Any parent can tell you that having a baby changes your life in some beautiful, ugly, and unexpected ways. These little bundles of joy leave their imprint on every aspect of your life — not the least of which is how you sleep. And while most research corroborates what we already know: babies cause inevitable changes to parental sleep duration and quality, new research shows that they also have a profound impact on sleep timing, with many shifting their moms to a morning time chronotype.
Babies Shift Moms to a Morningness Chronotype
While claims of early waking may have been largely anecdotal up to now, researchers from The Turner Institute for Brain and Mental Health in Australia recently pulled the covers back on perinatal sleep timing. (1)
Overall, the study examined sleep timing and chronotype stretching from late pregnancy to two years postpartum. A total of 163 participants took part in the study, self-reporting on specific date points, including bedtime, rise-time, chronotype, insomnia symptoms, sleep-related impairment, depression, and anxiety. Participants were asked to report at seven points in time during late pregnancy and postpartum: Gestation weeks 30 and 35 and postpartum months 1.5, 3, 6, 12, and 24.
Ultimately, the study found:
- While women go to bed and wake up later in their last trimester, they progressively wake earlier across the two years postpartum.
- Maternal chronotype leaned more eveningness in late pregnancy, and while the changes were small, maternal chronotype shifted to more morningness after childbirth.
- Morning chronotype is associated with less insomnia and issues related to sleep during the day.
But, Findings May Not Be Widely Applicable
And while the findings are certainly interesting, the researchers admittedly recognize obvious limitations of the study, like the subjectiveness of self-reporting, the assessment of chronotype versus biological markers like circadian timing, and the overall health and socioeconomic status of the participants. Moreover, and perhaps most importantly, the study sample only included first-time parents and did not account for daytime naps.
So, while they propose that morningness chronotypes (aka the Lion chronotype) may be a sleep-protective function during the transition from pregnancy to parenthood, they recognize that these findings may not be widely applicable to those with existing sleep issues, mental health challenges, or complications in pregnancy or birth or second-time (+) parents.
Why Is Sleep So Important during the Postpartum Period?
“Sleep is paramount for physical recovery and mental health in the postpartum period,” says Carleara Weiss, Ph.D., MSH, RN and Sleep Science Advisor for Aeroflow Sleep.
And while she says that poor sleep during postpartum has been linked to a slew of adverse outcomes for moms, including increased postpartum depression, anxiety, irritability, fatigue, impaired daytime function, and decreased concentration, Weiss reminds us poor postpartum sleep is linked to low breast milk production, breastfeeding difficulties, and slower vaginal and cesarian birth recovery. (2)
Tips to Help New Mothers Get Some Sleep
Sleepless nights are par for the course with a new baby in the house. Ahead, Weiss offers some advice to help new moms get some shut-eye.
Lean into your village
First and foremost, Weiss suggests that all moms “find support to navigate this challenging and beautiful moment called postpartum.” Weiss notes, “Babies are not physiologically designed to sleep through the night and will not have a sleep routine for at least three months, no matter how much people try to sell this idea. They cannot produce melatonin yet, cannot see yet, and their brain is still developing.”
While all of the above means that sleep won’t come easy for anyone in the house, research shows that unformed infant sleep patterns disproportionately affect mothers. One study peeked into the bassinet and found that while dads lost about 13 minutes of sleep per night, new moms lost over an hour. (3) For that reason, Weiss says finding support from a partner, relative, or friend who can take shifts while you sleep is crucial.
Start baby bedtime routines early
“Babies are still too immature to expect them to have a sleep routine, but starting bedtime routines early is a great way to reinforce behavior, and it gives mom a little time to breathe and take care of her mental health,” says Weiss. To further help mom and baby keep their circadian rhythms in check, Weiss suggests following a good bedtime routine with
- Trying to wake up every day at the same time
- A consistent wake-up routine
- Increasing the exposure to bright light in the morning upon awakening (Taking the baby for a morning walk or sitting outside is an excellent way to accomplish that.)
Nap when you can
To help new moms cope with sleepless nights, Weiss suggests taking naps as needed. Moms can choose to nap when their baby naps or tap into their support system (see above) to help them catch those Zzzs.
1. Verma, S., Pinnington, D. M., Manber, R., & Bei, B. (2023). Sleep–wake timing and chronotype in perinatal periods: longitudinal changes and associations with insomnia symptoms, sleep-related impairment, and mood from pregnancy to 2 years postpartum. Journal of Sleep Research, e14021. https://doi.org/10.1111/jsr.14021
2. Carrega J, Lee SY, Clark P, Cranford J, Lloyd S. Impact of the Quality of Postpartum Sleep and its Health Determinants on Human Milk Volume. MCN Am J Matern Child Nurs. 2020;45(5):289-295. doi:10.1097/NMC.0000000000000645
3. David Richter, Michael D Krämer, Nicole K Y Tang, Hawley E Montgomery-Downs, Sakari Lemola, Long-term effects of pregnancy and childbirth on sleep satisfaction and duration of first-time and experienced mothers and fathers, Sleep, Volume 42, Issue 4, April 2019, zsz015, https://doi.org/10.1093/sleep/zsz015
4. Biran V, Decobert F, Bednarek N, et al. Melatonin Levels in Preterm and Term Infants and Their Mothers. Int J Mol Sci. 2019;20(9):2077. Published 2019 Apr 27. doi:10.3390/ijms20092077
5. Carolina Escobar, Adelina Rojas-Granados, Manuel Angeles-Castellanos
6. Chapter 16 – Development of the Circadian System and relevance of Periodic Signals for Neonatal Development, Handbook of Clinical Neurology, Elsevier, Volume 179, 2021, Pages 249-258, ISBN 9780128199756, https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-819975-6.00015-7.
7. Weiss, Carleara. Author interview. October 3, 2024.