Raising twin infants (or 'twinfants,' as they're lovingly called online) means twice the joy — and twice the exhaustion. Multiple studies show that parents of twins are more susceptible to sleep deprivation than parents of singletons (no surprises there).
For one thing, twins are more likely to be premature, and pre-term infants are less likely to sleep long stretches at night. And mothers with multiples are less likely to grab a daytime nap — a strategy often recommended to new parents to ward off weariness in the early months of parenting.
So what's a twinfant parent to do? Here's what science — and some veteran twin parents — say about getting more sleep during the early weeks and months with twins.
When in Rome
Strategies to encourage healthy sleep for twins haven't been widely researched, but existing studies show that twin parents are a resourceful bunch. Per a recent study published in Applied Nursing Research, the most commonly-used methods for encouraging twins to sleep longer stretches at night are getting twins on the same feeding and napping schedule, using swings or bouncy chairs, keeping twins up until 11 p.m. or later and regulating daytime naps— i.e. not allowing any naps after dinnertime. In this study, twin parents also reported using white noise machines, blackout curtains or humidifiers to create a calming, sleep-friendly environment.
These time-honored strategies are certainly worth a try. Just ask Christine, mom of 6-year-old twin boys, who coordinated her twinfant's feedings to grab a few much-needed ZZZs.
'The standard advice to wake one if the other wakes up and feed both at the same time was definitely true for us. If I ever fed one and put him back down, the other one would be up an hour later. So I'd be feeding a baby every hour, all night,' she said.
When it comes to nighttime twin duty, should you employ a man-to-man defense (each parent handing nighttime parenting for one twin) or a zone strategy (each parent taking a shift at covering both twins' nighttime needs)? That depends on your twins' sleep temperaments. If both babies wake about the same number of times each night, it makes sense to rotate nighttime shifts so that one parent can catch at least one longer sleep stretch. But if one twin wakes quite a bit more than the other, consider a one-to-one strategy, in which parents switch off parenting the night owl, so the non-sleeper doesn't wake the other baby.
Perhaps the most-recommended sleep strategy: Find your schedule groove and stick to it.
'We were strict about sleep schedules, or we would have gone nuts,' said Erin, mom of kindergarten-age twins. 'Plus, we were getting a lot of help and needed everyone — parents, grandparents and other caregivers — on same page.'
During the wild ride that is the first year of twin parenting, communication and consistency are key to helping twins sleep more soundly — so you can sleep, too.■
Malia Jacobson is an award-winning health and parenting journalist and mom of three. Her latest book is 'Sleep Tight, Every Night: Helping Toddlers and Preschoolers Sleep Well Without Tears, Tricks, or Tirade.'