“Sleep when the baby sleeps.”

Most parents have heard this little gem more than a few times. The idea behind this well-meaning nugget of wisdom is that sleeping when your little one sleeps means you’ll be able to get by without suffering sleep deprivation.

It certainly sounds plausible, right? The problem is…

It doesn’t work. Not even remotely.

Newborn sleep is highly unpredictable. That means you won’t only have a hard time pinning down when your baby is next going to nap, but you also won’t be able to know how long that stretch will last. It could be anywhere from 15 minutes to four hours! By the time you’ve dashed to bed, snuggled in and attempted to drift off, Baby might have already had their rest and be ready to eat again!

This advice also fails to account for postpartum insomnia. This widespread phenomenon sees new parents (especially new mums) struggling to fall and then stay asleep in the first few months. You can’t overestimate how horrible and maddening this cycle is: you’re desperate to sleep—but as soon as an opportunity arises, your mind just won’t yield. We’d all love to nod off in half a second and catch a 20-minute power nap whenever the little one drifts off, but your brain is so overwhelmed by new-baby admin and an unending cycle of chores that it probably takes 20 minutes just to relax in the first place. In fact, that’s really the crux of the problem with ‘Sleep when the baby sleeps’: the adult body’s simply not designed that way, whereas your baby is wired specifically for short sleep cycles. Your circadian rhythm demands eight hours of sleep at night. The occasional short nap during the day is normal, but your body will reject any real effort to incorporate sporadic catnaps during daylight hours. Even if you managed to sleep in short and unplanned bursts, you wouldn’t feel revitalised thereafter.

Of course, the final frustrating thing about “Sleep when the baby sleeps” is that the advice assumes you have zero responsibilities besides caring for your little one. You might still be working or running a business, doing jobs around the house, running errands (with Baby in tow)—perhaps even looking after your other children at the same time! You can hardly catch some Z’s when your two-year-old’s standing in front of you asking for juice, a biscuit and Peppa Pig.

Forget “Sleep when the baby sleeps”. Here’s what actually works.

To every sleep-deprived mum and dad out there, know that hope is not lost. Forgoing your solid eight hours a night for the time being is just the price of parenthood, but there are still measures you can take to make more effective use of your time when it comes to planning your sleep.

Seek help from friends and family for chores…

No one enjoys feeling like a burden, but when you’ve just had a baby your loved ones will likely be only too happy to jump in and lend a hand whenever they can. Don’t underestimate the weight off your shoulders achieved when someone pops in to make dinner, do the laundry, or mow the lawn.

…or even ask them to babysit

This might be anecdotal, but lots of parents have told me that the only way they’re ever able to properly catch up on sleep in the day is when someone they trust is taking care of their baby. Only then can they truly relax, safe in the knowledge that even if their little one wakes up, cries or needs feeding, someone responsible and caring is right there ready.

Cultivate good sleep hygiene

You might still be struggling to drift off, but at least by putting some good practices in place you’ll be better equipped to sleep when an opportunity presents itself. Try limiting caffeine, or even cutting it out entirely. Turn off screens half an hour before bed—the blue light they emit suppresses melatonin, the hormone that makes us feel drowsy. Explore mindfulness, yoga, meditation, and breathing exercises, too. And whatever you do, avoid the myth that is sleep training!