“When I was little, naptime felt like a punishment. Now that I am old, it feels like a vacation!”
This meme on my social media newsfeed never fails to elicit a smile and a nod from me!
Sleep deprivation could be the most underrated and least discussed change that comes with parenthood. People mention in passing how the mother needs to get sleep when the baby does and how sleeping in, resting and getting a full night’s sleep will be a distant memory soon after the baby arrives. Both are absolutely true and sleep deprivation, both in terms of quality and quantity affects every aspect of a parent’s life.
It starts with pregnancy as many expectant mothers experience discomfort while sleeping, affecting their sleep quality. New parents have to get used to waking multiple times every night. Managing a baby or young child is physically and emotionally very draining. Sleep deprivation can deeply impact us physically, mentally and emotionally.
Even as your child or children begin to grow, this deprivation eases off a bit but doesn’t completely return to normal. Studies show that new parents experience sleep deprivation up to the first 6 years of their child’s life. Add more than one child to the picture and from personal experience, I can say that the clock resets to start counting six years again!
If your child falls into a good sleep routine, you are lucky. Some children struggle with sleep and wake up often in the night even into the second and third year. These parents may try every possible strategy to get their children to sleep well and yet not succeed. If you are one of those, don’t beat yourself up or wonder what you are doing wrong. Each child is different. Do not give up your efforts in trying to figure out what could make your child sleep well. At the same time recognize how critical sleep is for you too!!
How can one get more sleep?
When your children are babies, if you have the luxury of support, please use it! Some of us find it much harder to accept help, than others, but think about how important the rest you get is, for both you and your child. Rather than looking at the help offered as a dent to your independence, think of it as your community supporting you, something you can pass forward when you are able to.
Have someone watch the baby or child for an hour or two while you catch up on your sleep- it may be family members, house help or even neighbours- anyone you trust. Ensure that you turn off the phone and have an environment conducive for sleep- dim lights, curtains drawn, soft music- whatever helps you. Since it is the quality as well as quantity of sleep that you are trying to make up, a restful, peaceful environment goes a long way in making you feel truly rested.
If you know the nights are difficult with the child, try to pass on any early morning duties to another member in the family. For mothers who are sleep deprived, it really important to be able to let go of other household responsibilities such as tidying up, cooking, laundry etc. Take help from others in the family or hired help if possible. There are times when one must make the difficult choice of letting the house be a mess while you catch up on sleep!! Pencil a nap time into your diary for when your child sleeps and catch up on chores at different times.
Rather than both parents being exhausted with disrupted sleep it would make sense to take turns where one parent sleeps in another room and gets a restful night while the other does childcare duties. A friend checked into a local hotel for a night when she was too exhausted as she had no extended family close by and came back thoroughly rejuvenated!
It is also crucial that parents of young children maintain good sleep hygiene. Parents may want to treat themselves to some Netflix or social media scrolling, after their kids are in bed, but before they realise it, they may have lost an hour or two of sleep! Regular bedtime, no gadget usage before bedtime and a regular waking time are some key measures of sleep hygiene.
why are we talking about this?
Having to look after and nurture young human beings is a physically and emotionally demanding task. Sleep deprivation, when we most need huge amounts of energy is like doing an obstacle course with your feet tied! It is a crucial aspect of self-care that often falls by the wayside with the demands of parenthood. We dismiss it as a phase. It is a phase that passes soon enough but while you are in the phase, see how you can help yourselves as this is a crucial factor that deeply impacts the way you parent and the way you do other things that are important to you and your close relationships.
Author: Seemanthini Iyer is a certified parent educator with Parenting Matters, an organization which empowers parents to build deeper connection in families.