Understanding Sleep Deprivation

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.

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 is at risk for sleep deprivation?

  • 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 baby.

  • 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 www.picketfencetherapy.com