How Does Having a Baby Impact Sleep, Routines and Recovery? 

4 min read

Last Modified 19 April 2021 First Added 19 April 2021

We all know that babies and a good night’s sleep rarely go hand in hand, so how do athletes cope with a demanding training regime when a newborn is added into the mix? We spoke to Jason Kenny about how he adapted to the sleepless nights and picked up a few tips for all exhausted parents.

Dealing with disrupted sleep

It’s no surprise that all those night feeds and early wake-up calls leave new parents feeling drained. And for elite athletes who have babies, there’s the added pressure of having to stay at the top of their game.

Jason is married to fellow cyclist and Olympic champion, Laura Kenny, and their son Albie was born in August 2017. A confirmed 9-hours-a-night man, Jason has had to adjust his routine since the arrival of Albie. As many parents have learned, his top tip is to sleep when the baby sleeps. Jason says:

Since Albie was born we’ve had to adapt to the practicalities of family life and our routine now revolves around him. We now go to bed early, in case he wants to get up at 5 o’clock in the morning. That way I can still try to get 9 hours in.

Laura Needham approves of this approach, explaining that babies and young children haven’t yet developed a sleep cycle so can’t help throwing the family’s routine into disarray.

Our advice to athletes with young families is to just try to sleep when you can. We also advocate napping but appreciate that not everyone can nap. For those that can, a 30-minute nap can help to power you up again. But life with a young family is tough, particularly for Jason and Laura as they are both full-time athletes. 

Coping with sleepless nights

Interestingly, Jason says that when Albie was very small and often up all night, he and Laura were still able to perform the following day on very little sleep. But the day after that would be much harder.

We couldn’t back it up the next day because the recovery was really challenging and that was something we had to deal with.

Laura confirms that it’s the prolonged sleepless nights that can be the real problem. She adds:

While you can get away with a night or two of sleep deprivation and disrupted sleep, when it’s day in and day out it can be challenging.

She suggests two things to help new parents feel a bit perkier and ready to face the day.

The first is caffeine, which can provide a useful hit of energy. Studies have also suggested that consuming a small amount of caffeine an hour before exercising can boost your performance. However, you should limit your caffeine intake to the equivalent of about 2-4 cups of coffee a day and avoid it for at least 4 hours before going to bed.

Laura’s second tip is sunlight.

The biggest thing that affects our circadian rhythm (our body clock) is sunlight, so getting outside and going for a walk will help you to feel better. In Jason’s case, a velodrome tends to be quite a dark space, so going out into the daylight can help to wake him up a bit.

Sleep and recovery time

For an elite athlete, sleep is crucial for recovery and Jason puts it right up there with training and diet in terms of its importance. Laura is the first to agree.

Sleep is recovery and muscle adaptation time. It’s when your body can repair from all the wear and tear of training. To be honest, sleep is the number one thing for recovery time and unless you’re taking it seriously, there’s no point trying anything else. It’s our number one tool in the recovery toolbox.

The lack of sleep that comes with raising a young family can really take its toll and whether you’re an Olympic athlete or not it’s vital to rest when you can. In the early days this may mean following Jason’s lead and getting to bed early so you can fit in a good stretch of sleep before your baby wakes. If you’re after more advice on making bedtime better for the whole family, our Sleep Matters Club has a dedicated section for children and parents.