Postpartum Sleep Deprivation

We all know that sleep is essential. And that new parents get reduced quality & quantity of sleep. Our post-birth bodies have particularly needs that may necessitate rising more frequently in the night. Babies wake throughout the night with wet diapers or needing to be fed. A baby, after all, is not born with his own circadian rhythm. It takes time, and loving caregivers, to encourage and allow babies to develop harmonious sleep cycles. So it is critical for mamas to have healthy sleep patterns to share with their babes.

Prolonged sleep deprivation can put your health at risk. Here’s what you need to know about sleep, and how you to create the support for getting the sleep you need.

The Form & Function of Sleep

Adults experience two types of sleep: rapid eye movement (REM) and non-REM. Non-REM sleep includes deep sleep, also known as slow wave sleep. During REM sleep, we process and sort memories, we dream, and the brain restores itself. During this type of sleep, our brain flushes itself of toxins that have built up throughout the day. Therefore, if we continuously experience interrupted sleep, our brains can actually begin to deteriorate.

Your functionality and emotional wellbeing depend on getting enough of both types of sleep. Therefore, you need substantial uninterrupted stretches of sleep.

What Happens When We Don’t?

Sleep deprivation can facilitate or worsen postpartum depression and anxiety. It is also important to know that peaked sleep difficulties are a key sign of postpartum depression. If a mother is unable to sleep while her baby sleeps, particularly in the nighttime, she is most likely experiencing postpartum depression. The consequences of sleep deprivation are numerous and daunting.

Sleep deprivation, interruption, & insomnia can lead to:

  • Severe depression

  • Memory lapses

  • Challenges with any tasks requiring cognitive abilities

  • Difficulty with judgment and concentration

  • Reduced breast milk supply

  • Edginess, frustration, & anxiety

  • Weakening the brain’s ability to flush toxins that build up on a daily basis

  • Suppressed immune system & difficulty healing = increased post-birth recovery time

  • Hallucinations

  • Postpartum psychosis

Sleep troubles for Mom directly impact Baby. Katherine Stone, founder of Postpartum Progress, notes “Sleep-deprived mothers also may inadvertently compromise their infants’ sleep quality because infants often adopt their mothers’ circadian sleep rhythms.” We need to provide our babies with a healthy template for sleep by making sure we get enough sound sleep on a regular basis.

What New Moms Need

In a talk called The Reality of SLEEP LOSS, licensed clinical social worker Laura DePaola shares that the restorative stretch of sleep for the adult brain and body is five hours. Yes, five hours all at once! Here are four steps for getting ever closer to that sweetly rejuvenating stretch of sound sleep:

1. Reflect

Examine your expectations about yourself as a mother. You may need to consider your feelings and values about co-sleeping and breastfeeding, as well as factoring in your health status and the needs of your baby. Look at your priorities: where are Your needs? Remember that a healthy baby needs a healthy caregiver.

2. Commit

Take a leap of faith and invest your intention into taking care of yourself. Strengthen that resolve through your actions of self-love.

3. Communicate & Share Responsibilities

Let everyone in your household know what time you plan to be in bed. Share with them exactly how they can help make that happen. Allow your partner, another loved one, or a postpartum doula or infant care specialist offer support to you and the baby so you can sleep through the night for gradually longer stretches.

4. Make a Routine

Create a nightly ritual that works for you. This may include a warm bath, a cup of nerve-soothing tea, and some soft candlelight. Find what works for you and lull yourself to sleep each night. In this way, you mother yourself so you can in turn mother your children. Check out this fabulous guide for more sleep tips.

New moms need a culture of love.

Remember that neglecting yourself puts your health at risk. This is can be potentially harmful to your children. Although far too common, neglecting your own health is not normal. We need not accept a lack of self-care as the norm or as heroic. This is a myth of our culture that we do not need to continue feeding into. It is time to create a culture rooted in self-care. Grounded in the strength of self-love, we can truly begin to overflow with love and strength for others – our children, partners, greater family & community, and beyond.

Nena Complo

Nena Complo offers women and families holistic support throughout the childbearing years. She is a holistic birth & postpartum doula, yoga teacher, and midwifery student. Nena lives with her sweet husband and their two radiant daughters in LoveLand, Ohio.

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