Sleep Awareness for New Mums: Steps to take during the day for better sleep at night

4-10 July 2016 is Sleep Awareness Week.

New parents are painfully aware of sleep. Sleep Awareness Month, or Year might be more appropriate. They see the effects of sleep deprivation in mental functioning, irritability, and co-ordination daily in themselves, their partner, and child, but can often feel powerless to address it. Thankfully there are many free resources to help new parents achieve better sleep sooner.

Contact Dr Nicole Weeks

Phone: 0411 665 683 anytime

Email: nicole@www.practicalresearchparenting.com

Address: St Ives, NSW, 2075

I am available for interview or photography sessions or can provide photos.

Dr Nicole Weeks, a registered psychologist from Practical Research Parenting, says “New parents often think they have to do controlled crying, or accept a sleep sacrifice to gain sleep. This is just not true. There are many gentle steps parents can take during the day, and at bedtime, for better sleep at night.”

1. Understand your child’s sleep need

Two processes govern child and adult sleep: sleep pressure and the circadian rhythm. Low sleep pressure is associated with more bedtime resistance (Jenni and LeBourgeois 2006). Understanding when your child is most ready for sleep can help to make bedtime so much smoother. Dr Nicole Weeks has prepared a couple of free videos, and a free email series to help parents to understand their child’s sleep needs: www.practicalresearchparenting.com/free-downloads-resources/, titled “The first step in any good sleep intervention”.

2. Teach self-settling skills during the day

Self-settling is a skill, and like learning to riding a bike, there will be fewer tears if you use training wheels first. To self-settle to sleep, your child needs to learn to wait, stay still and calm, and calmly accept your absence (assuming you want them to learn to fall asleep without you there). For more details on how to practice these skills during the day, there is a free download called “3 skills to teach during the day for better sleep at night” at www.practicalresearchparenting.com/free-downloads-resources/.

3. Mindful Bedtime Routine

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Recent research using all-night video surveillance of mothers and their babies at 1, 3, and 6 months old found that when parents were more emotionally available during the bedtime routine, their children were less distressed overnight (Philbrook and Teti 2016). Babies also slept more throughout the night when parents were more emotionally available, spent a smaller percentage of the bedtime routine in close (chest to chest or feeding) contact with their child, and avoided exciting, high arousal activities during the bedtime routine.

What is emotional availability? It is when you and your baby are emotionally attuned and communicating well. It includes behaviours like responding to your child’s cues, using a positive, quiet, soothing bedtime routine, not initiating new interactions or talking too much when it is time for sleep, and not showing frustration or anger. This is easier said than done. One approach is to be completely present during the bedtime routine. Don’t think about what you want to do after, how poorly you slept last night, or even the next step in the sequence, just focus on your child in the here and now. More emotional availability during the bed routine has also been associated with fewer night wakings, and less perceived sleep difficulties in children 1 to 24 months old (Teti et al 2010). The Practical Research Parenting Podcast https://www.practicalresearchparenting.com/category/podcast/ provides more information on Mindful Parenting (Episodes 14 to 19), child sleep, and parenting more generally.

Nicole Weeks has a PhD and Masters in Psychology from Macquarie University, and has been researching child sleep for 4 years.

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References

Jenni, O. G., & LeBourgeois, M. K. (2006). Understanding sleep–wake behavior and sleep disorders in children: the value of a model. Current opinion in psychiatry, 19(3), 282.

Philbrook, L. E., & Teti, D. M. (2016). Bidirectional associations between bedtime parenting and infant sleep: Parenting quality, parenting practices, and their interaction. Journal of Family Psychology, 30(4), 431.

Teti, D. M., Kim, B. R., Mayer, G., & Countermine, M. (2010). Maternal emotional availability at bedtime predicts infant sleep quality. Journal of Family Psychology, 24(3), 307.

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