With a new baby in your life, sleep deprivation hits a whole new level. At times, it feels more like sleep torture than a simple lack of sleep. Both mothers and fathers can be kept awake for more hours than they are used to. However, it’s nothing like the pre-baby days of pulling an ‘all-nighter’ – with a baby, fewer hours are spent sleeping, and the sleep you do get is frequently broken, which can be the most frustrating and torturous part of all.
Being sleep deprived can put anyone at risk for a range of physical and emotional problems, some of them serious. Since sleep deprivation goes hand in hand with early parenthood, who is helping new mothers to get the well-deserved rest that they need? And why is that even important – after all, so many mothers around the world get by on very little sleep every single day?
Sleep experts recommend around 7-9 hours of sleep each night for optimal performance, health, and safety. Without adequate sleep, ‘sleep debt’ begins to accumulate, which can grow so big that it can become difficult to pay back. Research tells us that taking little naps, relying on weekend sleep-ins, or having just one night of good sleep doesn’t repay the debt.
Here are 14 reasons why we should all do our bit to help mothers of young babies and toddlers to get more sleep.
Reason #1: She’ll Be More Alert
This is probably the most obvious, but the figures are a bit of a wake-up call (pardon the pun, I couldn’t resist!). According to WebMD, “Reducing your nighttime sleep by as little as one and a half hours for just one night could result in a reduction of daytime alertness by as much as 32%”.
That’s a pretty significant number, and only counts for one night of lost sleep. Can you imagine days, weeks or months in a row of operating at around 60% or less?
Reason #2: She’ll Be Less Prone To Accidents and Injury
When you’re deprived of sleep, you’re more prone to accidents and injury – on the road, at work, and at home.
We often see law enforcement campaigns insisting that sleepy drivers should stop and take sleep breaks, in order to keep the roads safe. Experts tell us that driving while drowsy is similar to driving while drunk – and that’s a pretty scary thought. Yet, many mothers who are not getting enough sleep need to drive as part of their daily required activities.
If a mother has other children, she will need to keep running them to school, kindergarten, or to other places. If you can’t help her to get more sleep, can you help with running the other kids around for her for a while?
Reason #3: Adequate Sleep Can Help Prevent Low Milk Supply
Lack of rest – and feeling stressed – can impact a mother’s milk supply. When a woman has just had a baby, one of the last things she’d want to worry about is having enough milk to feed her baby. Worse still, this can have potentially lifelong repercussions. If a mother’s supply drops and her baby is hungry and upset, she may feel broken, or like a failure as a mother for not making enough milk for her baby. She may even resort to using formula, thinking her body isn’t capable of making enough milk. Sometimes, feeding problems create a family story, that gets passed onto the next generation, who may, in turn, worry that they could encounter the same problem.
By helping her to get more sleep, you’re helping her milk supply, which can help the mother to breastfeed her baby for longer, which is great for both baby and mamma. For 10 ways you can support a good breastmilk supply, take a look at our article here.
Reason #4: She’ll Be Less Irritable And Grumpy
Constantly feeling flat, tired and exhausted can leave mothers feeling frustrated, irritable, and grumpy. Being in a constant state of sleep deprivation is such a drag. Dealing with the lack of sleep as well as keeping up with life’s daily events and demands can make a new mother snappy or short at times.
It’s not fun being irritable and grumpy – we don’t mean to be. Anyone who has been sleep deprived will know that it can leave you with a tendency to be a little grumpy. Unfortunately, in this case, it’s not about just one bad night of sleep… it’s many in a row. All this can be lessened if she’s had more opportunities to sleep.
Reason #5: She’ll Have A Better Relationship With You
Due to many of the reasons included in this list, it’s common sense that with more sleep, she’ll have better relationships with those around her, including her partner, older children, friends, and relatives. When women are feeling connected and have satisfying relationships, they feel more fulfilled. When relationships break down, women tend to take it to heart.
Research from the University of California (Berkeley) has backed up the link between sleep deprivation and relationship problems. According to head researcher, Amie Gordon, those suffering from a lack of sleep found it harder to be empathetic and grateful towards their partners.
Reason #6: She’ll Be Less Likely To Develop Postnatal Depression
This is a big one. Poor quality of sleep has been linked to postnatal depression, and it can worsen depression symptoms.
One in seven Australian mothers suffer from postnatal depression, but this doesn’t include unreported cases. It may be startling to hear that the leading cause of maternal death is suicide. Sleep is only one part of the puzzle, but especially when she’s not getting any sleep, is unsupported, and feels helpless to overcome the problem(s), the spiral into postnatal depression can difficult to avoid.
Read more about avoiding postnatal depression in our article, 8 Ways To Avoid Postnatal Depression.
Reason #7: She’ll Be Happier
I can actually remember the first time I finally had a good night sleep with one of my older children. I was grocery shopping and I actually wanted to strike up a conversation with a checkout operator, so I asked her how her day had been. She wasn’t in the mood for much banter, and I remember thinking to myself how customer service is really lacking these days! But usually, I am the kind of shopper who wants to be left alone, gets things done, minds their own business, and gets the heck out of there.
It’s true what they say: when a mother gets a solid night sleep, she feels human again. Human enough to want to have connection and community with all those around you.
Reason #8: She’ll Be More Likely To Want Sex
Disclaimer: I’m not saying anyone should be pressuring or manipulating a new mother into having sex, which should happen when she is ready. But according to a BellyBelly poll (which I think speaks for all mothers!), the biggest reason mothers don’t feel like sex is because they are so overwhelmingly exhausted.
Sex is a wonderful way to express connection and love with your partner, there’s no denying it. Many women would love to enjoy the loved-up feelings and connection that comes with making love, it fills a crucial human need. But when she’s up to her eyeballs in sleep deprivation, don’t expect a yes when you nudge her in the night. Sleep deprivation is a huge libido killer.
For more information on sex after baby (for partners), you might like to read our article, Why Doesn’t She Want Sex With Me? or When She Prefers Sleep Instead Of Sex: What You Can Do.
Reason #9: Her Metabolism Will Be Functioning Better
No mother should ever feel any pressure to lose any weight after having a baby – she should be supported and encouraged to look after her baby the best she can – and that begins with people nurturing and supporting her. It should be a non-issue unless she decides she’d like to lose weight, in which case your support is greatly appreciated.
Sleep deprivation is linked with an increased risk of obesity. When you aren’t getting good sleep, it affects your metabolism and can make you more hungry. Recent research into the role of ghrelin in our body has shown that shorter sleeping times results in higher levels of ghrelin – which stimulates appetite. Unfortunately, it tends to stimulate cravings for high fat and high carbohydrate foods.
Not only does she have that to contend with, if a mother has no energy, she’s less likely to feel like getting out the house and do physical activity, further affecting her metabolism (as well as her mood). If you think getting motivated for exercise is difficult on a normal day, it can feel one hundred times harder when you’ve not having decent sleep.
Reason #10: She’ll Feel So Much Better About Herself
Getting adequate sleep can help new mothers to have better self-esteem, feel better about their parenting abilities, and feel more positive about themselves and their life.
I’m putting my hand up – this is a big one for me. After an especially bad night, I noticed that I tend to get more anxious than normal, and my self-esteem cops a beating.
Towards the end of a long day (they are all long when you’ve not had enough sleep!), it feels like such a hard slog trying to get the rest of the day done. My ideas of a super healthy meal for my family which I have lovingly have cooked, followed by and quality time with all of them, fly out the window. So I start to feel crappy about myself and the job I am doing as a parent. On the other hand, when I have had better sleep, even my partner notices it, and says that I have a ‘glow’ about me.
Reason #11: You’ll Help To Reduce The Risk Of Health Problems
Sleep deprivation has been linked to many serious health problems, including high blood pressure, inflammatory diseases, heart attack, and stroke.
Even your immune system can suffer from a lack of sleep. This is because your body goes into repair mode while you’re sleeping – it’s an important time for your immune system. If a mother is not getting enough sleep, she can be susceptible to bugs going around, as her immune system won’t be functioning at its best.
Research is continually discovering more about sleep deprivation, especially how it affects the immune system as well as other crucial bodily functions.
Reason #12: She’ll Have A Better Memory And A Sharper Mind
Mummy brain DOES exist… it’s not some crazy phenomenon. It’s a known fact that sleep deprivation impacts memory and cognitive ability (the ability to think and process information). Sleep deprivation makes you forgetful, and it drives me absolutely batty as a mother. Sometimes I feel like an absolute ditz when simple words I often use simply escape me. For example, ‘school bag’ or ‘saucepan’. To make matters worse, everyone else thinks it’s hilariously funny. I just want the words to come to me so I can explain what I am trying to say!!! Which then leads back to point #2 – I get grumpy and frustrated because I feel like my brain isn’t functioning properly. It’s the simple things!
Read more about mummy brain here.
Reason #13: She’ll Have A Better Sense Of Judgment
According to WebMD: “Lack of sleep can affect our interpretation of events. This hurts our ability to make sound judgments because we may not assess situations accurately and act on them wisely.”
This can be a problematic issue in a whole range of ways, and can especially cause problems in our closest relationships.
Reason #14: She’ll Have More To Give
Women are givers by nature, but nothing makes that harder to do than a lack of sleep. You’ve probably heard the bank account example before; if you keep making withdrawals you will end up bankrupt. When you give back to her, especially in ways that support her emotional health and wellbeing, she will overflow with even more giving. This is not a case tit for tat. When your cup is full, you just have so much more you can give – to your partner, your kids, to work – everything. When your cup is empty or running on fumes, you only have the basics of what it takes to function, and giving that away is not an option. You can be left feeling taken for granted, or that everyone wants a piece of you – when you have nothing left for yourself. And all we need is a bit more sleep. Pretty please.
When trying to help a mother get more sleep, you might like to read: