Postpartum sleep deprivation and what you can do about it

After you have a baby, you need more sleep than ever before to recoup post -delivery as well as the nine months of carrying a baby.  

But sleep is often at a premium for new moms because your baby’s sleep cycle does not synchronize with your sleep rhythm. When you sleep, she wakes up and when she sleeps you are too busy to snooze. 

Here's what you can do about this crazy situation and get the best ZZZ that’s possible at this stage of your life.

Your newborn’s sleep patterns- A primer

Newborns can slip between the waking and sleeping states with little regard to whether it’s day or night. She also wants a feed typically every 2-4 hours. 

They sleep about 16 to 17 hours a day. By 4 months, your baby’s cumulative hours of total sleep decrease to about 15 hours with the longest sleep period being about 4-8 hours long.

Your darling also starts napping midmorning and midafternoon, allowing you to nap as well.

What is very important to understand is howsoever long your baby sleeps, her sleep patterns are nothing like yours. First, her sleep includes a higher percentage of REM sleep stage than yours and her sleep cycles run approximately 50 minutes and yours 90.

All of this means that she will wake up easily, sleep for shorter periods of no more than 3- 4 hours at any time of the day. 

So, now your newborn is sleeping more at night and staying awake more during the day. And on an average she wakes up an average of 4 times a night, crying their lungs out to be soothed back to sleep. And if your baby's awake, so are you, which means you're on call throughout the night to feed and comfort her. 

This is the new normal for you and you have to get used to it till about your baby is about 6 to 8 weeks before a more regular cycle begins to emerge. 

How do you get proper sleep after childbirth?

You are sleep deprived after giving birth as you’re getting up 2 or 3 times for 20 minutes or longer in a night or about 8 hours.

This type of sleep deprivation is even more gruelling than getting just 5 hours of straight sleep. 

Why does the number of awakenings matter more than total hours of sleep time? For one, sleep fragmentation or fragmented sleep causes a significant decrease in your deep sleep when your body regenerates itself.

Each time you get up and then go back to bed, you have to start your sleep cycle all over again, entering the light stages before you return to deep sleep. 

This is the reason that you are exhausted the day after. Chronic sleep deprivation due to fragmentation leads to chronic exhaustion.

How to ensure you're sleeping well right after childbirth

Here are some helpful sleep tips to reach your sleep quota:

  • Compensate for the sleep you’ve missed 
    Makeup for short periods of sleep deprivation by catnapping in the day. Sleeping a bit more- say, 2 or 3 hours- can be beneficial. But try not to sleep binge. If you sleep more than 3 hours, you most probably will start a whole new cycle of deprivation, because then you won't be sleepy at bedtime.
  • Nap when your baby naps
    This is the best sleep mantra for new moms.  A 20- to 30-minute nap is refreshing and will rejuvenate you. 
  • Ask for help
    If your baby isn't napping regularly and you are tired and at your wit’s end, ask your partner or mom for help, so that you can catch up on your sleep. Also, let your partner rotate nights with you so that he can get up at night to feed the baby instead of you taking on round-the-clock care of the infant.
  • Teach the baby to sleep 6-7 hours at a stretch at night  
    By 5 or 6 months, most babies are capable of sleeping 7-8 hours at a stretch. If your baby gets up at night for feedings, it's a learned behaviour. So, don't be so quick to take her out of bed and feed her. If you do, you're not giving her the opportunity to try to get back to sleep herself. Also, put her to bed while she’s still awake so that she learns to soothe herself to sleep.
  • Seek professional help for insomnia 
    Tell your doctor about any sleep difficulties you're having as a new mom as this can be happening due to postpartum depression too. 

In the end, if all this doesn’t help, just keep reminding that the sleepless gruelling nights will come to an end. And very soon you'll be in a position to start enjoying that enjoyable horizontal activity again.

About the Author

Shikha Gandhi