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Sharon Praissman Fisher

Do Not Sleep When the Baby Sleeps

Thoughts on why this adage is not always right.

You have probably heard the above proverb countless times, even if you are still waiting for baby. Sleep deprivation is often the main concern prospective parents have. There is good reason for this!

Sleep Deprivation

It is well understood that lack of sleep can magnify all mental health issues including depression and anxiety. Conversely, insomnia is often a symptom of mental health issues. Of course we all know newborns are not famous for sleeping well. So you may wonder why I'm suggesting sleep is not always the answer.

I’ve had plenty of time to reflect on this in the last five weeks as I embarked on motherhood. I even tried it and it didn’t work for me. This led me to put my mental health provider cap back on and think about why it may not be workable for all new mothers. Please don’t misunderstand, rest and sleep are essential and whatever works for you is great. I’m just not sure sleeping at 10 am when you would rather be doing something else is mentally healthy. The thing is, sometimes being well rested is as important as feeling “human." Believe me, no one feels human if all they do is nurse a baby and sleep. You may develop a senses of compassion for dairy cows, but you won’t feel human.

A Sense of Mastery Can Improve Mood

Many people, in order to feel good about themselves, need a sense of control. Control, in this context, refers to some perception that we can create a set outcome. Mastery refers to a sense of accomplishment, a skill gained. In the newborn phase of a baby-mom dyad’s life (and you are a unit), there is very little order. Life becomes about inputs and outputs, both baby’s and your’s. Even if you are not breast feeding, it is essential to make sure you are properly nourished. The baby will not be on any schedule and randomness rules the day. Brushing your teeth is a major achievement. This is exactly why brushing your teeth, taking a shower, or whatever beauty/hygiene routine you deem necessary for feeling like a functional human being is important. Taking care of your basic needs is one area you can control. Doing them in the context of new motherhood will give you a sense of mastery. Unfortunately, you may need to do them while the baby sleeps.

Improved Confidence

This will increase your sense of well being and boost your confidence in the early, uncertain days of parenthood. It will also make delegation easier and more efficient. Being in control does not mean doing everything yourself. Meals will still need to be prepared (or heated up), laundry done, the dog walked, and the house cleaned. Much like showering, you may enjoy doing one of those things and feel more human when you do it. However, you cannot resume your normal level of activity. If you feel in control, then you will be able to ask others for help. This is beneficial for both you and your family/friends. People often want to help but don’t know what you need and do not want to overstep boundaries. If you are vague, then family visits will amount to more of an annoyance than assistance. If you give specific and clear instructions, theses visits could be a life saver.

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About the Author

Sharon I. Praissman is an adult (medical) and psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner.