If you're like most new parents, a good night's sleep shimmers in your weary mind like a mirage in the desert. We all know that when our kids are up all night... we're up all night, and it's nowhere near as fun as the all-nighters we used to have. Before long, life starts to crumble and we morph into cranky, bug-eyed, sleep-deprived zombies. But a good night's rest doesn't have to be an illusion. Whether you've got crying newborns or crazed toddlers, finding effective techniques to help you, your partner and your kids sleep longer each night will have a huge effect on the quality of your life.
So, with Mother's Day rapidly approaching, consider giving the moms you know a deeply treasured gift: Sleep!
Sleep struggles are the number one behavioral grumble of parents. The effects of sleep deprivation are no mere sitcom storyline; they are profound... with real mind and body consequences that touch every aspect of our lives. Many parents are shocked (and relieved) to learn that sleep deprivation is so powerfully debilitating that it's used to train our special forces, like the Navy SEALs, to endure torture. No wonder so many new parents feel pushed to the breaking point.
People who care for new babies (parents and increasingly grandparents) lose on average 200-300 hours of sleep in the first year. And for many, there's not much respite after that first year, either. Half of all toddlers (and a third of all preschoolers) still wake through the night, leaving parents questioning if there's ever a rest stop at the end of the tunnel.
Any parent can "lose it" when they're tired to the bone. And, like being drunk it can make you swagger and stutter and bang into walls. A journalist friend got so tired when she became a mom that, upon arriving at daycare to pick up her infant, she smoothly sailed into a parking space and then proceeded to drive... right into the building. When we rack up a "sleep debt," our minds are forced to make good on the IOU. We pay with increased lethargy, mood swings and depression, and dramatic draw downs of our smarts, creativity, sex drive, memory and happiness.
Sleep deprivation also hands our bodies a pretty steep bill. Exhaustion can trigger serious accidents (impulsivity and poor coordination), infections and cancer (poor immune functioning), heart disease (excessive inflammation) and even obesity (poor impulse control and a seriously upside-down metabolism.... so even if you're eating well you'll tend to gain weight).
Exhaustion strains our patience and makes parents (and many of us) so unnerved by our babies' cries that we're tempted to extreme actions to stop the crying. That's why normally prudent parents may let their baby sleep in an unsafe position or location (like bed-sharing or stomach down) for quick relief. Although doctors used to tell parents that stomach down was the ONLY safe sleep position, today we know that's responsible for many hundreds of infant deaths a year! And, our fatigue-induced irritability makes us more prone to snap in anger (crying is the #1 trigger for shaken baby syndrome). But the simple and restorative gift of sleep can help you and your partner regain the control, patience, and love that become elusive after too many restless nights.
Happy, rested babies mean happy, rested moms. Along with the right type of white noise sound (one of my favorite sleep cues!), the other four of the 5 S's (swaddling, side/stomach position, swinging and sucking) make waking up happy and bright eyed a real possibility. A recent study in the medical journal, Pediatrics, found that the 5 S's (featured in the DVD/book, "The Happiest Baby on the Block") quickly calmed babies after their 2 and 4-month battery of shots.
But white noise and the 5 S's don't only boost babies sleep... They help moms, too. Implementing the 5 S's may also prevent or reduce postpartum depression. At Virtual Health in New Jersey, depressed moms taught the 5 S's reported less anxiety and marital stress, more sleep, more confidence, and fewer urges to harm their babies. And besides turning on a baby's calming reflex, white noise also softens the anxious mental chatter that often keeps new mothers tossing and turning.
Finally, dads are usually great at the 5 S's. A few simple skills and a little extra sleep also help men feel like great partners and great dads. Dads who learn the 5 S's are more likely to offer help to lighten a mom's responsibilities and support successful nursing. (The 2004 Sleep in America Poll found 89% of the time when someone gets up to help the baby in the middle of the night... it was mom!)
Sometimes the Best Gifts... Don't Cost a Dime!
Moms are the most nurturing beings on Earth- but they need a little nurturing, too!
So, no matter what your kids' age (or yours), think about giving the Mom you love the gift she's been dreaming about. Besides your thoughtful card and sweet flowers, present her with a cool pair of eye patches (decorate them with words like, "Eye Love You, Mom") and a great white noise CD (get the best kind of white noise -- one that's rumbly like rain or a train, not hissy or tinny). Or, give Mom a gift card entitling her to a relaxing massage (write a reminder on the card for her to unclench her jaw and relax her face -- two classic tension holders that keep sweet sleep from washing over us). Or, just let her sleep late or take a sweet nap while you take the kids out to the park.
This Mother's Day, remember that even superheroes -- like Moms -- need to be babied with a little R&R.