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Nightmare on Parents’ Street: What is Sleep Deprivation?

Nightmare on Parents’ Street: What is Sleep Deprivation?

Sleep deprivation is a sore spot for the majority of new parents. A whole new meaning is given to the phrase ‘sleeping like a baby’ when the little bundle of joy becomes the little bundle of sleeplessness. Many new Mums and Dads find themselves dozing off at the wrong moments, often irksome or dizzy.

While it’s normal to feel more tired once the baby arrives, sleep deprivation can sometimes feel as though it’s too hard to handle. It is so important though to remember you are not alone and to be kind to yourself during these tough phases. Here at Bubnest HQ we know how real and raw sleep deprivation is when it hits, so we have put this blog together to help you better understand all things to do with sleep including what sleep deprivation looks like and how common it is. 

How does Sleep Work?

Sleep is a necessary function of the human body as it allows your brain to repair itself and learn and process new things. This mystifying process brings you in a comatose-like, lethargic state where you hallucinate for a few hours, and hopefully wake up feeling more refreshed and ready to take on the world!

Involving a lot of brain parts and hormones, sleep allows your body to:

  • Heal cellular damage
  • Get rid of toxins
  • Give the internal organs a chance to rest
  • Keep depression and anxiety at bay

Studies show sleep is divided into a number of stages:

  • Stage 1: you start falling asleep with a lot of alpha and theta wave activity which calms you down and gives you the impression that you’re still awake.
  • Stage 2: non-REM sleep is when these waves slowly fade, making you even more oblivious to any environmental stimuli.
  • Stages 3 and 4: these bring you into the deep sleep state that helps you feel rested in the morning.
  • REM sleep: the first cycle happens about 90 minutes into your sleep. Your brain is extremely active here, hence the dreams that help the brain filter information, conserve important memories and REM sleep is essential because it increases your empathy, resilience to stress, fighting neurological illnesses and depression.

How Much Sleep Do We Need?

According to recent sleep studies, adults ideally require 7-9 hours of uninterrupted sleep each night. A full sleep cycle lasts on average 90 minutes, which takes you through all the sleep stages stated above. Sleeping for 7 hours, without interruption, not only ensures that you get through enough full sleep cycles for your mind, body and soul to recoup but it also allows you to function at full potential.

Unfortunately little ones tend to miss the memo on how important it is to get 7 hours sleep a night, and this is where being a new parent and getting enough sleep each night doesn’t always line up. There is however some hope for those who are breastfeeding though. Studies show that breastfeeding releases the prolactin hormone, which has a soothing and sleep-inducing effect. Prolactin helps Mums get into a deep sleep faster, reducing the duration of the first two stages of sleep from 55% to 35%. So although the sleep quantity might be decreased, sleep quality stays pretty good. Pretty amazing, isn’t it?

Understanding Sleep Deprivation

Sleep deprivation, put simply, is caused by not getting enough sleep. This can happen to new parents when they get less total hours of sleep each night and also when they have an interrupted sleep. In other words, a decrease in both sleep quality and quantity can lead to sleep deprivation.

As opposed to normal tiredness, sleep deprivation is more of a long term concern, as we all know that there are not many longer-term commitments as important as your baby. Tasks such as feeding late at night or in the wee hours of the morning, changing dirty nappies and rocking baby to sleep really do take a toll on the body both physically and mentally. Of course you instinctively and genuinely want to respond to every cry and be there for your little one, but it is important to also be aware of the symptoms of sleep deprivation and make sure that you remember to take good care of yourself.

Some of the symptoms correlated with sleep deprivation include:

  • Nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Mood swings
  • Being more forgetful
  • Lack of sex drive
  • Increased hunger
  • Sugar cravings

How Common is Sleep Deprivation for New Parents

Almost all parents will experience sleep deprivation at some point in the first two years of their child’s life. There are a few lucky ones who have or will never experience the true struggle of parenting in a sleep deprived state, as their child amazingly sleeps through the night right from the beginning! This might provide little comfort for the frustrating times when your colicky little one screams for hours on end whilst you’re living on the bare minimum of sleep required to survive. It does make you wonder though the chances of you being one of the lucky ones! Exactly how likely is it that your newborn will master sleeping through from day one?

Unfortunately the statistics don’t look that promising. Simba, a renowned name in sleep technology, recently conducted a study which discovered that in the first year of a child’s life:

  • The average amount of sleep per night, for parents, is just under 5 hours
  • Parents sleep 59% less than they should, which amounts to a loss of 50 days of sleep
  • 11% of new parents have had hallucinations
  • 8% forgot their baby’s name

So why does this happen? Research shows that babies build a staggering amount of brain synapses in their first years of life, which is why their deep sleep stages are shorter. This is also why they can’t fall asleep easily, especially after being exposed to an explosion of stimuli during the day. Combine that with their irregular sleep patterns whilst growing in the womb, and you better understand why babies are built this way. The good news is that this gets better with time. Babies’ brains mature, and the speed with which new synapses are formed slows down after 24 months.

There is hope…

Sleep deprivation is just one of those things that most parents will experience, however it is important to remember it doesn’t last forever. Most babies need time to learn how to sleep, and developmental leaps can alter and influence those patterns of sleep, so remember to be kind to yourself and your little one during these tough times. Also remember to reach out and ask loved ones or even your Child Health Nurse for help if you’re feeling too overwhelmed.

Here’s hoping this unpleasant stage of parenthood will be forgotten. There has got to be some positive about the fact that forgetfulness is a symptom of sleep deprivation, right?!

Sending you the best wishes for a dreamy night sleep, Love team Bubnest