sleep deprived? fight the fatigue
Sleep debt can bankrupt you. Buy some back!
If you are regularly getting less than the requisite amount of night-time sleep, plan a regular daytime nap with that of baby
Kids are costly; you probably figured that before you paid a single doctor’s bill. But before you met your baby, you probably didn’t realise just how deeply in the red you’d be on another kind of debt: sleep debt.
You’re listening to childfree friends’ stories of a late night spent partying. They say, “Now we know how you must be feeling, hey? Ha ha…” Do you want to suffocate them with a size 1 nappy? Yes? Congratulations: you’re in sleep debt. Babies fundamentally disrupt a normally functioning adult’s sleep pattern. Your partyhardy friends can make up for Friday night’s bender sleeping away all of Saturday and Sunday, but you are spending that time learning the crucial job of keeping your days-old baby alive and happy.
A different kind of tired
Sleep debt occurs when you live in a state of chronic sleep restriction or disrupted sleep, and it’s bad for your body and mind. Symptoms are tiredness, body pain, irritability, heightened stress levels and higher blood pressure. You might be clumsier than usual and lose or gain weight without trying to. And then there’s the memory loss…
Many sleep studies have proved that sleep deprivation makes your body secrete less cortisol and also affects your digestion, immune system and libido. And at the extreme, as Stanley Coren’s 1998 study in the journal Psychiatric Times showed, extreme sleep deprivation makes you lose your mind, “mimicking psychosis, with inappropriate emotional and behavioural responses”. Yes, there’s a reason sleep deprivation is used as a torture technique!
Before things get this bad, you need to buy back some sleep, so we’ve highlighted a few ways to help you.
Sleep when your baby Sleeps
“If you are regularly getting less than the requisite amount of night-time sleep, then it may be useful to plan a regular daytime nap to coincide with that of the baby,” says psychiatrist Dr Ihrshaad Ebrahim, who divides his time between the London Sleep Centre and The Constantia and Pretoria Sleep Centres ( get more info at www.sleepcentre.co.za). If you struggle to switch off, at least lie down with your eyes closed, although Dr Ebrahim warns that “resting is not the same thing as sleep”.
But there is still a house to clean, meals to cook, aunties to entertain, showers to be had, or other children to be cared for. You may have one of those babies who sleeps blissfully on a parent’s chest, yet is the queen of the 20 minute power nap if she is put down. We know; it’s not realistic to depend on that daytime nap. Still, once in a while the stars will align and you’ll manage to pass out next to your infant for two hours, and you’ll be so very, very grateful.
Sleep with baby
Proponents of co-sleeping argue that, while your sleep is still being disrupted during this period, both mother and baby settle back to sleep sooner if the baby simply breastfeeds in bed with mom. First investigate safe co-sleeping though, and abandon the idea if you don’t meet the criteria. Even if you don’t co-sleep, you can keep night feedings as quiet and fuss-free as possible:
Don’t change a nappy unless there’s poo in it, and dispense with winding as soon as your baby doesn’t seem to need it.
Don’t make eye contact or chat and play – give your baby the consistent message that night-time is for sleeping.
Go to bed early
Why do babies smile at six weeks old? So their moms will keep them. There’s some truth in this old joke: just when you are more exhausted than you can ever remember, you may be living the final, darkest hour just before dawn. Most standard-issue babies establish a sleep/awake pattern by around six weeks. If you’re breastfeeding, your milk supply will have started matching your baby’s appetite, and your baby is beginning to adjust to the world on the outside, differentiating day and night. Many babies now start to have one long stretch of sleep as their first sleep at night, say from 6 or 7pm right through to sometime after midnight. For a while, forego your usual evening entertainments in favour of going to sleep really super early yourself. If you can get your partner or Gogo to take care of the first feed of the night, you might score an even longer stretch of Zs. Four uninterrupted hours’ sleep may sound like entry level stuff to non-parents, but once you’ve had your first four hour stretch in two months, you’ll be a convert!
remember that this too Shall PASS
Convince yourself you can do this. Humans are able to withstand intermittent sleep shortages for a while. Dr Ebrahim says the ideal scenario is to limit how long your sleep deprivation goes on for. He says long term physical and psychological damage can occur after several weeks of severely disrupted sleep – “but it depends on how much total sleep time one gets in every 24hour sleep/awake cycle.”
“The best programme to follow as new parents is to take charge of your baby’s sleep,” he adds. “Remember that the baby responds to warmth and firm boundaries, and as long as they are well fed and comfortable, will take their cues from their parents.” If your baby fails to consolidate his sleep pattern by about three months or so, and you are not coping, seek help in the form of a baby sleep consultant. It’s the kindest thing you can do for all of you. yb