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Sleep Deprivation Effects and Post Partum Depression

Author: Heidi Holvoet, PhD

99% of parents experience sleep deprivation effects in their baby's first year, and often beyond. Broken Awake and surprised babynights are the top cause and leave many moms and dads feeling tired constantly.

Unfortunately sleep deprivation also plays a role in post partum depression, affecting mostly young moms.

What can we do to prevent and cure the effects of a lack of sleep?

Understanding Sleep Deprivation Effects

From chaotic newborn sleeping patterns to teething and tantrum sleep scenes, our sleep is so easily disturbed.

The link between sleep deprivation and baby blues

Feeling down is the first effect of sleep deprivation on anyone, whether a young mom or an energetic teenager.

It is a physical effect, your body craves more sleep and hopes to achieve that by making you feel less like wanting to do things. Unfortunately that makes sleep deprivation an important factor in post partum depression (also called postnatal depression or baby blues).

Sleep deprivation can be quite severe for a mother: still recovering from being pregnant and giving birth, and then sleeping very little with baby around. Add to that worries about baby's health, and possibly a baby crying a lot and you have a natural breeding ground for a depression ... that is why the first months with a baby make many moms prone to baby blues.

Several studies ([1]) have confirmed this link. Take-home lesson: no mother should ever feel guilty: it is absolutely normal to feel depressed when sleeping so little. Plus: when treating mom, health professionals should also help improve baby's sleep.

Even a few broken nights are enough to set off the first sleep deprivation effects: feeling tired all day, having less energy, you may find it harder to concentrate and you often feel down.

The good part is that our bodies, especially women's, are able to adjust rather well and to keep going in spite of the lack of sleep - but there are limits of course.

We all plough our way through these sleepless years one way or another. Some parents seem hardly affected and find a way to adapt naturally, others have a harder time.

Much also depends on baby's health, baby crying a lot or not, baby sleeping reasonably or really poorly, ...

What can help to start with:
  • Remember that things will get better. After the chaotic first weeks and months, your baby will start sleeping more and better, and so will you! It may look like a dream far away, but better times are ahead! This may not be a big help at the toughest times but it is a fact to hang on to.
  • Realise that it is absolutely alright to feel down. Knowing that it is the lack of sleep doing this, and not you not being up to it, gives you the confidence to keep going.

A cure for Sleep Deprivation Effects?

It sounds all too easy, but sleep is of course the single best cure for sleep deprivation.

Unfortunately, getting more sleep is often easier said than done when you have a newborn baby, maybe older children, household and work activities to be dealt with too.

What can you do?

When you feel extremely tired or suspect you are having a post partum depression: seek help.

Seek professional help to fight the symptoms of your sleep deprivation or depression. Make sure there is someone who supports you and you can talk to.

You can also contact me through this site here and I will be happy to offer the support and advice you need.

Do not hesitate to accept help from your partner, family or friends. Many moms feel ashamed or guilty to do this, but there is no need to. Having a young baby is not easy and it is perfectly alright to get help.

Remember how it is in today's society that we are expected to do so many things alone. In the old days, all young moms had mothers, sisters, aunts, ... who were closeby to help out.Woman relaxing eating apple

If you do find someone to look after your baby for an hour, an afternoon or maybe a night: don't hesitate.

And take that time to recharge your batteries. It's amazing what a few hours of sleep or just some relaxing can do. You can feel so much stronger again after that.

Besides accepting help, the following will also help you:
  • Sleep well: just like for your baby, a regular sleep schedule and a bedtime routine helps adults sleep better too. Within what's possible with baby's sleep, try to go to sleep and wake up at regular times when possible.
  • Healthy eating and drinking: drink plenty of water and eat healthy meals with lots of fruit and vegetables. Avoid alcohol, coffee and tea in the afternoon and evening as they may make you sleep worse. Herbal tea, a glass of warm milk, yogurt, a banana, ... are all good.
  • Indulge in a bit of, preferably dark, chocolate. Chocolate is known to improve your mood. As always, too much is not a good idea.
  • Relax by regularly doing something you really like (put on your favourite music, watch a movie, go out for a walk, ...) or try some simple relaxation techniques.

Sleep deprivation effects can be really daunting and can make you feel really bad, even desperate. Do keep taking good care of yourself and seek help, start here if you like. Hang in there, better times are ahead!

[1] Sleep deprivation or postnatal depression in later infancy: Separating the chicken from the egg Armstrong et al. Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health, Volume 34, Number 3, June 1998 , pp. 260-262(3)