The phrase “sleep like a baby” is often used to describe how to get a really great nap or sleep through the night. But for most new parents, this understanding of the idiom is incomprehensible and could even end up as a trigger. That’s because many babies aren’t good sleepers. So what does it matter actually sleep like a baby?
While newborns can sleep up to 19 hours a day, they typically wake up every few hours to eat. As a result, they – and their parents – often don’t sleep as well, or at least in uninterrupted streaks. And even after this newborn stage, many parents are looking for tips and tricks to help their little one sleep through the night.
With that in mind, there’s no official definition for this phrase, but it’s commonly used “to imply a peaceful, calm, restful sleep, such as might be observed when an infant sleeps quietly in its cradle,” says the sleep medicine specialist W. Chris Winter, MD, author of The Sleep Solution: Why your sleep is disrupted and how to fix it. Overall, “it’s meant to denote excellent sleep,” he says.
But what does “sleep like a baby” mean in reality? “It depends on the parents you ask,” jokes Dr. Winter. Nonetheless, it is possible to take steps to help you move closer to that accepted definition of the term by taking stock of what barriers may be keeping you from that peaceful, calm, refreshing, and excellent sleep that Dr. winter relates.
There are a number of reasons why someone doesn’t sleep like a baby, but one major concern that Dr. Winter and other mental health professionals point out are stress and anxiety. The good news is that it’s possible to address the root causes of these sleep-depriving culprits and sleep like you’re a tiny human without having to worry about the world.
How worry and stress can get in the way of sleeping like a baby
Being anxious or worried “is a barrier to sleep for some people,” says clinical psychologist Thea Gallagher, PsyD, an assistant professor at NYU Langone Health and co-host of the mind in sight podcast. “When you’re anxious and nervous, it can be harder to slow down and relax the body,” she adds. Key word: You have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep.
“When you’re anxious and nervous, it can be harder to slow down and relax the body.” – Thea Gallagher, PsyD
Even after you’ve identified anxiety or stress that might be affecting your sleep, managing those symptoms can affect your sleep quality as well. according to dr During winter, very anxious people tend to sleep less well than those who worry less, and they may also underestimate how much sleep they actually get — sometimes by many hours. This could leave people feeling stressed because they don’t feel like they’re getting much sleep, which Dr. winter could lead to even more stress.
So how do you know that stress or anxiety could be affecting your ability to sleep like a baby? dr Winter recommends looking out for the following six signs.
- You take a long time to fall asleep.
- You wake up often at night.
- You have trouble going back to sleep after waking up.
- You feel drained during the day.
- You are not satisfied with your sleep.
- You have negative dreams, such as drowning or persecution.
After you determine that any number of these situations are true, you can take steps to change the situation by lowering your stress levels and hopefully starting to sleep at a higher quality level.
4 tips for a carefree sleep
While learning to sleep worry-free sounds great, and can also help reduce worry-related stress in your waking hours, pulling it off is easier said than done. If it were easy, we would all just… do it, right? Still, doctors say there are a few strategies you can use to calm down and clear your mind before bed. And then you sleep all the more peacefully like a baby.
- Avoid stressful situations before going to bed. That means not watching the news, reading political information, or checking stressful email, Winter says.
- Increase your daily exercises. “Release your anxiety through physical activity,” suggests Dr. winter before. Just try not to do this before bed, as exercising before bed can make you feel better.
- Try breathing exercises. Breathing training, where you breathe in to count, hold it, and breathe out, “helps your mind return to the present and slow down,” says Dr. Gallagher. This can help settle your mind for sleep, she says.
- practice mindfulness. That may include meditation, prayer, or yoga before jumping into bed to help you “let go of the stress of the day,” says Dr. Winter.
If you’re still having trouble calming yourself down for sleep, or if you feel like your worries are keeping you up at night, it may be time to talk to a mental health professional. “Anxiety is a medical problem,” emphasizes Dr. Winter. “Seek help for this if your own measures are not successful.”
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