Campaign for better sleep week 4: Improving your sleep with a new baby in the house

Trying to get a good night’s sleep when you have a newborn – not easy

Sleep is a wonderful thing. Or at least, that’s how I remember it. I’m the new mother of a three-month-old, dealing with the bounteous challenges that brings. That means 2am feeds, 3am nappy changes, and not a peaceful night’s sleep in sight.

I wanted to see just how much this new member of our household was affecting my sleep patterns, so I’ve been wearing my Fitbit Charge 3, which tracks my Sleep Stages through the night, letting me see how I move through light sleep, deep sleep, REM and - particularly in my case – how much of the night I’m spending awake.

Explained: How Fitbit's sleep tracking helps you get better rest

I only need to peer at my Fitbit data from before the arrival of baby Jake and… well… it tells two very different stories. A good night’s sleep for me lies somewhere between 7 and 8 hours – I’m usually in bed by 10, asleep before 11 – and maybe the odd 9am lie-in on weekends for a treat.

But once Jake arrived, and those once-colourful sleep bars in my Fitbit app started looking solemnly monotonous and worryingly short. Of course, none of this is a surprise. Part of the “fun” of a new baby is the constant interruptions through the night. For the uninitiated, a newborn baby will often sleep more than 16 hours a day. For the parents, it’s a different story: it’s pretty typical for parents of newborns to get less than five hours of sleep per night. That’s because those 16 hours of blissful baby sleep are broken up into chunks of 2-4 hours.

Don’t believe me? Here’s a pretty typical night for me, as told by my Fitbit data.

Campaign for better sleep week 4: Improving your sleep with a baby in the house

Generally I’ll be woken every couple of hours for a feed, a nappy change, or just some reassurance. On a night like this I’ll be lucky to hit a full five hours of sleep if I can drift off again. But in the sleep-deprived delirium it can be difficult to know if I’ve slept at all. Sometimes I don’t even know if I’ve managed to sleep between feeds; it all becomes a bit of a blur. That’s where my Fitbit is opening my eyes to insights I wouldn’t otherwise have.

The Fitbit Charge 3 lets me know exactly how much – or how little – sleep I’m getting. Not only that, but it’s fascinating to see how this is all affecting my Sleep Stages. For example, most of our deep sleep occurs earlier in the night and REM in the later part. When you’re not falling asleep until the early hours, you’re going to get less deep sleep and more REM sleep, which as my Fitbit shows, is exactly what has been happening to me.

As you get older, you tend to be in deep sleep for less time, but when it comes to comparing my Stages against one another, the app tells me my percentage of deep sleep is well below the benchmark for my age bracket. Meanwhile my light sleep is often higher than the bracket amount, which might sound odd, but this is happening because I’m not moving through the stages of sleep as I should.

An entire sleep cycle lasts about 90 minutes, and in each of these cycles you move between light and deep sleep, and REM sleep. Those chunks of deep sleep tend to be earlier in the night, so it makes perfect sense to see that I’m not getting them anymore. But deep sleep is important for physical recovery and supporting memory (remember the blurs?). REM sleep stages tend to stretch out later in the night, and as I’m typically getting most of my sleep in the early hours of the morning, I’m getting much more REM than deep sleep.

And of course there’s a lot of time spent awake, disturbing said cycles. It’s not unusual to wake 10-30 times per night, but many of these will be short moments you won’t remember. In my case, some of these periods are longer as I’m tending to Jake.

Fixing the routine

Knowledge is power, but it’s hard to feel powerful when your sleep hours are being dictated by a baby. The insights I’ve got from my Fitbit Charge 3 are invaluable, but the challenge is to take this information and use it to actually improve my sleep. Fitbit's Sleep Insights, which deliver guidance based on sleep performance, are also proving incredibly valuable as all this feedback is personalized to me.

Campaign for better sleep week 4: Improving your sleep with a baby in the house

One objective has been to try to get to bed earlier, even though I know it won’t be long before I’m woken again. But getting those early hours is important for a balanced sleep.

The results are proving interesting. Sure enough, on nights I’m going to bed earlier, I’m managing to get a more balanced sleep. In fact, my husband has taken on feeding challenges some nights, and my Sleep Stages have never looked healthier. Look at those graphs below – blissful, wonderful sleep. It might not be perfect, but it’s the best my sleep has looked in a while.

Campaign for better sleep week 4: Improving your sleep with a baby in the house

Even on nights where my total time asleep is low, getting an earlier night is helping me get a more healthy dose of deep sleep. Like the night you can see below, where my total sleep time was just five hours. While my overall amount of sleep left plenty to be desired, my Sleep Stages look healthier.

Campaign for better sleep week 4: Improving your sleep with a baby in the house

It will be some time before I can dream of a peaceful night’s sleep, but Fitbit’s insights are helping me improve my sleep routine and obtain more of the sleep that will help me feel refreshed the next day. Fitbit’s new Sleep Score feature, currently in beta, also provides Revitalization data that takes my heart rate and breathing patterns into account to give me a better idea of how restorative my sleep is.

Overall, the data has shown me that getting to bed earlier is helping me get a more balanced night sleep, even with the constant interruptions. An earlier night helps me get a more healthy balance of light and deep sleep, maximising the deep sleep to help me feel more refreshed the next day, something that becomes even more important as you get older. Understanding Sleep Stages is the key to getting a good night's sleep, and goes to show that even with a baby waking you up at all ungodly hours, there are ways to help give yourself a better night’s rest.

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