Sleep Deprivation

By Lisa Tabachnick Hotta on August 12, 2008
Amanda Oberst suddenly realizes she’s driven past the exit for the grocery store. She had only three hours of sleep the night before. Her infant daughter kept her up.

Greg Patterson arrives at work but he’s in a fog. His third child has kept the family up for the last week. His boss is waiting for a review of those reports, but he can’t focus on much more than fantasizing about getting sleep.


Although most new parents feel the effects of sleepless nights, believe it or not, the effects on functioning tend to be minimal, says Dr. Henry Olders, MD, assistant professor in the department of psychiatry at McGill University. “But,” he says, “if you believe that you will have a lot of difficulty functioning, and therefore make efforts to make up for your perceived sleep deprivation, you may run into greater problems including insomnia, fatigue and even depression.”

Olders warns that if you think you can ‘catch up’ on missed sleep, unfortunately, you can’t.

“In reality, moderate amounts of sleep deprivation will have little impact on functioning,” says Olders. “There is also an interaction with circadian rhythms, so that if the sleep loss is at the end of the usual sleep period (in other words, getting up early and staying up), some individuals will experience a shift of mood towards mania or hypomania, such that they feel good and have extra energy. Of course, they may also be more irritable, which may affect the people around them!”

The most effective plan of action, then, is not adjusting your sleep, but helping baby to sleep. There are several successful methods to try. Regrettably, however, a method that works wonders for one child, doesn’t necessarily work for her sibling, so don’t get discouraged.

POPULAR METHODS ROUTINE
Dr. Cathryn Tobin, a paediatrician author of The Lull-A-Baby Sleep Plan and a midwife has strong opinions about North American sleep culture. “After completing my residency at one of the busiest paediatric medical centres in the world, I realized that our culture goes about infant sleep training completely backwards.” When Tobin realized this mistake she set on a course of action: “The solution was clear,” she says. “Encourage effective sleep habits right from the start and you won’t need to break bad ones down the road.”

Starting and sticking with a nighttime routine works well and encompasses a few different sleep training philosophies. Dr. Sarah Landry, psychologist, offers this advice on bedtime routines: “Try to make sure that early evenings and bedtime are calm: bathe your baby before bed; read
a bedtime story or sing; tell your baby, gently, but firmly, that it’s time to sleep; and do not rock your baby or pick her up again unless she is very
upset.”

C.I.O.
The ‘Cry it Out’ method (CIO) is a controversial and sometimes misunderstood method of sleep training that is discussed by many experts including Dr. Weissbluth and Dr. Richard Ferber in Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems. CIO entails preparing your child for bedtime, and then either letting him cry until he falls asleep or going in at specific intervals to comfort him, but still requiring him to fall asleep on his own. It’s important to note that CIO should not be the first sleep training method attempted and should only be used with babies who are over four months of age. (Many babies younger than that require nighttime feeds and diaper changes.)

W.O.W.
In symphony with Sarah Landry’s advice, Dr. Tobin advises that parents “Create feel-good bedtimes. Think W.O.W.: white noise + oral ease + wrap.” New babies crave consistent noise; try a white-noise machine, fan or vaporizer in her room. Babies often find a pacifier or a finger to suck on helps them calm down. Swaddling often makes young babies feel more secure and helps them relax.

REST ASSURED
Although new parents feel they’ll never sleep the way they did before the arrival of the new family member (and they probably won’t), Olders explains that, “In reality, moderate amounts of sleep deprivation will have little impact on functioning, but will improve sleep quality. There is also an interaction with circadian rhythms, so that if the sleep loss is at the end of the usual sleep period (in other words, getting up early and staying up), some individuals will experience a shift of mood towards mania or hypomania, such that they feel good and have extra energy. Of course, they may also be more irritable, which may affect the people around them!”

“Bottom line,” says Olders, “don’t worry about losing sleep. Try to stick to your usual routine for sleep as much as possible (go to bed at around the same time or a little earlier compared to before baby); get up (and stay up!) at the same time in the morning, even if you have been up a lot during the night. If you feel sleepy during the day, a short nap (not more than 10 or 15 minutes – use a kitchen timer) will refresh you for a couple of hours if not longer, while a longer nap will impair your sleep that night. Getting up late may lead to fatigue and even depression in predisposed individuals.”

So, take heart. If you’re up in the middle of the night reading this, chances are you’re in good company. A lot of other parents are, too!

Up at 3a.m.?
Here are a few ways to multi-task while soothing baby back to sleep:

GET FIT:
Walk up and down the stairs to lull your little one to sleep with constant motion. (Be sure, however, you aren’t too drowsy.)

LEARN A NEW LANGUAGE:
Listen to language CDs (with ear phones).

READ A BOOK OR MAGAZINE:
(Yes, a shameless plug for this magazine.)

Signs you need more Zs
  • Trouble focusing your eyes, heavy eyelids or burning eyes
  • Memory lapses
  • Weight gain
  • Performance problems, decreased work production
  • Tendency to doze off or head nodding
  • Muscle aches
  • Irritability or mood changes
  • Decreased social interaction and motivation
  • Uncoordinated body movements or speech
  • Difficulty concentrating or paying attention
  • Constant yawning, fatigue and sleepiness & impaired judgement
(Source Sleep Disorder Centre of Metropolitan Toronto)

8 Worst Sleep Mistakes
Tobin lists some of the common, but disastrous, sleep mistakes that many unknowing parents make:

1. Encouraging unhealthy associations, such as: rocking or nursing baby to sleep.
2. Confusing, ‘I’m so-o-o-o unhappy!’ with ‘I’m so-o-o-o hungry!’
3. Putting a baby into the crib already asleep.
4. Setting bedtime too late.
5. Falling prey to new-parent anxiety that might override common sense.
6. Misunderstanding sleep cycles.
7. Encouraging pacifier dependency.
8. Feeling guilty about wanting more sleep. PC

By Lisa Tabachnick Hotta| August 12, 2008

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