Bringing your new baby home for the first time will arguably be the happiest moment in your life – but the limited sleep associated? Well, not so much.
Many new mothers might find themselves wondering what to expect for the first few weeks after birth from a pure sleep perspective.
- Whether they will experience sleep deprivation after the baby?
- How they can function on little sleep?
- Whether there are any good sleep tips for new mums?
Well, no need to stress, because we have got you covered!
An Overview Of Mom’s Sleep Patterns During the Newborn Stage
Did you know that newborn infants sleep for around 17 hours per day?
Yep, completely true – in fact, they tend to sleep for around 7 to 9 hours during the day, and then another whopping 7 to 8 hours at night.
So now you might be wondering as to why new mums have such a hard time sleeping.
And it comes down to one key reason.
You see, newborn babies do not sleep in large chunks like we do as adults, but rather in small periods lasting from anywhere between 1 and 3 hours, that are sporadically distributed throughout the day.
See the issue?
With all this in mind, research has shown that new mothers tend to see some pretty significant alternations in their sleep patterns (Gay, 2004).
Changes In Sleep After Birth
Firstly, they experience much less sleep than they would normally during the night and much more sleep than they would normally during the day.
Secondly, they also tend to experience more sleep disturbance than what most of us would consider normal. It is the direct result of their newborn baby demanding food at pretty regular intervals.
All of which makes complete sense.
As hard as it is to hear, newborn mothers are essentially at the beck and call of their newborn infant child. They wake when their child wakes, and then try and catch small snippets of sleep whenever they can.
As a result, most mothers still manage to get between 6-8 hours of sleep per day, albeit broken up into significantly smaller chunks than normal. With this, they also tend to experience a significant decline in the quality of that sleep, as they get less opportunity to enter deep sleep states regularly.
It is important to note that this trend won’t last forever – and these sleep patterns typically return to normal when their child develops a normal biological rhythm, which occurs at around 3 months (Wolfson, 2003).
Related Article: The Stages Of A Woman’s Sleep Life: Pregnancy And Postpartum
Now if this bit gets a little bit technical for a second, I apologize – bear with me.
Throughout the pregnancy period, you will see a steady increase in estrogen and progesterone secretion, which also stimulate a subsequent rise in both thyroid hormone secretion and prolactin secretion.
How do hormonal changes affect sleep in new moms?
Interestingly, during this time period, we also see a steady rise in the secretion of the hormone cortisol.
However, after childbirth, the secretion of all these hormones plummet, while the production and secretion of oxytocin increases (Hendrick, 1998).
And it can take a couple of months for these changes to normalize and return to pre-pregnancy levels – which, as I am sure you can imagine, can wreak havoc with your sleep.
You see, while cortisol is often considered in a somewhat negative light, it actually plays an important role in the maintenance of sleep and recovery. When cortisol levels are within a normal range, we get into a state of deep sleep easier.
But, if cortisol levels are low, then you are less likely to experience deep sleep states, and you will find yourself waking much easier (Leproult, 2010).
Similarly, low levels of progesterone, estrogen, and thyroid hormone have all been linked to reductions in sleep depth, declines in sleep quality, and shorter sleep durations – which all occur during pregnancy (Caufriez, 2011).
Now all of these hormonal effects ultimately facilitate the negative sleep implications associated with the post-natal period. This is most likely because they can help ensure the survival of your newborn child.
If you wake easier, you are more likely to respond if they are hungry, and if your sleep is more sporadic, you should be able to feed them at increasingly regular intervals.
While these hormonal alterations are arguably less necessary in the modern day, you have to admit that the human body is a pretty amazing thing!
Adrenaline Production After Childbirth
There is research demonstrating that adrenaline secretion increases as the mother gets closer to labor. For the baby, this increased secretion actually provides the foundation for critical adaptations to occur. These adaptations include:
- Ensuring blood flow to heart and brain
- Promoting respiratory transitions (such as the clearing of lung fluid)
- Mobilizing energy for the newborn period
- Facilitating newborn thermoregulation by burning brown fat
- Encouraging newborn alertness and energy for breastfeeding initiation
However, after birth, adrenaline levels decline rapidly to help limit maternal bleeding ensure normal health and function (Buckley, 2015).
How can you function on less sleep?
While sleep recommendations suggest that 7-9 hours of good quality sleep per night is the sweet spot for optimal health and function, we realize that this isn’t always going to be possible – especially with a new baby around the place.
In fact, it’s definitely not going to be possible.
But fortunately, there are some things you can do to help you function on less sleep, and combat sleep deprivation after baby. These include:
- Increased sun exposure
Get Some Sun
Exposure to natural light has been shown to cause two key responses in the human body.
Firstly, it helps facilitate the hormonal fluctuations required to develop a normal sleep-wake cycle. Secondly, it causes an increase in the production of Vitamin D throughout the body.
Both things have been linked to increasing alertness and cognitive functioning throughout the day, making regular sun exposure a must for new mums (Kent, 2009).
Like sun exposure, exercise can have a huge impact on mood and alertness.
Exercise has been shown to increase the secretion of feel-good hormones, improve mood, enhance feelings of alertness, and even increase energy levels, making it ideal for anyone who is suffering from chronic sleep deprivation (Brand, 2018).
This can easily be structured as a casual stroll in the morning, or even an afternoon jog if you are feeling up to it – the thing to remember is that it doesn’t have to be hard or long, as even a small amount will get you feeling better.
Don’t Be Afraid To Nap
Last but not least, we can also use napping as a way to mitigate the negative effects associated with poor sleep quality throughout the night.
Undertaking a brief nap during the middle of the day has been shown to cause significant improvements in energy levels, cognitive function, mood, alertness, and even physical performance (Milner, 2009).
So, don’t be afraid to nap when your baby does.
Related Article: Maternal Nutritional Requirements for Pregnancy & Breastfeeding
What are the best sleep tips for new moms?
I have outlined some things that can help you deal with your tiredness, but what about some tips that will help you fall asleep faster during those brief windows of time where sleep is a viable option?
Well, I have got you covered.
Wear An Eye Mask
Your eyes contain receptors that are sensitive to light.
When these receptors are stimulated, they send signals to your brain, which increase feelings of alertness, while also downregulating feelings of relaxation and tiredness – all of which make it harder to fall asleep (Wams, 2017).
As such, eye masks provide the perfect way to limit light exposure and get you falling asleep faster.
Try a Sound Machine
Sound machines have been designed with the intent to make white noise.
White noise is quite unique as it functions as a type of anti-noise. As a result, it acts as a distraction for normal thoughts, while also reducing feelings of alertness.
As a result, these machines have been shown to enhance sleep quality by providing a kind of distraction for the brain, in which they subsequently promote sensations of relaxation and tiredness (Afshar, 2016).
Turn on The Air Conditioner
Finally, research also suggests that warmer temperature increase blood flow and make it more challenging to fall asleep.
As a result, using an air conditioner to keep the room between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit (or around 19 degrees Celsius) appears to provide the perfect environment to get you falling asleep faster and increasing your sleep quality (NIH, 2011).
Are there any sleep disorders after stopping breastfeeding?
There are two key hormonal changes that occur after breastfeeding – a reduction in the secretion of prolactin and oxytocin.
This is of particular importance because each of these hormones plays a role in creating a state of relaxation, hence the reason they are sometimes referred to as ‘feel good’ hormones (Uvnäs-Moberg, 1996).
This reduced secretion can sometimes contribute to an inability to fall asleep after breastfeeding.
While this is obviously not all that desirable, it is important to touch on because it is completely normal. Moreover, your ability to fall asleep will return to normal within a few weeks after completely ceasing breastfeeding.
It won’t necessarily contribute to the onset of a sleep disorder after breastfeeding but is still worth considering.
Take Home Message
The reduction in sleep associated with the newborn period can wreak havoc with your ability to function- but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to accept it completely.
Yes, there will be days where you get limited sleep.
There will also be days where you feel like you don’t have any energy, and you can’t focus at all.
But by implementing the tips outlined in this article, you can keep those days to the bare minimum. If they do happen to occur, you can also mitigate their impact as much as possible.
So please give these tips on sleep for new moms a go and let us know what you think!
Gay, Caryl L., Kathryn A. Lee, and Shih-Yu Lee. “Sleep patterns and fatigue in new mothers and fathers.” Biological research for nursing 5.4 (2004): 311-318.
Wolfson, Amy R., et al. “Changes in sleep patterns and depressive symptoms in first-time mothers: last trimester to 1-year postpartum.” Behavioral sleep medicine 1.1 (2003): 54-67.
Hendrick, Victoria, Lori L. Altshuler, and Rita Suri. “Hormonal changes in the postpartum and implications for postpartum depression.” Psychosomatics 39.2 (1998): 93-101.
Leproult, Rachel, and Eve Van Cauter. “Role of sleep and sleep loss in hormonal release and metabolism.” Pediatric Neuroendocrinology. Vol. 17. Karger Publishers, 2010. 11-21.
Caufriez, Anne, et al. “Progesterone prevents sleep disturbances and modulates GH, TSH, and melatonin secretion in postmenopausal women.” The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism 96.4 (2011): E614-E623.
Buckley, Sarah J. “Executive summary of hormonal physiology of childbearing: evidence and implications for women, babies, and maternity care.” The Journal of perinatal education 24.3 (2015): 145.
Kent, Shia T., et al. “Effect of sunlight exposure on cognitive function among depressed and non-depressed participants: a REGARDS cross-sectional study.” Environmental Health 8.1 (2009): 34.
Brand, Serge, et al. “Acute bouts of exercising improved mood, rumination and social interaction in inpatients with mental disorders.” Frontiers in psychology 9 (2018): 249.
Milner, Catherine E., and Kimberly A. Cote. “Benefits of napping in healthy adults: impact of nap length, time of day, age, and experience with napping.” Journal of sleep research 18.2 (2009): 272-281.
Wams, Emma J., et al. “Linking light exposure and subsequent sleep: A field polysomnography study in humans.” Sleep 40.12 (2017): zsx165.
Afshar, Pouya Farokhnezhad, et al. “Effect of white noise on sleep in patients admitted to a coronary care.” Journal of caring sciences 5.2 (2016): 103.
National heart, lung, and blood instirutre (NIH). “Your Guide to Healthy Sleep” (2011).
Uvnäs-Moberg, Kerstin. “Neuroendocrinology of the mother—child interaction.” Trends in Endocrinology & Metabolism 7.4 (1996): 126-131.