How to Make Sure You and Your Baby Get More Sleep As a New Mom

New mothers who experience sleep deprivation after birth can add as much as seven years onto their "biological age" according to a new study.

Research by scientists at UCLA followed 33 mothers during their pregnancies and for the first year after their baby was born, then conducted blood tests to look at DNA samples determining their biological age.

This can differ from chronological age, which is based on the amount of time you have been alive, and instead indicates how old your body seems based on a number of factors including changes to chromosomes over time.

For mothers who slept less than seven hours a night when their baby was six-months-old, their biological age was between three and seven years older than the mothers who slept more.

Mothers who slept for less than seven hours also had shorter telomeres in their white blood cells—linked to higher risk of developing some cancers, cardiovascular disease and premature death.

If losing sleep due to a new baby is so detrimental to your health, then every new parent on the planet would be doomed.
Lucy Shrimpton, The Sleep Nanny

UCLA's George F. Solomon Professor of Psychobiology's Judith Carroll was the study's first author and said in a press release seen by Newsweek: "The early months of postpartum sleep deprivation could have a lasting effect on physical health.

"We found that with every hour of additional sleep, the mother's biological age was younger. Taking care of your sleep needs will help you and your baby in the long run."

However, co-author and professor of psychology and psychiatry at UCLA, Christine Dunkel Schetter stressed: "We don't want the message to be that mothers are permanently damaged by infant care and loss of sleep. We don't know if these effects are long lasting."

Why Do New Mothers Struggle to Sleep?

Not only is adjusting to having to care for a newborn extremely challenging for new parents, biological changes often turn mothers into light sleepers.

Dr. Lindsay Browning, psychologist, neuroscientist and sleep expert at And So To Bed explained: "When you have a new baby, your brain changes to become more aware of your surroundings during sleep so that you can easily wake up and attend to the new baby when needed.

"This makes sleep lighter than it was before a baby, and makes you easier to wake. Often, pregnant women will start to struggle sleeping before the baby is born as the body starts to change and adapt to what is coming."

Expert in sleep for new parents and founder of The Sleep Nanny, Lucy Shrimpton added: "A new baby can wake up numerous times in the night crying which inevitably wakes up their parents. New moms can also worry about their little one, not wanting to go to sleep in case they need them."

Why Is Sleep Important for New Moms?

Being well rested is inevitably important in order to care for a new baby, but it's especially important to help mothers' bodies after giving birth.

Browning said: "We repair our bodies during deep sleep. After birth, the new mother's body will need to repair, especially if there was tearing during birth or a caesarean."

Lack of sleep can also impact your mood, memory and lead to a weakened immune system.

"It can also affect mental health as much as physical, and during the 4th trimester a new mother's hormones are all over the place - the baby blues for example - so sleep is vital in order to function properly," Browning said.

Woman holds sleeping baby
A woman with a distressed expression holds a sleeping baby Getty Images

Should I Nap When My Baby Does?

If a restless baby keeps you up at night, trying to nap when your baby does during the day if you're able to is a great way to catch up on sleep, Browning explained.

"There is no need to get your full 24 hour's sleep requirements in one block overnight— you can get enough sleep in chunks across the night and day."

Not everyone can easily fall asleep in the middle of the day though, and Shrimpton said that it's important not to put pressure on yourself.

"It's often very hard to sleep for just a half hour while your baby is napping so instead just give yourself some 'me time.'

"Just by sitting down and putting your feet up and resting your eyes even for ten minutes is better than not bothering at all. It can be very easy to think, 'what's the point' but even taking that bit of time to rest is better than nothing."

How Can I Make Sure My Baby Sleeps Through the Night?

"Routine is the most important thing," Shrimpton advised. This can be started as young as two weeks old.

"Create an environment for your baby that is dark, calm and quiet and put them to bed at the same time each night.

"Keep nap times consistent during the day and sustain these naps until they are around three-and-a-half or four-years-old.

Newborn baby sleeps in crib
A newborn baby asleep in a crib Getty Images

"Little ones with really alert temperaments will appear not to need or want these naps but they actually need it more and for longer than their laid back peers."

If your baby is fussing in their sleep space, she suggested picking them up, calming them, before putting them back to bed.

Don't be afraid to seek professional help if you are really struggling to get your baby to sustain a regular sleep schedule.

"There is really no need to suffer and you are jeopardizing your's and your family's health and well-being," she said.

What Can New Moms Do to Get More Sleep?

Browning said having a good support system in place with family and friends to help you can make a big difference.

"If you have a partner then agree a plan between you who is responsible for the baby versus other daily life such as food shopping and household chores on any given day to allow the person responsible for the baby to take advantage of napping.

"Also, accepting help from family and friends to help with shopping, meals and other chores so that you don't feel pressured to get those tasks done when the baby sleeps will make things easier."

If you have a partner, you should also make sure you're on the same page, as Shrimpton explained: "Many couples get a healthy routine going that works for them where the mom might wake up in the night to feed and the partner might put them to bed at night.

"The most important thing is to communicate with your partner and talk honestly about what you need so you're not resenting one another if one partner is taking on too much of the load."

Mother sleeps next to baby
A mother sleeps next to her baby Getty Images

When it comes to actually going to bed, just like with your baby, mothers should get themselves into a good routine if possible.

Shrimpton said: "Warm lighting, candles and soothing music can make your bedroom your retreat to escape the world and unwind in.

"If you or your partner are working from home right now, try not to set up a desk in the bedroom if you can avoid it as this will only remind you of work just when you want to sleep."

In households where space is limited, instead try to tidy your workspace, putting computers and paperwork away, so it's not reminding you of work.

Shrimpton recommended swapping screen time for books, avoiding blue light for at least an hour before you sleep, and use a traditional alarm clock or radio instead of your phone.

Avoid eating dinner too late, and steer clear of sugary foods and caffeine at least three hours before bed, and keep a notepad by your bed to let go of what's on your mind.

If even after your baby has begun sleeping through the night, you still find yourself struggling to sleep, don't panic, Shrimpton said.

"Every new baby is different so if you don't fall into a routine quickly don't worry. You will find your way of working if you stick to a routine and ask for help when you need it."

Browning added that this is "extremely common" in new mothers.

"When the baby starts to sleep through, the anxiety about your sleep and the fact that your sleep is lighter can continue and cause you to struggle to fall asleep and stay asleep.

Couple hold sleeping baby
Couple hold sleeping baby Getty Images

"If once your baby has started sleeping through regularly you are worried about your sleep, taking more than 30 minutes to fall asleep or waking up and unable to return to sleep for more than 30 minutes during the night, then you might like to speak to a doctor or sleep professional, about cognitive behavioural therapy for insomnia (CBT-I)."

For mothers worried about their sleep, she offered this advice: "If losing sleep due to a new baby is so detrimental to your health, then every new parent on the planet would be doomed. However, as humans we are designed to be able to adapt and cope with short-term sleep loss so don't worry and enjoy your new baby."

Woman struggles to sleep
A woman lies in bed with her hands over her eyes struggling to sleep Getty Images