How much sleep do you need in postpartum? That’s an important question.
So important, that the topic of sleep (and getting more of it) in these early years of parenting has become a billion dollar industry in Western culture.
Why is sleep important?
I don’t really need to explain this in depth do I…we know our bodies don’t feel well when we don’t get a good night's rest.
Sleep helps us think clearly, function on a day to day basis and also to balance our hormones. It’s the time in our day when our body recalibrates and heals and during postpartum, there is a LOT of recalibration and healing that needs to take place.
How much sleep do you need in postpartum?
Women need an average of 10-12 hours of sleep in a 24 hour period in postpartum.
That means actual sleep - it can be disrupted, that’s completely expected - but your brain and body need sleep to help your nervous system regulate and calm, your body to repair and your hormones to recalibrate.
How our brains change to adapt to disrupted sleep.
Our brains are rewired during pregnancy and postpartum. This rewiring allows your brain to adapt to waking up more frequently, to have shorter chunks of sleep, fall asleep faster (sleep efficiency), have shorter sleep cycles that match our baby’s more closely and drop into and out of deep sleep more quickly.
Basically, we are more efficient at sleeping when we have a new baby. It’s fascinating.
How to ensure you get the rest that you need.
Let’s look at how traditional cultures approach this question because we can learn a lot from the wisdom of those practices.
In those mother-centered cultures, the need for a postpartum mother to rest for the first 40 days after birth is deeply respected and facilitated by the community.
We don’t respect the need for rest here in Western culture.
(If we did, we wouldn't have the unspoken pressure to be back at the supermarket 2 days after birth…)
In traditional cultures we also see a lot of bed sharing practices which is almost universal outside of western culture. Bedsharing, when exclusively breastfeeding, allows for more rest for mom.
What’s my top tip to ensure you get the rest you need?
It sounds silly, but simply making sleep your TOP PRIORITY (aside from eating well) is probably one of THE BEST things you can do.
Once you make sleep your priority, everything else will fall into place around it.
If you have a newborn, toddler or many kids, finding a rhythm that works for the family is key.
Please don’t sacrifice yourself in the name of your kids because everyone in the family will experience this deprivation through you.
The more you rest in the early weeks, the faster you will heal and the better you will be able to care for your family.
To your health, healing and rest in postpartum,
The Dietitian Doula