You

New mom holding her baby and working on a laptopNew mom holding her baby and working on a laptop

At the risk of annoying a lot of tired parents, let’s first note that newborn babies sleep a LOT. We’re talking as much as 12 to 18 hours a day, or close to 75% of the time! If you were to take this advice literally (and if you have the kind of brain and body that can fall asleep at the drop of a hat), you’d be getting way more than your recommended 8 hours of sleep!

We’re being a little facetious, of course. But, that’s because we want to let you off the hook if you’ve been trying and failing to heed this advice. The “sleep when the baby sleeps” approach may not be for you if you:

  • Are a light sleeper/can’t fall asleep quickly
  • Have older children who need some quality time with you
  • Have work emails and obligations to catch up on
  • Genuinely prefer to clean up/manage household tasks
  • Feel more refreshed by a taking a shower
  • Desperately need some time to read/binge watch/scroll through social media/etc.

Often the advice to sleep when Baby sleeps is accompanied with supportive reminders like, “The laundry can wait,” or “The dishes will still be there later,” and of course, “You need to take care of yourself.” These are all true statements and spoken with love, but the reality is that this approach causes some people more stress than relief. If you’re in that camp, lean into whatever feels the least stressful and most restorative to you during the hours (or minutes!) your baby is sleeping.

5 Ways to Survive the Newborn Stage

Parents smiling proudly at sleeping infantParents smiling proudly at sleeping infant

Being a parent to a newborn is exhausting, and we recommend taking all the time you need to rest and recover so that you can feel like your best self. But, like we said, sleeping every time your little one does is not your only option for combatting new parent sleep deprivation. Outside of sleep there are many rituals, routines and activities that may make you feel more rested – and more like yourself – after this huge life change. Take a look!

  1. Ask for help! Now is the time to utilize your community and rely on friends, family and your partner for a much-needed break.
  2. Implement circadian rhythm practices. Make daytime bright and lively and nighttime dark and calm. This will help promote healthy sleep patterns for your newborn – and you!
  3. Upgrade your sleep space. Make sure the time you DO get to sleep is well spent! Is it time for a new pillow? Would more breathable sheets help you sleep better?
  4. Stay organized! There’s a lot to keep track of with a newborn, but making sure the changing table is stocked, fridge is full, bottles are clean and more will save both time and energy.
  5. Lean on technology. Can you place your grocery order for delivery instead of heading to the store? Same goes for pharmacy prescriptions. What apps can make your life easier?
  6. We know it’s not easy, but eating nutritious foods, staying hydrated, meditating or taking a walk outside are some more great ways to ensure your body recovers well and stays strong even when running on little sleep.  

So, next time your well-meaning friend or mother-in-law tells you to “sleep when the baby sleeps,” you can simply smile and nod knowing you have these other options to choose from.

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