We have all experienced sleep deprivation at one time or another. There are many people who are not getting the amount of sleep that they should be e.g shift workers, teenagers studying for exams and corporate employees who firstly work long hours in the office, and then bring work home with them and continue late into the night. Then of course there are parents of babies and toddlers who are having sleep/settling issues.
It often becomes fodder for jovial discussion. “Ohhhh you have a new baby? Ah well, sleepless nights for you then”, accompanied either by the “so-glad-its-not-me” laughter….or a look of complete pity.
Lack of sleep can have a major impact on mood, concentration, memory and quality of life. Anyone reading this who has had issues with sleep would know how much it impacts on your normal day to day functions and your overall sense of wellbeing. Your reflexes are dulled, your senses not as sharp, your response and reaction times are affected. You find it difficult to concentrate. You become irritable.
I do worry about the level of sleep deprivation and exhaustion experienced by Mums of babies, and I see evidence of its effects every single day. In the work I do with families, it is very clear to me that we have a huge problem nationally with sleep-deprived parents and sleep-deprived babies.
Parents are not being given clear and consistent information or education on how to get their babies sleeping well and in a routine meaning that their babies are experiencing poor sleep quality from very early on. This will almost always translate into poor sleeping patterns when the baby becomes a toddler and pre-schooler, and often the sleep issues are still present when they reach school age. Through it all, parents are sleep deprived too. An exhausted baby always equates to exhausted parents and leads to high tension amongst all members of the family – most commonly between the parents themselves (i.e where there is a 2-parent household). In some cases, it can lead to complete relationship breakdowns.
Siblings of the baby are also affected. Many parents tell me that they feel like they are just not spending any time with the other child/children because all of their time is taken up with the unsettled baby. In many cases, parents are spending hours each day and night just trying to get the baby to sleep and over time, it’s a relentless and exhausting cycle. Another very worrying fact is that what starts off with an unsettled baby who is not sleeping well, can quickly lead to a parent (or parents) who feel in a hopeless situation and completely overwhelmed and no longer in control. This can then be a tipping point for the mother into postnatal depression.
One of the most rewarding aspects in the work that I do (and believe me, there are many rewarding aspects) is when I have finished working with a family and I am told by my clients what a difference I have made to their lives by getting their babies/toddlers into a good sleeping pattern and routine. “The benefits to a baby or toddler when they are well-rested and in a good sleeping pattern day and night are clear for all to see. But what about the benefits for Mum and Dad? They feel empowered and confident. Generally speaking (and I am saying this as a general statement), once the baby’s sleep deprivation is resolved, so too is the parent’s sleep deprivation. Following are actual statements that have been made to me in one form or another, many times over the last 5 years.
“We have our lives back!”
“My husband (partner) and I have re-discovered each other”
“I am able to now spend so much more time with my other child”
“Finally we are enjoying being parents”
“I am now having a full night’s sleep for the first time in 18 months”
“After deciding we were never going to do this again, we are now planning for another baby”
“At night when our baby goes to bed, we can now have dinner together and sit on the lounge and just chat”
Whilst having a baby or toddler in the house will of course always be busy and hectic – a cycle of around the clock sleep deprivation and unsettled baby is NOT a normal or healthy state of affairs for you, your baby or other members of the household. The situation can be resolved. The cycle can be broken. When the right changes are made, when the poor sleep habits and cycles are broken, when the structure is set up correctly and when you are provided with the right strategies to move forward – your baby WILL sleep.