Tell someone that you and your better half are expecting, and the first thing out of their mouth will be, “Congratulations!” The next will probably be, “Sleep while you can.”
With newborns waking every two to three hours during their first three months, parents are coming up short on the seven to nine hours of nightly sleep recommended by the National Sleep Foundation. Sleep interruptions are the most severe with newborns, but can carry on in the following years as little ones navigate potty training, nightmares and the urge to climb in bed with their parents.
For co-parenting couples, striking the right sleep balance with one another can be difficult, but it will be one of the most important things you can do for the sake of your child, your relationship, and your overall health. With that in mind, here are three tips to help parents strike a healthy sleep balance.
1. Divvy up the newborn night shift
Many couples choose to put the responsibility of night feedings on one person’s shoulders, particularly if that individual is a stay-at-home parent or breastfeeding mom. But with most babies not sleeping through the night until the six-month marker or beyond, this can be extremely taxing.
Studies have shown that sleep deprivation affects our abilities to interpret how our actions affect others and the other way around. So, unless we want to see our spouses become insensitive, socially-inept zombies, it’s probably best to split up the night.
Approach night feedings with shifts. If one of you is naturally a night owl, let that person stay up later to tackle the first feeding while the other snoozes. Then swap so the night owl can sleep until morning. Another alternative is to switch on and off nightly, with one person getting a full night’s rest, while the other answers the baby.
For breastfeeding mothers, these ideas may mean pumping ahead of time and getting your baby used to taking a bottle. No matter which method you choose, remember to be flexible with your routine, and acknowledge that from time to time, one of you may need to lean on the other for a little extra sleep.
2. Talk it out
If your current sleeping setup isn’t working, make time to talk about it with your partner. Have the discussion when you’re both rested (more on that to come) and when you’re free from distractions (yes, your children count as distractions.) This will give you both a leg up in your abilities to listen and express yourselves.
Resist the urge to frame the conversation around who does more on less sleep. Instead, explain the ways in which you’re struggling and ask for help. Odds are your partner has also been holding in strong feelings on this topic, so be ready to hear them out.
Since parenting takes teamwork, try thinking of this conversation as reworking the playbook you and your teammate have been running. It’s not getting us the results we thought it would. How do we adjust so we can both feel like we’re winning?
Lastly, be ready to have a conversation about sleep balance a few times over the course of your child’s life. Your kiddo’s sleep schedule will continue evolving as they grow. Keep the lines of communication open with your partner and you’ll both sleep happier.
3. Sleep more. Bicker less.
Yet another motivation for striking a sleep balance, studies have shown that lack of sleep leads to more frequent and severe conflicts among couples. When you and/or your better half aren’t getting enough sleep, you’re more likely to bicker and have a harder time resolving the issues.
If something’s bothering you, sleep on it and say your piece after getting some shut-eye.
Bonus tip: Take turns sleeping in or napping on weekends.
It may sound like a no-brainer, but Saturday and Sunday are the only days of the week where one of you can catch up on sleep while the other watches the kids. Try alternating weekends, or have one of you take Saturdays, while the other gets every Sunday.
There’s no one-size-fits-all for sleep-deprived parents, but we hope these tips have given you some new ideas to try or inspired you to have a conversation about sleep balance with your partner. Just remember: you both deserve empathy, and you both deserve a good night’s sleep!