Sleepy Parent: Lack of sleep impacts more than your energy
Are you a sleepy parent? Could your child’s sleep (or lack of) impact more than just your energy? Think for a moment about your marriage, other relationships, your job, your parenting.
As a new parent, one of the most common complaints to pass your lips may well be, “I am so tired!”
Often, this is answered by your partner’s own, “Oh my gosh, I am so tired too!”
It would be a funny argument, if it wasn’t such a serious issue. As parents of a newborn you may think you’re headed for couple’s therapy, the way you bicker these days.
But wait! Put down the phone.
The reality is this: you have a newborn. And that means you are redefining your relationship with sleep – and with one another.
I know, I have been there.
As a nursing mother, I was the one who got up in the night with our baby. Not because my husband wasn’t willing, but because it seemed easier than waking him each time. Besides, I hated pumping, so if I could avoid that by getting up to nurse, I was willing to do it. Even if it meant I didn’t get much uninterrupted sleep.
I tried bringing our baby into bed to nurse, but that didn’t work for me. With the baby in between my husband and I, I wasn’t really sleeping- I was just cramped and anxious on top of being exhausted.
The lack of sleep took a toll on me. I began to resent my husband without even realizing it. When he traveled for work I would find myself envious that he was in a nice big bed in a quiet room.
When he called home, and told me how much he missed me and our children all I could do was snap at him because he was getting the sleep I so desperately wanted. And now I was the only sleepy parent.
Needless to say, this didn’t make things any better.
I know now that I was short not only with my husband, but with my older children as well. Not getting the sleep that I needed left me mean and snappy with my family and that just made me feel worse than I already did.
No Joking Matter
Sleep deprivation is something we often joke about with parents to be –
“Oh, get as much sleep as you can now!”
“You will never sleep again!”
But the reality is that sleep deprivation takes a toll on more than your relationships – it affects your mental and physical health as well.
According to a recent article in the Huffington Post, lack of sleep affects more than just your inability to bite your tongue. It also affects your mood, your ability to focus, and access to higher-level brain functions. In fact, studies have shown that people who are drunk outperform those lacking sleep.
Personally, my lack of sleep affected me profoundly. Not only was I short with my loved ones, I struggled at work as well.
I forgot things, I couldn’t think clearly – let alone creatively – at times I would literally fall asleep at my computer! Not a good look for the workplace.
I knew I wasn’t at my best and I felt like I was failing at home – as a partner and parent – and at work too. It was a dark downward spiral.
Simple Sleep Solutions for the Sleepy Parent
While there is no “magic wand” to wave that will effortlessly cure your sleep challenges (believe me, I’ve looked!), there are a few steps you can take that will create healthier sleep habits for you and for baby.
First – you have to make sleep a priority.
You may be thinking Well, of course it is.
But is it really?
Many of the families I work with over-schedule the day with outings, errands, and lunch dates. It’s easy to do – and understandable. We want to share our new baby with the world and we also want to stay connected to friends and family.
However, the reality is that – especially in the beginning – babies need A LOT of sleep.
So, while it feels important to be on the go, putting the priority on sleep is more beneficial for baby – and you – in the long run.
Now, I’m not saying you need to stay at home and watch the dust bunnies multiply, and I understand the importance of getting out of the house in order to feel human, but that can be done during something we call baby’s natural wake windows.
What is a Wake Window?
A wake window is, quite simply the window of time a newborn will be awake before needing to sleep again.
Straight home from the hospital a newborn baby can literally only make it about 45 minutes before needing to sleep. This means you need to feed, change, burp, and cuddle all in that window. If you push your luck and stretch past baby’s natural wake cycle it will be hard for your baby’s body to settle and find sleep.
As baby gets a bit older this wake window expands, ever so slowly. While it will vary by child, a general rule is the window will increase about 15 minutes for each month. That means by the time your baby is three months old, her wake window may be as long as an hour and a half.
Here Comes the Sleep Train
Another simple step is to signal to baby’s body that sleep is coming.
Let your baby know that sleep time is coming to ease the transition. One way to do this is to divide the day into two 12-hour chunks; 12 hours of day and 12 hours of night.
This can look like 7am to 7pm or 9am to 9pm; whatever works for your family (keeping in mind your child’s biological clock). The key is consistency, so that means if you pick 7am to 7pm, then your morning starts at 7am – even if it’s a weekend.
I know, I know, but stick with me here…
What this does is ensure that the chemical released in the body – the one related to your circadian rhythm that tells you it’s time to wake up – is released in a predictable pattern.
The consistency will signal to your baby feelings of hunger and sleepiness around the same time each day.
Once baby is awake, you want to be sure to incorporate lots of sunlight during the day, and try to dim the lights and keep things low key as bedtime approaches.
Try to develop a short, comforting routine before each nap and a slightly longer one before bedtime and hold to it. Remember, consistency is key!
This routine will accomplish a couple of very important things: one, it lets baby know the sleep train is coming, and two, it eases the transition into sleep without the fighting that makes finding rest difficult…for everyone!
Want More Tips?
You can download my must have guide for the sleepy parent: Five Steps to Getting Your Baby to Sleep Through the Night.