Babies are little bundles of joy, and parents enjoy the first days with the new family member. However, these unforgettable moments can be tiring, especially at the beginning of parenthood. Simply, your baby needs all the attention and care 24/7. Sweet torment indeed.
In all the rush to please the new family member, new parents often neglect their own needs, like sleep. As a result, they lack sleep, and most of them don’t take this issue seriously.
But lack of sleep often has many consequences. For instance, the body reacts negatively in different ways, most of which aren’t noticeable at all. That’s why some effects of sleep deprivation can damage your health in the long term.
What Is Sleep Deprivation?
Sleep deprivation is a specific sleep disorder that hits new parents, especially moms. It’s when you can’t get as much sleep as you need. And almost all new moms have faced this condition in the first weeks after the baby’s birth. Some will get through it easily, while those who need more sleep will have a harder time.
New parents focus their lives on their babies, which can be the explanation for sleep deprivation. Moms often wake up at night to feed or change their babies. They also jump from the bed for every noise they hear from the crib.
Babies in the first months of life don’t distinguish between day and night, so they can fall asleep and wake up at any time. In fact, it’ll take months until your little ones establish a good sleep pattern, and probably a few more months until they decide to sleep through the night. And your sleep deprivation will probably last for that entire period.
Effects of Sleep Deprivation
One or several nights of poor sleep can make you moody, unmotivated, and exhausted the next day. But chronic lack of good night rest, as is often the case with new parents, can have significant effects on physical and mental health.
For instance, when you look at yourself in the mirror, you seem a few years older. Your skin may look pale, while your eyes are puffy with dark bags under them. Also, your hair can seem lifeless. But it’s not only your appearance that suffers.
This symptom can often be confusing, considering that fatigue is related to too many obligations you have around a new family member. However, it’s important to know when your tiredness may indicate a chronic lack of sleep.
The first sign you should pay attention to is constant sleepiness. From the moment you wake up to bedtime, it seems like you could fall asleep at any moment. You often yawn, your eyes tingle, and you’re always exhausted.
It’s normal to be swollen for a while after giving birth since your body needs some time to recover and eliminate the excess water. However, the bloatedness and feeling of heaviness in the stomach can indicate many problems, and sleep deprivation is only one of them.
Namely, lack of sleep can trigger changes in appetite. Since you’re tired, you need quick energy. And you know you can get it in simple carbs, that is, sugar. Thus, when you’re sleep-deprived, you often reach for sweets and snacks to boost your mood and energy (I do that).
Also, junk food can bring some relief and make you feel better, but only for a short time. So, if you base your nutrition on processed food that lacks nutrients, it’ll cause bloating and even constipation, which can only deepen your sleep problems.
Lack of Focus
Not enough sleep means that not only your body is tired, but your mind is as well. Your focus drops, you become forgetful and sluggish, and you don’t have much willpower.
Carrying out daily activities will become tiring, and you can have difficulty reasoning and making decisions. All this will make you extra nervous during the day, especially if these problems can affect your relationship with the baby.
The lack of night sleep is hard to make up during the day. Actually, when you have a baby, that’s not always possible. Thus, daily fatigue and sleepiness bring irritability, anxiety, and frequent mood swings.
Your physical and mental performance is significantly lower than before childbirth. For instance, if you’ve got back to work, you might be less productive and motivated. Or you can become more irritable, argue with your partner, or yell at your other kids for no reason.
The effects of poor sleep will be visible in your social life. You’ll often feel depressed and not in the mood to hang around with friends. If this condition persists, you should take these symptoms very seriously. Besides sleep deprivation, they can also indicate postpartum depression.
Sleep deprivation is directly related to decreased libido. If you do manage to catch a few minutes of “free time,” you’ll most likely decide to take a nap rather than spend time with your partner. And it’s legit, as long as your spouse understands your condition. However, remember that long-term neglect of your needs can have long-term consequences for your love life.
How to Deal With Sleep Deprivation
If you face sleep deprivation for the first time, you might take it for granted, thinking that a few months of poor sleep can’t hurt you. This state is temporary, but you shouldn’t risk the consequences it can leave. Instead, you should find a way to overcome it more easily.
It may seem impossible, but it’s highly desirable to avoid stress after the birth of a child. You’re already stressed enough by the arrival of a new family member and lack of sleep, so there’s no need to make the situation worse with housework, bills, etc. Whenever possible, leave that to your partner.
Whenever you have time, try to do things that relax you. Although you may think your baby requires your presence 24/7, that’s not the case. You should involve your partner in baby care, too.
Your spouse or a family member can stay with the kid for a while, so you can go for a walk. Or prepare a bath for yourself, practice some relaxation techniques, or just sit in silence. These short breaks from the routine have a soothing effect leading to better sleep.
Also, don’t neglect the importance of optimal sleep conditions, which includes temperature, humidity level, noise, and brightness. Avoid sleeping in too hot, stuffy rooms. And if the light bothers you, get one of those discreet night lamps.
Train Your Baby to Sleep
More experienced parents and sleep experts can advise you to harmonize your sleep with your children’s naps. That can help you overcome daily tiredness, but it’s not always possible to take a nap whenever your little one sleeps.
Babies’ sleep/wake cycles differ from adults, so you shouldn’t follow it to the T. Instead, try to establish a good sleep routine for your kid, which will bring more sleep for you. Luckily, babies have sleep stages that they get over very quickly.
And for that to be possible, it’s essential to start with sleep training in your baby as soon as possible. But first, you must observe and learn the sleep pattern of your little one. Then, at about six months, start with sleep training.
Once you set a good sleeping pattern for your child, you’ll be able to work on your own sleep hygiene. As time flies, your baby will sleep longer at night, with less frequent awakenings.
Ask for Help
Parenting is a role you should share with your partner. Although mothers are generally more involved with babies (due to breastfeeding), fathers should also take part in parenting. Thus, mothers will be able to rest and avoid sleep deprivation.
Apart from your partner, you can involve other family members in helping with the child. They can babysit once in a while when you need an hour or two of rest. If necessary, ask them to stay with you for a few days.
Don’t Neglect Postpartum Depression
Exhaustion after childbirth, stress, and lack of sleep in the first weeks of a newborn’s life can trigger postpartum depression. And this condition can only worsen your sleep deprivation. This cause-and-effect relationship seems like a vicious circle from which it’s tricky to get out, but it’s possible.
First, you must accept the fact that you have a problem. Then, you should assess it. In most cases, no medical intervention is needed; you may only need some rest, help, and understanding of close people.
If necessary, seek professional help. Doctors can distinguish regular tiredness in new moms from postpartum depression or sleep deprivation. They know how to treat these conditions, which may include mild antidepressants or anti-anxiety drugs.
Never take any drugs without professional consultation. Doctors know your health condition and will also consider the current situation (e.g., you’re breastfeeding or taking therapy). So they’ll prescribe drugs that are safe for you and your baby.
Sleep deprivation is a severe problem that needs attention. If you let the lack of rest affect your health, behavior, and well-being, you won’t be able to enjoy parenthood. So don’t hesitate to admit your problem, work on overcoming it, and ask for help if necessary.
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