During your pregnancy and shortly after your child's birth, there are many anecdotes, words of wisdom, and advice regarding your future as it comes to sleep. Or really, lack thereof.
"Enjoy the sleep while you can!"
"You can sleep when they move out of the house!"
"Sleep when the baby sleeps."
Sounds familiar? Many new parents hear these examples and more, and unfortunately, they can end up feeling the unsettling weight of those words if they experience consistent sleep deprivation before and after the birth of their child.
While many of those sentiments are imparted with a smile and perhaps a laugh, not getting enough sleep is no laughing matter. Parents who experience chronic sleep deprivation, meaning getting less sleep than the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep a night over a period of at least a week, are more likely to experience postpartum depression, whether it is clinically diagnosed, or attributed to the popular term:"baby blues".
Chronic sleep deprivation can negatively impact you in several ways. It can negatively impact your mood and cognitive abilities.
Many people seem more accepting of the mood swings of the newly postpartum mothers due to the huge influx of hormones that get released after the birth of their child. Additionally, the stresses of raising young children are oftentimes celebrated and touted as signs of solidarity among parents, but many studies show that moms whose babies have sleep problems are at greater risk for postpartum depression. In studies that have given parents advice in managing their baby's sleep, resulting in improved sleep for the baby, maternal mood improves as well.
The effects of sleep deprivation in relation to your cognitive skills is significant. In fact, one study found that two weeks of six hours of sleep per night caused declines in many cognitive measures -- similar to those found after a full 24-48 hours of sleep deprivation. What's really worrisome is that the six-hour sleepers had no idea how impaired they were; they rated their sleepiness as only mild, but their test performance showed otherwise. Another study found that cognitive performance of people who had been awake for 18-19 hours was comparable to those with blood alcohol content (BAC)of 0.10 (the legal limit for driving in most U.S. states is 0.08). It is estimated that 15-33% of fatal car crashes are related to driver fatigue.
Since many parents, newly minted or veterans to the game, take sleep deprivation to be just another part of parenting, it isn't so far-fetched to believe that they would rank their overall tiredness as mild and just part of being a parent. After all, raising children is a tiring and endless job. However, it's very important to make getting enough sleep a top priority. Here are three tips to help ensure that you (and your child) can get more restorative sleep to keep you on the top of your game in the crazy world of parenting.
1. Take the Break
This goes for both you and your child. In the first four weeks after your child is born, babies can only handle about 45 minutes of being awake before needing to sleep again. Take advantage of those moments of when the baby sleeps to just REST. Sleep is golden, but just simply relaxing and resting your eyes can help your body and mind recover from the birth and the fourth trimester.
2. Get on Schedule
Once your child is older, at least 12 to 16 weeks of age, you can start putting them (and you) on a schedule. Naps at this age start becoming more consolidated, and night sleep can start lengthening; making it easier to plan the naps and set the bedtime. Also creating a daytime schedule of SLEEP-EAT-PLAY can also work well to ensure that your child is eating when they are truly hungry and are properly tired when it's time for sleep.
3. Go to Bed Early
Ideal bedtimes for children all the way up to age 7 is in between 6 and 8 PM. This is regardless of where they are in the number of naps that they take a day. Kids need anywhere from 11 - 13 hours of sleep at night, and that number does not include the time awake for the night feeds for infants. By giving your children an early bedtime consistently ensures that you get some time to wind down in the evenings and get yourself to bed at a reasonable hour every night, as well giving your child the opportunity to get the sleep their body requires, whether they really think so or not.
Sleep is such a crucial part of your mental and physical health, and it can be easily overlooked or viewed as a luxury in today's world. However, sleep is a biological necessity and should be a top priority for parents with babies and young children. Getting plenty of sleep positively impacts physical growth in children, cognitive development AND abilities, and mental health. As trite as it sounds, sleep deprivation is no laughing matter and can have a serious impact on yours and your child's well-being. Taking steps to ensure that your child gets enough sleep will also work in your favor in your quest in taking care of yourself as you take care of your family.
Katie is a pediatric sleep consultant and the owner of Sleeping Littles, a business that works with families to help them resolve their little's sleep issues. She is passionate about making sure that everyone is getting enough sleep and teaching them how to get there. With customized plans, hands-on support, and passion for sleep, Sleeping Littles help their families start sleeping better in as little as two weeks.