Every soon-to-be parent has heard about it and thinks they’re prepared for it. But it’s not until you’re in the trenches that you realise just how painful sleep deprivation can be.
While an hour of lost sleep here or there may not have long-term consequences on someone who isn’t a parent (i.e., someone who can nap when they want, go to bed when they want, and are free to make their own schedule), night after night of constant wakings and demands can take a major toll on mums and dads.
It’s been estimated that an average parent will lose about 350 hours of nighttime sleep over the course of baby’s first year. This is a big deal, especially when your body isn’t able to enter into what is known as “restorative sleep” (a.k.a. the type of sleep you need to be able to function properly when you wake up).
In a normal uninterrupted night, our bodies will enter into two different types of sleep: non-REM and REM sleep. Non-REM sleep takes around 90 minutes to complete and includes the moment we start to feel drowsy to when our breathing becomes regular and we are blissfully unaware of our surroundings.
REM sleep, also known as “dream sleep”, is when our brains become more active and, we suspect, tries to make sense of whatever it is that’s on our mind, such as what is causing us stress and events which occurred throughout the day.
During a typical eight hour sleep, adults enter into both stages of sleep four to six times each night. Your baby, however, not only has a higher percentage of REM sleep time (up to 80 per cent compared to your 20 per cent) but their sleep cycles also only run for about 50 minutes instead of your 90.
This is why your newborn will:
- Wake up more easily than you
- Sleep for shorter periods than you
- Have an unpredictable sleep pattern – or one which will constantly change as they get older
The more times you are woken up during the night, the more sleep deprived you will be because you haven’t been able to enjoy a full session of restorative sleep. Fortunately, there are things you can do to chip away at your “sleep debt” and help yourself feel better and more focused throughout the day.
The 3 Most Effective Ways To Prevent Sleep Deprivation
The first is a cliche, but that’s for a good reason: because it works.
1. Sleep when baby is sleeping
We know, you have a sink full of dirty dishes, a washer of wet clothes to unload and you want to get started on preparing a nutritious dinner instead of ordering pizza for the fifth night in a row. As tempting as it may be to sink your hands into those tasks that used to be so easy to complete, get horizontal and sleep.
You don’t need to sleep for hours at a time. In fact, many studies have shown that a good 20- to 30-minute nap is all you need to boost your energy levels and start working off that sleep debt. Set a timer for half an hour, and when it buzzes see if you feel like getting up and doing those dishes. If not, enjoy the extra much-needed rest.
2. Feed in bed
Sometimes just lying down with your new little one and snuggling as you feed is all you need. Breastfeed your new bubs while lying on your side (babies with reflux may not benefit from this so much as they’ll need to be burped) and consider meditating (there are a lot of helpful and free apps out there!) or simply closing your eyes and relaxing for a bit.
3. Ask for help
Western civilisation has unfortunately made parenting seem like a solo act. But let us tell you this: if you need the sleep, don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help.
One way is to get your partner involved at night. Having your partner take over just one of those nighttime feeds means that you can enjoy more restorative sleep, so pump or make sure he or she knows how to prepare a bottle.
Another is to ask friends and family to step in and enjoy some bonding time while you rest. Most will be glad to do it and will feel privileged that you trusted them to care for your baby.
Finally, you can outsource the help. There are specialised nighttime nurses out there whom you can hire to take care of your bubs so you can get your uninterrupted sleep on.
Sleep is important for a reason – we need it to function! New parents need it more than most, so don’t be afraid to fight for it and sneak some in whenever you can.