Napping for New Moms

Martha Stewart Baby, Volume 2 2001

Many new mothers are overwhelmed by the chores they feel they must do the minute the baby falls asleep, but getting the rest you need is among the best things you can do to create a healthy relationship with your infant. Tired mothers are more stressed, more grouchy, and more prone to depression than those who get an adequate amount of sleep.

Every sleep expert has one single piece of advice: Sleep when your baby sleeps. Newborns sleep about eight fragmented hours at night and nap roughly four times during the day, adding up to as much as 16 hours a day, according to "The Promise of Sleep" by Dr. William C. Dement and Christopher Vaughan. You obviously don't have time to sleep as much as your baby does; you just have to patch together as much sleep as you can. You might get a total of five uninterrupted hours during the night, and then pick up a few more hours during daytime naps. This may not be as good as eight straight hours, but it's better than the alternative.

Most people are sleepiest between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. and between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m., says Dr. Joyce Walsleben, director of the New York University Sleep Disorders Center. A new mother should structure her day with that in mind. "By 12:30, stop running around," she says. "Have lunch and some milk products. Pull the shades down, and get some sleep." If you are terribly sleep deprived, a nap of an hour or two may be restorative, but don't be dismayed if your schedule won't allow it -- 15 to 20 minutes will be enough to refresh you.

One more benefit: Permitting yourself to nap can make you worry less about the night ahead. And anxiety can make falling asleep difficult, no matter how tired you are.

Mothers are sometimes so tired that they don't need any special tips or techniques to help them fall asleep -- some could probably do it standing up. But others may find that overstimulation, mixed with exhaustion, has left them unable to fall asleep easily.

Prepare for a nap the same way you prepare for a good night's sleep. Close the blinds, turn off the phone, and make the room as dark as possible. Sleep in a comfortable place. If you are finicky about pillows, make sure you find one you like; maybe a buckwheat pillow with lavender or one made of down.

Dr. Gary Zammit, director of the Sleep Disorders Institute at St. Luke's Roosevelt Hospital Center in New York City, says it can be helpful to turn on a fan, an air conditioner, or a white-noise machine to block out other noise. At night, don't turn on a lamp when you get up to feed the baby or comfort her. Use dim night-lights, so you can avoid becoming fully awake.

The inevitable interruptions at night don't have to be devastating. If you go back to sleep right away, they will have no major effect on the quality of your sleep. It's important to relax and accept the fact that you will be awakened.

To get the best sleep possible at night or during the day, don't go to bed hungry, but don't have a large meal immediately before bedtime, either. Try to maintain a regular time for going to bed and waking up. Don't get into the habit of worrying about what you have to do the next day after you get into bed. Instead, imagine yourself doing pleasant things. Stop tedious thoughts by substituting something boring, like counting backward. Imagine yourself going down a long flight of stairs, with sleep the reward at the end.

Do You Know? 
It is estimated that mothers and fathers each lose about 350 hours of sleep their baby’s first year.

While some adults need only six hours of sleep per night, some others need as many as 10.


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