I just had a baby, how can I get the best sleep possible?
(is there a difference between whether I room-share with my baby or not?)
You’ll be woken up, it’s almost inevitable – but try not to worry about when you will be woken up next; you’ll sleep better.
You should expect that your sleep will be disrupted or shortened because of your newborn or infant’s natural night wakings and feeding needs during the first few months postpartum. Knowing and accepting this is important and possibly will make it easier for you to go back to sleep after taking care of your baby. Worrying about when your baby will wake you up again will likely increase your cognitive and physical arousal. This means your thoughts and body may be more reactive, which will probably disrupt your sleep even more. Actually, because of the unavoidable night-wakings and sleep deprivation, many new mothers develop a strong drive to sleep which means it will probably take you less time to fall asleep at bedtime and you will have more deep sleep and REM sleep (the most important sleep phases). That said, try not to worry about the next time you will be woken up – you’ll probably sleep better.
So – how do I balance it all?
Overall it is recommended that you try to balance between making sleep a priority and not trying too hard to sleep. People cannot force their own sleep, that is, you can’t make yourself fall asleep. Trying to do so may actually disrupt your sleep. You can make sleep a priority by going to sleep earlier than you were used to before the baby was born (after you put your baby to sleep, of course) but only do this if you are able to fall asleep easily and you have no prior history of insomnia. Also, when your baby naps during the day, try to rest and lay down as well. Make resting a priority over house chores and duties. You can also get better sleep by sharing nighttime caregiving (for example, feeding) with your partner or another adult family member, especially if you are not breastfeeding.
Many mothers prefer to co-sleep with their infant because of various reasons such as breastfeeding facilitation and convenience. Importantly, the American Academy of Pediatrics task force strongly recommends against bed-sharing. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics: “It is recommended that infants sleep in the parents’ room, close to the parents’ bed, but on a separate surface designed for infants, … at least for the first 6 months. Placing the crib close to the parents’ bed so that the infant is within view and reach can facilitate feeding, comforting, and monitoring of the infant.”
Even though room-sharing without bed-sharing is recommended for these various reasons, recent findings indicate that room-sharing mothers have poorer sleep (more night-wakings, longer periods of nighttime wakefulness) than mothers in solitary sleeping arrangements (infant sleeping in a different room). One possible explanation might be that co-sleeping mothers are more likely to be woken up by their baby’s awakenings or vocalizations during sleep. It could also be that mothers who already have sleep disturbances unrelated to their baby are more likely to choose co-sleeping arrangements because they believe that it will be easier for them to fall back to sleep if their sleep if their baby sleeps close to them. Obviously, where to put your baby’s crib is a very personal choice, and many factors play into this decision. Nevertheless, if your infant shares a room with you, and your sleep is interrupted by your baby’s vocalizations and noises, movements or signals, then consider moving your baby into a different room. This may improve your sleep.