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More Zzzzzzs, Please! Sleep Tips for New Parents

New parents often get teased about sleep deprivation, but it's no joke when you're the one stumbling around in a fog. Not getting enough sleep can make you short tempered and affect your cognition and short term memory. There's no getting around the fact that newborns cycle in and out of sleep faster than older children and adults. And when they wake up, they want to be fed. So what's a tired parent to do?

In this segment, OBGYN Jennifer Voss shares a few tips to help new moms and their partners get some much needed shut-eye.
More Zzzzzzs, Please! Sleep Tips for New Parents
Jennifer Voss, MD
Dr. K. Jennifer Voss, the current chairman of the department of OB/GYN at Marin General Hospital, is a Bay Area native. She attended UC San Diego for her undergraduate education and obtained a BS in physiology and neuroscience in 1994. After moving East to further her education at the Temple University School of Medicine in Philadelphia, she returned to Southern California to complete her OB/GYN residency training at UC Irvine. Following many years of education, she was excited to return to Marin County where she joined Women’s Medical Associates in 2003.

Dr. Voss is a board certified OB/GYN and a Fellow of the American College of Obstetrician and Gynecologists who practices medicine with an evidence-based approach, but is open to complementary and alternative options as well. She has a special interest in laparoscopic surgery and is certified to use the DaVinci Robotic Surgical System. Fluent in both English and Spanish, Dr. Voss has a passion for medicine and is excited to be in practice with other physicians who share the same philosophy and ideals, as well as the ability to juggle both family and medicine!

Outside of the office, Dr. Voss enjoys hiking, skiing, volleyball, and spending time with her husband and two sons.

Learn more about Jennifer Voss, MD

Bill Klaproth (Host): A poll by the National Sleep Foundation found that 76% of parents have frequent sleep problems and here to talk with us about sleep deprivation is Dr. Jennifer Voss, a board-certified OB/GYN and a current chairman of the Department of OB/GYN at Marin General Hospital. Thank you so much for your time today. We all know sleep is important but is sleep after baby even more important?

Dr. Jennifer Voss, MD (Guest): In some ways, it’s more important simply because you get so much less of it. It’s really challenging to get good sleep when you have a newborn because newborn babies sleep patterns are quite different from an adult. They naturally cycle through sleep much faster, which then means they wake up and that means the parents must wake up, which is not our normal sleep patterns. Sleep deprivation is part of the natural process of parenting, but at the same time, it’s not really ideal for an adult for their sleep pattern.

Klaproth: What are the negative consequences then of lack of sleep when your sleep pattern is different than what you're used to?

Dr. Voss: For one, you're obviously exhausted and daytime exhaustion is challenging because you may find that your moods suffer. One of the unfortunate things that occur, especially in women postpartum, is that 10% to 15% of women may suffer from postpartum depression and we know that sleep deprivation plays a role with that, and certainly, it's more common for women to have mood issues if their sleep is very poor. We like to try to give people tips as to how they might improve their sleep in a situation when we already know that it’s going to be difficult.

Klaproth: Are there other signs that someone is sleep deprived? I know you talked about daytime exhaustion and postpartum. Are there other signs someone should be aware of?

Dr. Voss: You just tend to think as clearly. A lot of times, people will find that they just feel cloudy, feel like their short-term memory is an issue, sometimes just your cognitive function is just not as good, as so you can't remember things like where you've left your car keys or trying to organize your day. All of those things can take a little bit more effort and you just don't think as clearly when you're tired.

Klaproth: for the sleep-deprived parent that is listening to this right now, can you share some tips with us for better sleep?

Dr. Voss: I think one of the things you have to do is actually prioritize sleep a little bit. When you are carrying for a newborn, unfortunately, it means that a lot of the other things that you normally do like cleaning your house and managing dishes and doing laundry, those things you have to allow to fall by the wayside a little bit in order to prioritize taking a nap or getting some sleep. I think that parents are sometimes hard on themselves and feel like they're not doing a good enough job parenting and they need to let some of those things go and realize that getting enough sleep is really beneficial.

Klaproth: You’ve got to work at it. You’ve got to prioritize sleep. Can you make up for lost sleep?

Dr. Voss: You can. The thing that you can't make up for is the broken nature of sleep with a newborn, but you can definitely make up for it by trying to take naps and I do think that in a way, one of the best things to do is actually set a bedtime for yourself. When the baby goes to sleep in the evening as opposed to trying to get things done in that first couple hours of sleep, you actually go to sleep as well. Even though you may be going to sleep at eight o'clock, in the 12 hours of time between eight p.m. and eight a.m., you're probably only going to sleep half of those. By prioritizing it and giving yourself a bedtime and realizing that it’s okay to maybe leave some of those chores undone, then I do think people end up being actually happier in the end because they get a little bit more sleep.

Klaproth: You talked about naps. When the baby goes to sleep, if you're able to take a nap, then is that a good idea? On the weekends when your partner is around if you can grab that nap, you definitely say that’s a good idea then?

Dr. Voss: Yes. It’s definitely a good idea and sometimes people find it difficult to sleep during the day, so having a place where the room is dark, where it's cool, avoiding the use of screen within that time, all of those things are quite helpful. The other thing is asking for help. You can have somebody come over during the daytime and give you a little break just to give you some time to nap, and all of those things I think are beneficial.  

Klaproth: What about the late-night feedings? Is it advisable to try to switch off with your partner?

Dr. Voss: Certainly, in some couples, that works well. Sometimes it really does depend if you have a newborn that can transition between breastfeeding and bottle feeding, then having the three a.m. feeding be performed by the partner can be helpful, but of course what happens sometimes is the woman has to pump, which also disrupts sleep in its own way. I think it depends on the situation. Sometimes that can be very helpful, but if it ends up that the mom is just waking up and pumping as opposed to waking up and breastfeeding, then that can create a whole different stress. I think it really depends on the sleep patterns that the baby and how well breastfeeding is going and if they have the opportunity to do that. For many people, that is helpful.

Klaproth: Very good. If tips like these don’t work, is it advisable for a parent to seek the advice of a doctor?

Dr. Voss: It certainly can be. It also depends on the age of the child. Newborns themselves have a pretty set sleep pattern, which can't really be altered, but as they mature and age, then there's a lot of different interpretations of what the normal healthy sleep pattern should be for a baby. A lot of pediatricians have insight into different methods of sleep training and trying to get the baby to develop a healthy sleep pattern, which then allows the parents to get a healthier sleep pattern. I would say if there are challenges with trying to get the baby to sleep well at night, it's a good thing to discuss with a pediatrician.  

Klaproth: Interesting, so you can talk to the pediatrician about the baby’s sleep patterns and for yourself if you feel like ‘I just can't catch up and naps aren’t working, I'm trying to prioritize sleep and I can't,’ is it good for the parent to seek the advice of a doctor as well to maybe get some help for themselves?

Dr. Voss: There's the possibility that it’s all simply related to having a newborn, but there are other sleep issues. There's insomnia that people may have had prior to having a child and there are things such as sleep apnea, which can impact sleep. One of the benefits of seeing a physician is that we can try to figure out is this simply just trying to raise a newborn or is there really another sleep abnormality that’s going on that could actually be treated differently. The other thing is that we would definitely screen for postpartum mood abnormalities because we know that that can also be a source of insomnia.

Klaproth: For that sleep-deprived parent that's listening right now, what else do they need to know?

Dr. Voss: We like to also remind people to be careful. It’s a period of time when they just haven't caught up on their sleep and they're finding that their cognitive ability isn't as good. We know that especially for things like driving it can impact your ability to react and drive safely, so we recommend that if parents are exhausted to be very careful when they're out with a motor vehicle, and also just to make sure that they feel like they're functioning well enough on their own because I think that parents have a hard time asking for help because they feel a little bit like they may not be doing a good enough job. We want to remind people that parenting is difficult and that they should feel like it’s okay to ask for help if they need it.

Klaproth: That makes a lot of sense. Thank you for sharing all those tips with us and thank you for your time. For more information, you can visit That’s This is The Healing Podcast brought to you by Marin General Hospital. I'm Bill Klaproth. Thanks for listening.