Understanding Sleep Deprivation

Aug 15 2019

Understanding Sleep Deprivation

By Teresa Eltrich-Auvil, LMHC www.picketfencetherapy.com

For anyone who has a new baby, the idea of sleeping when the baby sleeps is a great thought.
But the reality is that most parents at one point or another will experience some sort of sleep
deprivation. With a description of deprivation being ‘anyone that gets less sleep than they need
to feel awake and alert’, we can all identify a time where we may have been sleep deprived.
Timelines at work, entertaining relatives from out of town, school and work project deadlines,
and life transition to parenthood all have one thing in common …sleep deprivation. The only
difference is that with many of these other life events, there is often a predictable end date.
Unfortunately, for new parents, the deprivation can seem as though there is no end in sight for
the exhaustion and tiredness. Midnight feedings and wakings, disrupted sleep and wake cycles,
hormone fluctuations and the transition to parenthood can be daunting.

Who is at risk for sleep deprivation? Every new parent is at risk. I know that is a discouraging
number, but let’s be realistic. A combination of recovery, transition, hormone fluctuations, and
frequent waking and sleep disruption is an inevitable side effect of parenthood with a newborn.
Though we don’t know how to prepare for our infants personality, or how we will respond to
sleep deprivation, we can prepare for what we do know. How to identify risk factors, and
strategies to get more and better sleep as well as prepare to ask for support.
Women and their partners who have a history of anxiety and depression can find sleep
deprivation more triggering or may be more sensitive to the lack of sleep. Symptoms of both
depression and anxiety are often exacerbated by a deficit of sleep. If you notice an increase in
worrying, nervousness, irritability, and feelings of sadness, it is important to check in with
yourself or your partner. Asking for support to step away, or sleep when your baby sleeps may
assist in the extra boost you may need. And although there is no complete way to make up the
sleep debt, you can minimize it, in result, reducing the risk of symptoms. One way to minimize
your sleep debt is to take quick rests. A 20-30 minute nap, can get parents a quick boost of
energy, without leaving grogginess or interfering in a bedtime routine.

Who else is at risk?
● New parents with minimal supports, i.e. few family resources to offer support, single
parents who are responsible for attending to baby needs on their own, etc.
● Women with sensitivity to progesterone decrease after childbirth may also experience
significant struggles with sleep.
● Babies with medical needs, preemies, chronic reflux, colic, etc.
How do I get more sleep?
There are no guarantees with sleep, however, there are some things that we can do to develop
healthy sleep habits and strategies to get more. Whether you are co-sleeping, sleep training or
doing a variation of both, it is important to implement a sleep routine for yourself as well as
● Try to maintain good ‘sleep hygiene’. This means trying to keep a scheduled sleep wake
routine. Napping when you can, however, remembering to not nap too close to bedtime
as it may disrupt your ability to fall and stay asleep.
● Watch what you drink. Avoid alcohol, caffeine and sodas after 2. Alcohol and caffeine
can also play a role in increasing anxiety and depression.
● Asking for help. ASking for resources, support and help can be difficult. Especially if you
are so exhausted that you might not even know what you need support with. Identify
who your supports are as soon as possible. Family, friends, and neighbors are all
possibilities. Communicating your concerns and brainstorming ways to support sleep
before it becomes an issue can benefit both you and your support team. Knowing that
you have a plan can relieve worry, also your support team may be able to know what
you might need if it arises as an issue.
● Team matters. If you have a partner, asking to have a routine for trading mid-night
wakeups may be a huge relief. Even if you are breastfeeding, a partner may be able to
have a role in waking and bringing baby to you.
● Get out of the house. Try to get out of the house- even if it’s just a short trip around the
block. Exercise can help with healthy sleep. Fresh air and stimulation can be a benefit to
both your emotional and physical health. Your baby may even enjoy a stroll with fresh air
and new scenery.
● Get off the phone! Your baby is asleep! And you finally have a moment to rest. Resist
the urge to pick up the phone and check instagram or Facebook. Believe me, I
understand the pull… but resisting the phone may actually help you fall and stay asleep.
Along with the anxiety that may be triggered to ‘keep up’ that we often feel when seeing
our friends with smiling or sleeping babies and a perfectly clean house, the stimulation
that your brain has while looking at a screen is actually harmful to your sleep hygiene. If
you need to do something to decompress, find a book or magazine that you may find
interesting. After all, when was the last time you read an actual book!?!

Although it may seem that you don’t know your night from your day, this is just a chapter in your
book. Maintaining healthy self care and utilizing resources will help you get the support you
need, and develop some great routines to last you for years after your baby is sleeping through
the night.

Written by Teresa M. Eltrich-Auvil, MS, LMHC