How to survive sleep deprivation as a parent

How to survive sleep deprivation as a parent

When you type ‘will sleep deprivation…’ into Google, the first autocomplete suggestion ends ’cause death?’.

That might seem a bit extreme, but it paints the picture of new parenthood perfectly – Googling into the night, worrying that the lack of sleep will eventually kill you.

You see, once you become a parent, being tired gets turned up several notches.

Catherine Hallissey is a psychologist and sleep expert. ‘Adults need seven to nine hours of sleep every night for optimum health and wellbeing,’ she tells Metro.co.uk.

But according to The Sleep Foundation, after the baby is born, men lose an average of 13 minutes per night and women over an hour, with parents’ sleep not returning to pre-pregnancy levels until your child is six years old – that’s a lot of sleep lost.

We obsess about sleep in the parenting world. Everyone wants to know if your baby sleeps, we love to compare notes on how bad our night was, and couples love a game of ‘who is the most tired?’.

Sleep makes up one of the most common topics of conversation among those raising kids – because we’re all bloody exhausted.

But just because being tired is the norm, doesn’t mean we should dismiss it as just an accepted part of parenthood.

Sleep deprivation can have serious effects.

Effects of parental sleep deprivation

Go without enough sleep and you’re likely to experience brain fog, making it harder for to concentrate or make quick decisions.

It can make you more accident prone, and your immune system can weaken, leaving you more susceptible to colds and other viruses.

Being deprived of sleep can also leave you and your partner irritable, meaning you snap at each other more, plus it can leave you with a low libido, which can cause problems in your already strained relationship. Your mood can take a nosedive, in some cases leading to post-natal depression.

Nicole Ratcliffe, owner of Baby 2 Sleep, knows only too well how badly sleep deprivation can affect parents’ lives.

‘I once set off to the shops and hadn’t strapped my baby into the car seat,’ she tells us. ‘I only realised when I was halfway there.

‘We were so sleep deprived that it affected my and my hubby’s relationship, to point where we ended up in counselling, nearly divorced.

‘Mentally we were broken, and I had to attend anger management classes. It truly destroyed us, and my husband is now an insomniac due to what we think is PTSD from the lack of sleep.’

The effects of sleep deprivation can in some cases be a little more comical – but they’re still important to discuss.

Michelle Eshkeri, author, and owner of Let ME Write tells us: ‘I was once so tired from my child waking up at 4am every morning and me working full-time, that I put the casserole in the washing machine to cook.’

‘I headed out on the school run with a tin of baked beans instead of my drink in the pram drinks holder, Ami Mistry recalls. Sleep deprivation led Ami to research herbal remedies to help clear her constant brain fog and with the help of a nutritionist, she developed the SUPERMUM capsule: ‘I found the ingredients made such a difference; they have changed my life.’

And Nina A Spencer shares: ‘With my first set of twins, my husband and I woke up to find my mum asleep at the end of our bed. She had come to help with a night feed. It’s a good job that my husband had his pants on!’

So how can you get through sleep deprivation without losing your mind?

How to survive a lack of sleep as a parent

‘The most important thing for sleep deprived parents to remember is that this season of parenting will come to an end,’ Catherine explains. ‘While it feels like it will never end, it will pass in time, and you WILL sleep well again.

‘Just knowing this can help to reduce some of the stress and anxiety that comes with feeling so sleep deprived.

‘The second thing is that, while you may not be able to improve the quantity of sleep right now, there are many things you can do to improve the quality of sleep.

‘Paying particular attention to our daily routines, pre-bed routines and sleep schedule can have a huge benefit for sleep-deprived parents.’

Catherine recommends starting by examining your sleep environment.

‘Make sure it’s a calm and relaxing space,’ she says. ‘Remove as much clutter as you can. Invest in the best mattress, pillow and bedding you can afford. Make sure your bedroom is dark and cool.’

Next, look at your daily routine.

‘Our circadian rhythm is sensitive to changes in light, diet, and exercise so you can use this knowledge to optimise sleep quality,’ Catherine suggests. ‘Try not to have any caffeine after 2pm. Get outside in the early afternoon.

‘If you can manage it, a 20-minute nap in the early afternoon can be especially helpful.’

And finally, Catherine says: ‘Look at your pre-bed routine. Turn off all screens one to two hours before you want to fall asleep. Try to go to bed at a similar time each night.

‘Experiment with different relaxation strategies to find what works best for you, e.g., a bath or shower, reading, followed by a guided meditation and deep breathing. 4-7-8 breathing combined with Yoga Nidra guided meditation was a game-changer for me when I had postnatal insomnia.’

When to get professional help for sleep issues

Don’t just grin and bear severe sleep deprivation or insomnia. It’s vital that you seek professional help if…

  • Symptoms of insomnia last longer than a few weeks
  • Sleep deprivation and insomnia is dramatically interfering with your daytime life and your ability to function
  • Your sleep issues are triggering mental health issues such as depression
  • Changing your sleep habits hasn’t worked to fix any issues

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