By Cory Bernard
Prioritizing good sleep is good self love.
What is protected sleep?
Sleep is important to all humans; it’s one of our primary sources of energy. Sleep deprivation will affect all other areas of functioning . . . physical, mental and emotional. Uninterrupted sleep is essential to the recovery of a new mom or dad, particularly if they are suffering from postpartum depression, anxiety or other mood disorder. This is not to say that sleep alone will “cure” their emotional distress, but it can be key in helping them on the road to recovery. Being well rested will improve their ability to think clearly, analyze rationally and make decisions. When these abilities are negatively affected by lack of sleep, feelings of confusion, frustration, sadness, anxiousness and guilt can follow, further complicating the situation.
Protected sleep is a term that refers to the idea that the person (often but not always the mom) suffering from emotional dysregulation gets uninterrupted sleep. Her sleep time is “protected” in any number of ways by both herself and those around her. The following information, guidelines and suggestions refer to ideal situations. Even if ideal cannot be reached, any improvement in a mother’s sleep will be helpful in regulating her emotions, functioning and care for herself and her child(ren).
I sleep when the baby sleeps, isn’t that good enough?
While sleeping when the baby sleeps is what we are taught to do, and sometimes babies are good sleepers so this might be enough for a mom, often it is just not enough. Many babies sleep in 1-4 hour windows which means mom is getting less time than that per opportunity to sleep. This is barely enough for a nap, never mind full, rejuvenating sleep cycles. Also, frequently mothers have other obligations (self-imposed or otherwise) which they attend to when the baby does sleep for longer. These can include caring for older children, cooking, cleaning or working. The goal is for mothers to get at least 5 hours (more if/when possible) of uninterrupted sleep. This does not include time needed to get ready to go to bed or fall asleep, it only applies to time asleep.
How am I supposed to do THAT?
A common question when the discussion of protected sleep comes up. The answer takes a team effort, consistency and practice. A mom may not sleep as long as hoped the first several times. Perhaps she is having anxiety about the changes being made or her body is adjusting to being “allowed” to sleep. Even in these early attempts, having quiet rest time is beneficial to mom. Here are the basics on protected sleep, some tips and other ideas…
First, protected sleep means the mom is “off duty”…completely. This means she does not have other expectations or obligations, and there is another trusted adult who is responsible for the baby and other children during the protected sleep time. Preferably protected sleep will happen at night to maintain regular sleep cycles but, particularly when baby is young, this may be difficult. If daytime is the only time someone can be available, take it! Even getting a full night “off” once a week can really help.
The baby’s other parent is often the “go to” when looking for someone to care for baby/children during mom’s protected sleep time. But what if that person is not available? Sometimes there is no partner or the partner works nights.
- If partner works nights, have a conversation about how mom can get protected sleep time during the day when they are there and awake.
- Try another family member such as a sibling of mom or partner, parent, cousin, or a friend you trust. Anyone can have their sleep interrupted for a night. It’s not as much of an imposition as you would be inclined to think. Remember, they don’t sleep in your house with a new born every night so being there once a week or a couple nights in a row will not cause them the distress that your lack of sleep is causing you. If they can not spend the night, enlist their help during the day to get some sleep.
- Not everyone has friends or family in the area. In these cases, partner may be the only option and there may need to be a conversation about both of you losing “some” sleep.
- Hire a postpartum doula, night nurse or babysitter. If you have the means, this can be a wonderful resource when it comes to sleep.
***Be sure whoever is caring for baby has questions answered and a resource other than mom to contact if something comes up. This prevents mom being woken with questions during her sleep time.
Second, when protected sleep time comes, prepare for sleep. Some people are very deep sleepers and once they fall asleep, noise won’t bother them, but this is not the norm for new moms. Put your phone away in another room, take a shower or relaxing bath, drink some calming tea, listen to calm music or a guided sleep meditation (consult with doctor before doing meditation), journal or use other methods to calm and empty your mind to prepare it for sleep. None of this may be necessary if you are exhausted but it’s good to establish a sleep routine if needed.
In order to “protect” sleep time, put as much space and buffer between you and baby as possible.
- Close doors (as many as are between you and baby)
- Sleep on a different floor if possible (basement rooms are particularly good for insulating noise)
- Put on an air conditioner, fan or other “white noise” machine
- Put on soft music, spoken word (mundane book or podcast) either out loud in the room or through headphones if you can sleep with them.
- Use earplugs
Since space is a luxury not everyone has, you can also remove baby from the home in order to create the buffer.
- Have a trusted adult take baby out of the house completely (even if it is just in the yard). They can go to the library, a playground or a long walk. Once you have had time to fall asleep they may be able to come home put baby down for a nap, read books or play quietly if you are a deep sleeper or have some buffer abilities. Try to protect sleep for as long as possible.
But I’m breastfeeding….
One of the most common concerns or roadblocks to consecutive sleep is a breastfeeding mom. While it may be particularly difficult to fit in protected sleep in early weeks, it will become easier as baby feeds less often. There are also ways to work around breastfeeding to limit the amount of time mom is awake.
- You may not be able to get “uninterrupted sleep” but you can still protect your sleep by asking your partner to change the baby before bringing her in for feeding and then to take baby back out of the room to rock and put back to sleep right after feeding. As baby gets bigger and feeds less, you will get more protected sleep.
- You can also prepare a bottle for one feeding a night and just wake up, pump and go back to sleep. Keep a cooler in the bedroom to store the milk or ask you partner to come in when up with the baby to get the milk and put it in the fridge/freezer.
While all of this may seem like more work, in the end, it pays off and you will get into a routine. Remember: The ultimate goal is to stay in bed, asleep as many hours as possible (within reason) to give your brain and body time to rejuvenate, refresh and recover. 😊