Wisdom//

How to Get More Sleep As a New Parent, According to SELF Editor in Chief Carolyn Kylstra

Prioritize your children and your sleep.

Courtesy of Carolyn Kylstra
Courtesy of Carolyn Kylstra

I’m the mom of a sweet toddler who’s turning 2 in July. It will be no great shock to any other new parent that I get chronically, miserably inadequate sleep. There are not enough naps in the world to make up for it.

I haven’t always been this frantically sleep-starved. At the beginning of my career, I worked at a company that had actual nap rooms as a perk, and I remember thinking that was just the most absurd thing I’d ever heard. Who needs nap rooms? We’re only at work for eight hours a day. Go to bed earlier if you’re so dang tired!

What a sheltered, privileged, child-free life I led!

I’ve been a health editor for over a decade now, which means that I unfortunately know way more than is comfortable about how important it is to get good, high-quality, consistent sleep. I know all the science behind it: Sleep impacts your memory. It impacts your mental health. It impacts a whole host of things, from what foods you crave, to your self-control, to your exercise routine (not to mention, your willingness to exercise in the first place). It is extremely good and important for your brain health! It is just as vital to your general health and well-being as eating nutritious foods and getting regular exercise. It is not an exaggeration to say that good sleep is a necessary foundation for a healthy lifestyle.

And I also know the dangers of not getting enough sleep. Did you know, for instance, that drowsy driving is almost as dangerous as drunk driving, and that the National Sleep Foundation estimates that poor sleep accounts for nearly 100,000 car accidents per year? Or that chronic insomnia is correlated with a whole range of problems, from low libido to elevated cortisol levels to diabetes and cardiovascular disease?

And so it is with no small amount of anxiety that I think about all the hours of solid, consistent, deep, glorious sleep I have not been getting for the past few years, pretty much since I became pregnant enough with my daughter to need the aid of a Snoogle to fall asleep in the first place. I look at my extremely tired face in the mirror every morning and try very hard not to ask myself: What is this lack of sleep doing to me?

I don’t really have great advice for new moms about how to get better sleep, but I can share a few things that have… helped, I guess you could say, although they certainly don’t amount to life hacks by any means. More like this’ll-do-for-now hacks. Or I’m-doing-the-damn-best-I-can-and-it’s-still-not-very-good-but-oh-well hacks.

Know your priorities.

A million years ago, before I had a kid, I got up early a few times a week to go work out. Now I know that sleep is more important to me than literally any other health activity. I get up as late as I possibly can (so about 7:15 a.m., give or take, depending on when my daughter starts yowling for me). This means that working out is very low on my list of priorities, and I am completely OK with that.

Sleep when the kiddo sleeps.

If your kid goes down for a nap, and you have a choice between getting a nap or doing your laundry… take the damn nap. The laundry can wait.

Consider sleep training.

Look, YMMV, and this certainly isn’t the right move for everyone or every kid. But if you can stomach it… Sleep training could make a big difference. My daughter basically sleeps from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. every day, which is a miracle and a delight. That’s thanks to our gentle sleep training approach we took when she was much younger. The reason I’m not sleeping very much these days is because she doesn’t always STAY asleep during this time period. Which brings me to the fourth point:

Do what you need to do to get your sleep.

We initially were bringing her into bed with us when she would cry in the middle of the night, because she fell back asleep a lot faster that way. But very soon that became a terrible solution, because while SHE was sleeping soundly, she was simultaneously kicking the hell out of me all night long. I could not handle it. I was desperate for sleep. So we had to devote about a week to training her out of the sleeping-in-mommy-and-daddy’s-bed habit. She still wakes up a few nights a week, but at least all it requires is someone to go in and rock her for a bit and put her back down. I’ll take a small 10-minute sleep distraction over hours of crap sleep any day.

OK, and this should really be obvious to anyone and everyone, but… whatever you do, don’t get a puppy when you have a toddler.

This is a terrible life choice and it will absolutely destroy you. I know this for a fact because my husband and I actually did this. If I could communicate with my past self from about 10 months ago, I’d tell her: It doesn’t matter how cute that puppy is. You will regret it. Puppies are like babies, see. They wake up a lot during the night. Except with a puppy, you don’t love it the way you love your baby. And it also destroys your couches. Which is much, much harder to deal with when you haven’t gotten any sleep.

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