sleep de­prived? fight the fa­tigue

Sleep debt can bank­rupt you. Buy some back!

Your Baby & Toddler - - Front Page - By Mar­got Ber­tels­mann

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

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