If you’re exhausted, give yourself some extra compassion – and sleep. Here’s how.
For many new parents, constant sleep deprivation can feel like a fact of life. But parental sleep deprivation affects more than just parents – it can have an impact on the health and safety of children as well.
Getting adequate sleep when a newborn needs you around the clock can seem hopeless. However, a growing body of research shows that the impacts of parental sleep deprivation can be severe and surprising, and there are in fact ways to improve sleep – even if it seems impossible.
How sleep deprived are parents?
One study showed that parents lose an average of six months of sleep during the first 24 months of their child’s life. Approximately 10 percent of parents get just 2 ½ hours of continuous sleep each night, and more than 60 percent of parents with children younger than 2 years old get no more than 3 ¼ hours sleep each night. Yikes!
- For moms, the negative impact on sleep starts well before a child is born and can continue through grade school. Especially in the beginning of a child’s life, moms are dangerously exhausted for months.
- Dads, although they are not waking up to nurse like moms are, are just as exhausted. Most dads do not have the ability to take a paternity leave, and return to their work environment just hours or a few short days after a child is born.
How parental sleep deprivation affects more than just alertness
We live in a culture that tends to look down on sleep. Getting too much sleep can imply laziness, and mothers often speak about their sleep loss like it’s a badge of honor. But that attitude can be very dangerous, as there are real risks to chronic exhaustion that experts say we need to take seriously.
Sleep deprivation has many serious consequences for parents and their families. Experts say that we really need to look at sleep as an essential element to good health, like diet and exercise. In short, if you are constantly tired, your whole family will feel it.
Here are some of the major consequences of not getting enough sleep:
- Driving while you are tired can be more dangerous than drunk driving. Statistics show that drowsy driving causes more than 100,000 auto accidents a year. And while most parents would never consider driving with a child after a few drinks, they are driving while they are exhausted every day.
- It affects marital happiness. Research shows that even if just one member of a couple is struggling with sleep deprivation, relationships suffer from worse marital conflicts. Your quality of sleep affects both how secure you feel in your relationship and how close you feel to your partner.
- Lack of sleep leads to an increased risk of obesity, heart disease and diabetes. Like maintaining a healthy diet and getting regular exercise, sleep is essential to our health.
- You’re more likely to suffer from anxiety, irritability and postpartum depression. Not surprisingly, postpartum sleep deprivation and postpartum depression are closely linked.
- Your child’s safety, health and happiness is more at risk. Parents who do not get enough sleep are more likely to be in a car accident while they are driving with their child. They are also more prone to accidentally letting a child roll or fall onto the floor and other accidents. Your child’s happiness is also at stake: it’s much harder for parents to form happy expressions and give a positive affect to our voices when we are exhausted.
How to survive parental sleep deprivation
In order to be productive and provide your children with the love, support and safety they need during the 16 daytime hours, you need to try to make the most of the 8 “sleeping” hours.
7 Tried and True Hacks to Survive Parental Sleep Deprivation
It may sound crazy, but don’t accept a dinner or happy hour date with a friend that starts at 7 p.m. if your child goes to sleep at 7:30. Prepare to wake up, and you will get more hours of sleep each night. For instance, consider setting aside 7:30 p.m. to 7:30 a.m. as “sleeping” hours for a while. It may impact your social calendar, but even if your child keeps you awake for half of the time you will still get six hours of sleep.
Take shifts with a spouse
Consider taking shifts with a spouse. For instance, one person could be “on duty” from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m., and another person could grab the baby monitor from 2 a.m. to 7 a.m. Although not ideal, it at least ensures that each of you will get five hours of solid sleep. Another way to do it: swap nights. One on, one off.
Enlist help on the weekends
If you have willing parents and friends who you trust, take them up on their offer to come over and spend time with your child on the weekends. Especially if both parents are working, a few naps each weekend could go a long way toward helping you catch up on sleep.
Sleep when your child is sleeping
If you are using your child’s naps to catch up on housework, put the broom down and go to sleep. Let the house go for a while, or if you can, ask someone to help with chores for the first few months of your child’s life. If you sleep while your baby is sleeping you will be better able to be more present with them during their waking hours.
You need a bedtime routine as well
If your child is a bit older and you spend one or two hours each night giving them a warm bath, a nighttime bottle, a few books and a hug before putting them down, don’t forget that you need a bedtime routine, too. Set aside 5 minutes to meditate, put on some essential oils, or sit quietly with your partner before turning down for the night.
For a while, say ‘no’ to extra commitments. Take sleep seriously. That bakesale, fundraiser or neighborhood event can wait until next year.
Consider sleep training
After about four months, children are old enough to start to establish a consistent sleep routine. There are many different sleep training methods out there. Ask your friends and family members if they have any they’ve tried that were successful, and do some research of your own to find one that is a fit for you and your family.
Make sure you’re nourishing yourself, too.
Especially if you are nursing, it’s especially important to stay hydrated when there is a newborn in the house.
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Are you struggling with parental sleep deprivation? Have tips for others?
Share your story and any tips you have in the comments below.