Many new parents try – and fail – to explain just how tired they feel. It is an almost fog-like feeling dragging at their bones, making their eyelids droop and causing their teeth to ache. And yet they soldier on, unable to stop because of the unreasonable working hours forced upon them by their new boss, who gets away with this inhumane working environment only by being so damn cute.
Heavily pregnant women are forced to get up a few times each night (so they can visit the bathroom… again) and are frequently woken by problems like cramps, aches and pains. New parents are forced to live in a sleep deprived state whilst they battle against dirty nappies, nocturnal sleep patterns, the revolving door of visitors, feeds, feeds and more feeds.
If you seem to be spending most of your (many) waking hours arguing over who is the most tired, then you may be pleased to hear that there is research being done into sleep deprivation. So what is worse, broken sleep, or less sleep?
A recent study found that repeated night wakings can have a similar effect as restricted sleep. Researchers found that cognitive ability and mood were negatively impacted by both restricted sleep and night wakings.
“The sleep of many parents is often disrupted by external sources such as a crying baby demanding care during the night.” said Prof. Sadeh, a professor at Tel Aviv University’s School of Psychological Sciences. “These night wakings could be relatively short — only five to ten minutes — but they disrupt the natural sleep rhythm. The impact of such night wakings on an individual’s daytime alertness, mood, and cognitive abilities had never been studied. Our study is the first to demonstrate seriously deleterious cognitive and emotional effects.”
In the study, participants were assessed over a two night period. For the first night, participants were able to have a normal night's sleep, but on the second night the participants were split into two groups. The first group were only able to have a restricted sleep (four hours), and the second group were woken throughout the night (four times over an eight hour period). The participants in the second group were required to complete a task on a computer for up to 15 minutes before getting back into bed.
All of the participants in the study noted attention problems, fatigue, confusion and low mood after the second night. The study found no significant difference between the two groups, leading them to conclude that both night wakings and restricted sleep have negative impacts on daily life. This study was limited in size, but most parents would probably agree that they noticed at least some fatigue, confusion, attention problems and low mood during those first few sleep-deprived years of being parents.
Knowing this may not help you to get a better night's sleep, but it may help you to feel less alone in your exhaustion-induced fog. Rest assured that there are other parents who are feeling just the same way as you.
The following tips may help you to cope with the broken sleep of new parenthood:
Coping With Broken Sleep Tip #1: Nap When Your Baby Naps
you may feel like you hear this one all the time, but that's because it's important. Napping can help you to catch up on some missed sleep.
Coping With Broken Sleep Tip #2: Look After Yourself
You need to eat a healthy balanced diet to try and ensure you are getting the right nutrients and minerals. Sleep deprivation can suppress your immune system, so try to look after yourself in other areas, such as diet and lifestyle, to minimise your chance of falling ill.
Coping With Broken Sleep Tip #3: Don't Go Above and Beyond
you don't need to be the parent with the sparkling house, the three course meal on the table and the freshly knitted baby outfit. It's ok to just be the parent with the least heavy eye bags – so put your energies into looking after yourself and your baby instead.
Coping With Broken Sleep Tip #4: Share The Load
Ask your partner to do his fair share. If you're breastfeeding, you may struggle with demanding he does night feeds, but you can ask him to change nappies and help out with settling the baby during the night. If you don’t sleep with your baby, your partner could bring your baby to you when its time for a feed, then pop baby back to bed when the feed has ended. He could also take the baby out for a walk in a sling in the morning, giving you chance to catch up on some sleep.
Coping With Broken Sleep Tip #5: Ask For Help
If you're solo parenting a lot of the time, you can call in backup. Ask your mother or best friend to take the baby out for a walk, or entertain her in another room, so that you can get some sleep. If you don’t have friends or family available to help, a post-natal doula’s help can be heavenly for a new mother. If money is tight, try a student doula, who will charge much less while they are in training and newly qualified.
Coping With Broken Sleep Tip #6: This Too Shall Pass
This is your mantra, and you will be saying a lot over the coming months. Your baby might wake up six times a night now, but he won't do that forever.Your sleep deprivation is not permanent, and one day you will awake refreshed after a full eight hours.