One of the biggest issues for new parents is the amount of sleep they’re getting – or rather, NOT getting. Now, most parents of newborns spend a lot of time through the night breastfeeding, shushing, patting, rocking, using white noise, trying all sorts of techniques to help their baby sleep. But there’s one simple little strategy that you probably haven’t tried. And unlike the other sleep strategies, you don’t do it at night – you do it in the morning!
It’s easy, it’s fun, it free, and as a bonus, it also lowers your risk of postnatal mood disorders.
So what is this amazing sleep strategy?
Yup, just ordinary light that comes from the sun. And it won’t just help your baby sleep – it’ll help you sleep too. Here’s how:
Sunshine jumpstarts your newborn’s circadian rhythms
Newborns can’t distinguish between day and night. Exposing your baby to natural sunlight in the day supports the development of a circadian rhythm. Hopefully, your baby may start to sleep longer and more deeply through the night. This will happen eventually anyway, but exposing your baby to morning sunlight on a regular basis can speed things up.
Sunshine lowers your stress levels
“Sleep while the baby sleeps” is all very well if you can manage to get to sleep. But often parents are so wired after getting their babies to sleep, they can’t get to sleep themselves. According to sleep expert Shawn Stevenson, high levels of the stress hormone cortisol are linked with low melatonin, and vice versa. So when you increase your melatonin levels, cortisol will be lower in the evening, and you’ll have an easier time relaxing and falling asleep. Research indicates that sunlight between 8 and 10 a.m. is ideal for this purpose.
Bonus: sunshine protects your mental health
Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to depression and other mood disorders. Getting out into the sunshine at least once a day gives you the Vitamin D boost you need. You can actually feel it instantly – you know when you’re having a crappy day, and you go outside, and just feel that little lift in spirits when you step into the sunshine? Build this into your daily routine and it will have a cumulative effect on your mood.
Okay, so now you know the what and why. Let’s talk about the how. As busy new parents, how are you going to get morning sunshine every day, without it feeling like a chore or a hassle?
3 baby-proof ways to get morning sunlight
1. A sunny morning walk
Once you’re recovered from the birth and feel up to it, start a routine of a morning walk. If you’ve been up and down with your baby all night, it can be really tempting to stay in bed as long as possible. But if possible, I encourage you to make the effort to get outside first, and then have a nap a bit later in the day.
Your morning walk could become a family routine. If you’ve got a partner, have your partner carry the baby. They can use a baby carrier and hold the baby close. Baby’s getting used to your partner’s heartbeat and smell, and at the same time, your partner’s developing their confidence as a parent. Win win.
On those mornings where you really do need the extra sleep, you can stay in bed and your partner can take the baby for a walk as usual. Win win win.
2. Sit outside
If a walk feels like too much, especially when you’re newly postpartum, just get outside. Your own little backyard or front porch can be a lovely spot to sit and relax, or potter around with baby.
Again, this can be a great opportunity to build a family routine. So maybe your partner is walking around in your outdoor area with baby, while you’re sitting in the sunshine, and having a cup of tea and a warm nourishing breakfast. And this kind of morning ritual together can easily be part of your daily routine, even when your partner goes back to work.
If you don’t have a very inviting outdoor space, then you could plan and create one, ideally before your baby is born. It doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive. It can be as simple as a rocking chair under a beach umbrella and a little table. Maybe start some seedlings in pots, so that as you’re enjoying your own little sunny space day by day, you’re seeing your basil and parsley grow alongside your growing baby.
3. Find a sunny window
As a new mum, there are some days when even putting a clean shirt on seems impossible.
On the days when getting outside just isn’t happening, you can still get exposure to sunlight, and it’s nearly as beneficial as getting it directly on your skin. Look for an area inside your home that gets a lot of natural sunlight through a window. Even sunlight through glass has a positive effect. So open up your curtains early in the morning, find the sunniest spot next to a window, and sit there for at least half an hour.