I realised I was probably sleep deprived as I poured the hot water out of the saucepan into the colander. On the face of it this is not unusual. I cook daily and am well versed in how a colander works, yet this time it wasn’t until the heat cascaded over my feet and splashed up my legs that I considered pouring the water into the colander in the middle of the kitchen with nothing to catch it might not be a sensible thing to do. It was this moment, or I should say it was this incident in a long line of incidents spanning 9 years, that convinced me of the subject of this blog post.
Let me make this perfectly clear – the first few months after baby are born are hell
Let me make this perfectly clear – the first few months after baby are born are hell. There’s this idea that the baby stage is easy: they sleep and eat, what could be harder than that? True, babies do sleep for the majority of the day and wake up when they’re hungry, but their stomachs don’t hold a lot of food. You’ll be advised to expect them to wake up every 4 hours but this’ll vary depending on the baby. From experience each of mine never lasted longer than 3 hours for the first few weeks before wanting to be fed again. This was a massive shock to the system when our first was born and I can’t even begin to explain how hard it was when we had twins, each with their own sleep/feed pattern. Eventually you manage to get into a routine, but then along comes teething and inevitable illnesses which completely throw everything out of kilter again.
The Effects of Sleep Deprivation
I have cradled a duvet thinking that I’m trying to settle a crying baby, I have brushed my teeth twice within minutes having forgotten that I’d already done it, I have been unable to string a simple sentence together as the language centre of my brain has gotten sick of being woken up every three hours, my short term memory appears to have been switched off at times and it has taken me the best part of two weeks to write this blog post often sat staring at the screen trying to work out what the next word should be.
Driving sleepy is just as bad as driving drunk
Speak to any parent and they’ll have their own amusing anecdotes of things they’ve done whilst sleep deprived, but there are times when it becomes more serious. I have had to pull the car over on the motorway for fear of falling asleep at the wheel on the way to work in the morning, and studies have shown that driving sleepy is just as bad as driving drunk [1, 2].
So you decide to get the train to work instead of driving, but that doesn’t prevent the short temper or irritability that often comes with lack of sleep. You become snappy with your partner, friends and work colleagues and this leads to inevitable difficulties in your home or working relationships. You can find out some of the other possible effects of short and long term sleep deprivation here – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sleep_deprivation#Physiological_effects.
How Do You Become Sleep Deprived?
There are four stages of sleep. An average sleep cycle (moving through all of the stages of sleep) takes approximately 90-110 minutes, and the interruption of the sleep cycle is the cause of sleep deprivation. 9 hours of sleep that is continually disturbed could leave a person feeling worse than someone who has had 5 hours of uninterrupted sleep. If you’re interested in the details of what happens during each stage you can read more about it in this PDF created by the National Sleep Foundation – http://sleepfoundation.org/sites/default/files/SleepWakeCycle.pdf.
Dealing with Sleep Deprivation
If you search for tips on dealing with sleep deprivation like I did, you’ll find most websites assume:
- you are the mother
- you have no job
- you have no other children
This didn’t work for me and tips such as “sleep when your baby sleeps” probably wouldn’t sit too well with my boss. Even my wife tried this tip when we had our first child though, but she said she was too conscious of baby waking up and all the household jobs that needed doing that she could never really switch off.
I should give the authors some credit as they are writing for a very specific audience (or regurgitating an article they’ve read somewhere else…). In an effort to avoid those scenarios I have enlisted the help of the experts: other parents. Here’s their top tips:
- “Caffeine helps. I don’t care what people say, coffee got me through some tough times. Don’t drink too much, as the effects lessen the more you drink it, and don’t drink it too close to what you might consider to be bedtime”
- “Don’t stay up too late. There’s a temptation when the kids have gone to bed to just sit there and chill out for a bit to get some semblance of your normal life back. Give it thirty minutes, yes, but then go to bed. Game of Thrones can wait”
- “When someone asks you if you need help say YES. There’s a thought that if you accept help off someone it means you can’t cope, but there’s nothing better to helping you cope than a few hours or a night off. Plus there’s nothing better than sharing the reality of having a baby than with someone who has rose-tinted specs about the whole thing”
- “Make a pact with your partner: no matter what is said in the heat of the moment, you both agree to let it go by morning. You will argue but you need each other more than ever right now”
- “Work hard to find out what settles your baby best. There’s no better way to solving lack of sleep than dealing with the route of the problem”
- “Learn to walk away from your other kids if they’re playing up. There’s nothing that will make you feel more guilty than snapping at your other children because you’re tired from their new sibling. Rather than reacting to the situation (easier said than done) go to another room, take a minute and a few deep breaths and then deal with the issue.”
- “Exercise helped. Taking a walk with the baby not only helped clear my head but also helped to get the baby to sleep in the pushchair sometimes. It became a bit of a routine eventually”
- “Speak to your employers if you think they’ll be understanding. My work were happy for me to grab a sleep in the staff room during lunch as they understood that it would make sure more productivity would be better. There’s also been times where I’ve needed to rush off home during the middle of the day to deal with stuff and they’ve been really good about it”
- “Be honest with yourself about how you feel. I tried to tell myself I was coping when I wasn’t and I ended up in a bad place. Thankfully I eventually got the help I needed but only because someone made me see”
- “Set your expectations right and then it won’t come as such a shock to the system. If you think that your work and home life, and I include sex life in that as well, will carry on just the same, you’re going to be sorely disappointed. Everything will change for a while but eventually it’ll settle back down”
- “Eat as well as you can. I switched to foods that were quick and easy but they tended to be junk food which, although they gave me a short burst of energy, ended up making me feel worse in the long run”
- “Take it in turns to do feeds. Whenever our baby woke up, we both woke up which meant neither of us was getting any sleep. We ended up setting up a bed in the spare room so that one of us could get a night off on alternating days. We were bottle feeding at the time which made it easier but I suppose it would work just as well if you expressed milk”
How do you deal with sleep deprivation? Feel free to leave your tips in the comments below.