Surviving Sleep Deprivation with a Newborn: Strategies for Exhausted Parents

Embarking on the journey of caring for a newborn can be an incredibly demanding and tiresome activity, especially in the initial months after birth when the baby frequently wakes up during the night. However, often mothers find that this fatigue and exhaustion linger, even after the child grows and learns to walk. Surviving sleep deprivation with a newborn becomes a crucial aspect of parenthood during this phase. The continuous interruptions to sleep patterns can take a toll on both physical and mental well-being, requiring parents to adapt and find strategies to cope with the challenges that come with caring for a little one. It’s essential to establish a support system, share responsibilities with a partner, and prioritize self-care to navigate this demanding but rewarding chapter of parenting.

The cessation of sleep deprivation isn't synonymous with a growing child

Navigating the challenges of surviving sleep deprivation with a newborn takes on a different hue as the years pass. 

Moreover, recent research indicates that individuals who become parents face up to 6 years of sleep deprivation. Yes, you read that right: 6 years of less restful, shorter, and frequently interrupted nighttime sleep.

Study 1, published in the “Sleep” journal, analyzed sleep patterns of 4,659 German parents with a child born between 2008 and 2015. Researchers discovered that the duration and satisfaction associated with parental sleep did not return to pre-pregnancy levels until the child entered first grade.

This study, according to experts, substantiates that sleep deprivation doesn’t conclude when the young child grows enough to sleep alone in their bed. Fatigue persists over multiple years, even if theoretically, you are no longer a “fresh” mom or a new parent.

The repercussions of sleep deprivation in the early years of a child’s life are evident in mothers. It’s crucial to note that you’re not the sole affected party—if you’re consistently tired, the entire family will feel the effects.

Surviving Sleep Deprivation With a Newborn - The Impacts

Chronic exhaustion (or chronic fatigue) impacts mental health, contrary to what one might believe. Insufficient sleep affects your ability to function. The likelihood of making mistakes is higher when you’re tired, especially if you’ve resumed work after maternity leave.

There are increased risks of slipping and falling, cutting yourself while chopping vegetables for a meal, or forgetting to buckle your child’s safety belt when you’re heading somewhere in the car.

Some of the most worrisome risks emerge when sleep-deprived mothers are behind the wheel. Studies have compared the risks of driving in a drowsy state (due to lack of sleep) with the risks of driving under the influence—it is estimated, according to international statistics, that 100,000 road accidents are caused by drowsy driving annually. And yet, mothers who would never drive after a few glasses of wine, together with their little ones, drive tired and exhausted every day.

Sleep deprivation makes you appear older than your actual age

Enduring the trials of surviving sleep deprivation with a newborn can inadvertently contribute to the appearance of aging beyond one’s years. The toll of constant fatigue and disrupted sleep patterns may manifest physically, aligning with the notion that sleep deprivation can make you appear older than your chronological age.

Research conducted by scientists at UCLA found that one year after giving birth, women who slept less than seven hours per night exhibited a biological age three to seven years older than their chronological age.

The study, published in Sleep Health, gathered data from 33 expectant mothers aged 23 to 45. Los Angeles participants were monitored during pregnancy and the first year of their babies’ lives.

Researchers analyzed DNA from blood samples and examined epigenetic patterns. This means they scrutinized the codes that DNA uses to produce proteins. These codes enable researchers to estimate a person’s biological age, as opposed to their chronological age. Researchers also collected data on how many hours the study participants slept.

The study found that women who slept less than seven hours in the six months after their child’s birth had an advanced biological age. The study’s results also suggested that sleep deprivation affected the mothers’ telomeres.

Telomeres are protective sections of DNA located at the end of each chromosome, experts explain. As we age, we lose some of these telomeres. Sleep deprivation accelerates this process. The study’s results provide significant insights into the specific harmful effects of sleep deprivation. The study also noted that for every extra hour of sleep they received, the biological age of the mothers decreased.

Although the results are intriguing, the study has some limitations. It has a very small number of participants and is not a representative sample. Additionally, it ceased to monitor the women after the first year of the baby’s life. Therefore, there is no information on whether sleep deprivation has a long-term impact.

Surviving Sleep Deprivation with a Newborn

What can you do to combat fatigue and burnout?

1. Seek help if you haven't already

Talk to your partner and share responsibilities related to the baby and the household. Until you have more energy, his share of chores should be larger than yours. Tell him how exhausted you feel, don’t blame him, and let him know that his intervention and help will make you feel better. Your mother, mother-in-law, and best friends can lend a helping hand; you just have to ask for it.

2. Opt for "shortcuts"

Make use of every resource that can help reduce your workload: you can use the services of a company to order and deliver your groceries directly to your home, so you don’t have to make a trip to the supermarket with the child, or enlist a company’s services to clean your home, carpets, windows, curtains, etc.

3. Sleep when the little one sleeps (if possible)

Yes, you may have heard this advice when your baby was a newborn, in the first few weeks when you brought him home. And it might seem like an impossible task now, especially when there are so many things to take care of when the little one sleeps. However, if you lie down for just 15-20 minutes while your little one naps during the day, you will feel better when he or she wakes up.

4. Take care of yourself

Even if you are busy and have to take care of the child and the home, don’t forget to take care of yourself first. Eat on time, don’t skip meals, nap in short intervals during the day (if you haven’t returned to work yet), drink plenty of water because hydration is essential, and take supplements that support brain function and memory. The doctor can recommend supplements containing vitamin B12, iron, vitamin B6, magnesium, vitamin D3, ginseng, Omega 3, selenium, lutein, and ginseng to combat fatigue.

5. Getting an early night

Navigating the challenges of surviving sleep deprivation with a newborn requires a strategic approach. One effective strategy to consider is getting an early night. For a span of one week, make a conscious effort to retire to bed at an unusually early hour. The key is to create a conducive environment for rest, even if sleep doesn’t come instantly.

To enhance the pre-sleep routine, engage in a calming activity for about half an hour before bedtime. Consider immersing yourself in a hot bath, allowing the soothing warmth to relax both your body and mind. This not only promotes physical relaxation but also serves as a mental transition, signaling to your body that it’s time to unwind.

By incorporating this practice into your routine, you’re not only addressing the immediate need for rest but also establishing a calming ritual that can positively impact your overall sleep quality. Remember, surviving sleep deprivation is about more than just getting through the night – it’s about optimizing the moments you do have for rejuvenating sleep.

6. Discover strategies to assist your baby in establishing healthy sleep patterns

In the journey of surviving sleep deprivation with a newborn, understanding your baby’s sleep patterns becomes a crucial element. The phase where your baby wakes several times a night may seem never-ending, but rest assured, it is just a passing stage. As babies grow older, they gradually settle into longer and more predictable sleep periods.

To navigate this phase effectively, take the time to explore how much sleep babies generally need, what to anticipate during different developmental stages, and discover strategies to assist your baby in establishing healthy sleep patterns.

In addition to the proactive step of getting an early night and incorporating a relaxing pre-sleep routine, comprehending your baby’s sleep patterns empowers you with valuable insights. This knowledge not only fosters a sense of preparedness but also enables you to adapt your own routine in tandem with your baby’s evolving sleep needs.

Embracing this holistic approach, which combines insights into your baby’s sleep patterns with personalized self-care practices, contributes to a more resilient and adaptable strategy for surviving sleep deprivation with a newborn. Remember, every stage is temporary, and with understanding and patience, both you and your baby can embark on a journey towards more restful nights.

7. Incorporate simple and effective exercises into your daily life

Surviving sleep deprivation with a newborn entails a multifaceted approach, and incorporating regular exercise into your routine can be a game-changer. It’s understandable that when you’re grappling with exhaustion, the idea of engaging in physical activity might be the last thing on your mind. However, the benefits of regular exercise extend beyond the realm of fitness – it can significantly contribute to alleviating feelings of fatigue.

Consider incorporating simple yet effective exercises into your daily life. A particularly accessible form of exercise is walking. This not only provides a gentle physical activity but also offers an opportunity to connect with your baby. Make it a habit to step out for a daily walk, even if it’s just a brief stroll to the shops. The fresh air, change of scenery, and the rhythm of movement can do wonders for both your physical and mental well-being.

This practice serves a dual purpose by not only boosting your energy levels but also creating a positive routine for you and your baby. It’s a small but impactful step in your journey of surviving sleep deprivation, promoting a holistic approach to well-being. Remember, in the midst of adapting to new routines, a bit of exercise can go a long way in reinvigorating both body and mind.

Surviving Sleep Deprivation with a Newborn (3)

Can sleep deprivation cause postpartum depression?

While various factors contribute, it appears that sleep deprivation can worsen symptoms of postpartum depression. Here’s a little-known fact: the symptoms of sleep deprivation and postpartum depression are very similar. In fact, sleep deprivation can lead to postpartum depression.

Moreover, it has been proven that a mother’s lack of sleep increases the risk of postpartum depression in both parents. Therefore, the father can also suffer from perinatal mood disorders. In fact, 1 in 10 fathers experiences postpartum depression. Yet, not all instances are officially diagnosed, leading some experts to estimate that approximately 20-25% of fathers may encounter postpartum paternal depression at some juncture.

Lack of sleep can also affect your relationship with your partner. Sleep deprivation is also linked to suicidal thoughts in women with postpartum depression. The relationship between sleep deprivation and postpartum depression is likely bidirectional, with depression often causing sleep problems. Additionally, both conditions often have roots in similar issues, such as stress, anxiety, and changing hormone levels.

Following childbirth, women undergo a sudden decrease in estrogen, progesterone, and thyroid hormone levels. This change affects the sleep cycle and lays the foundation for depression. Over time, if sleep doesn’t improve, it increases the likelihood of developing postpartum depression.

Mothers of children who are difficult to soothe and wake up frequently at night seem to experience more symptoms of depression, anxiety, and fatigue.

If your exhaustion is concerning, consult your doctor to rule out hidden psychological causes. Prolonged insomnia despite exhaustion is a symptom of postpartum depression and anxiety disorders. If you’re doing everything right, seeking help, prioritizing sleep, but the issue persists, further evaluation may be needed.

Taking care of a little one can be an incredibly demanding and tiring endeavor, especially in the initial months following birth when the baby wakes up multiple times during the night. However, what many moms find is that this fatigue and weariness persist even as the child grows and learns to walk.

The challenge of Surviving Sleep Deprivation with a Newborn doesn't magically end as your baby grows

If your exhaustion seems worrying, talk to your doctor or another specialist to make sure fatigue doesn’t have a hidden psychological cause. While all parents deal with some form of insomnia, prolonged insomnia despite exhaustion is one of many symptoms of postpartum depression, anxiety, and other postpartum mood and anxiety disorders.If you’re diligently taking all the necessary steps, such as seeking assistance, attempting to rest when the baby does, and giving priority to sleep, it might be worthwhile to examine other symptoms of postpartum depression to determine whether you are experiencing it or not.”

Photo source: Link 

Photo source: Link 

Bibliography:

Study titled “Long-term effects of pregnancy and childbirth on sleep satisfaction and duration of first-time and experienced mothers and fathers,” published in 2019 in Sleep. Authors: David Richter, Michael D Krämer, Nicole K Y Tang, Hawley E Montgomery-Downs, Sakari Lemola.

Study titled “Postpartum sleep loss and accelerated epigenetic aging” published in Sleep Health in 2021; Volume 7, Issue 3, Pages 362-367. DOI: 10.1016/j.sleh.2021.02.002. Authors: Carroll JE, Ross KM, Horvath S, et al.

Sleep Foundation – Sleep Deprivation and Postpartum Depression