Sleep Glorious Sleep

6 June 2017

Understanding Sleep Deprivation

Sleep, sleep and more sleep - PLEASE.

If you ask any new parent these days what would be their number one wish, ‘sleep’ would be at the top. We’re not talking about lazy Sunday morning lie- ins, those days are long gone, just 4 hour of deep uninterrupted golden sleep would suffice. 

For the vast majority of parents it’s the single most talked about topic there is amongst any coffee group today. We somehow feel the need to analyse in great detail why little Johnnie is so wakeful and feel a pang of jealousy when someone dares to utter that their child ‘sleeps through the night’. In fact some mothers find this bitter pill hard to swallow, ‘what is it that I’m getting so wrong’; ‘why does it feel like I’m the only one with a sleepless child’?  and ‘I must be failing as a mother’, are common thoughts amongst many parents. But in reality sleep disturbances and bedtime battles are common place in many households these days.

Parents are under more financial pressure than ever to return to work and have the added stress of juggling child care and managing home life. We also have access to a huge amount of electronic information that can often be conflicting and leave us somewhat confused.

So what is it about sleep that drives us to utter despair and conquers our thoughts on a daily basis? Well lets face it sleep is vital for mental and physical wellbeing and without it we simply wouldn’t function. Over short periods of time our bodies cope remarkably well with broken sleep but prolonged sleep deprivation can have devastating consequences for family life. And believe it or not, sleep deprivation can have an even bigger impact on your child. Here are some of the most common experiences reported by parents:


A lot of parents report that they feel like they are the only parent dealing with a sleep issue and often feel ashamed to share their experiences with other parents. Sadly we live in a society of competitiveness and comparison and often are too afraid to speak out and ask for help.

Tearful and depressed

These feeling can quite often be confused with PND but actually it can be simply due to a lack of REM sleep. As REM sleep is mentally restorative without it it can leave us feeling tearful, anxious and general a sense of feeling ‘low’. It is important to know that for adults REM sleep usually occurs during the second part of the night (2-5am) this of course is when most babies are likely to be more unsettled, thus compounding the problem.

Poor concentration / memory loss

A lot of parents report that one of the first things they notice when they are tired is the ability to focus on a simple task. Remembering where the car keys are or planning the next meal all seem like a huge hurdle. It is simply your body’s way of prioritising its resources, thus your cognitive functioning is usually the first to go.

Resistance to sleep

We are all familiar with the saying ‘sleep promotes sleep’ and of course we know that without it changes start to occur. After a while our bodies go into fight or flight’ mode which increases the levels of Cortisol in our bodies (a naturally occurring hormone associated with stress) and with these increased levels your body will find it harder to shut down and relax. This hormone can affect children in the same way and while you would expect them to be lethargic and tired it can actually make them appear manic and hyped up and harder to settle for bedtime.

Poor appetite

This is the often the first thing parents comment on once their child starts sleeping better is the difference in their interest and appetite for food. A lot of sleep deprived children can become ‘fussy eaters’ and tend to crave familiar foods in small quantities.

Lowered immune system

Non REM sleep (stage 4 deep sleep) is a stage of sleep where the following occurs: blood is released to our muscles, tissue is grown and repaired, immune system fully functions and hormones are released for growth and development. Without enough Non REM sleep our bodies start to feel ‘run down’ and we become more susceptible to illness and ailments; mouth ulcers, dry irritated skin,hair loss and heavier periods are commonly experienced.

Survival strategies

  • The first thing to do is to engage the support and understanding of your partner. Quite often when given a role partners love to be involved and sometimes just talking it through can help to ease the burden.
  • If your baby is still waking for night feeds and you are breast feeding try expressing some milk so your partner can help out. Perhaps swap shifts so you each take it in turns to do different stages of the night, this will help maximise your chances of getting better quality sleep.
  • If your baby’s daytime naps are fairly predictable ensure that you try and rest when he does. It will help you to cope better knowing you have a chance to catch up and don’t feel guilty about switching your phone off. 
  • Accept all offers of help from friends and relatives, it makes them feel involved but takes the pressure off you too.
  • If you are able to, invest in some extra help around the house even if it’s only for a few weeks it will help you to prioritise on the things that really matter.
  • Look after yourself and ensure you are getting enough to eat and drink. Try and avoid the caffeine- and- biscuit option as this will only give you a temporary lift and may play havoc with your wake/sleep cycle. 
  • Invest in some ‘me time’; it may be a trip to the hair dressers, sharing a coffee with a friend or simply a walk in the fresh air. This short time away may help to rejuvenate you and allow for a little reflection.
  • Try online grocery shopping, a popular way of taking the stress out of a necessary weekly chore but also a great way to budget as you know exactly what you are spending!


No matter what kind of sleep problem you are experiencing, it is always worthwhile first asking yourself ‘what impact is it having on family life’ before you make the necessary changes. Some parents choose to co- sleep with their children and if that works for you and you all get good sleep, then nothing needs to be done. However, if your night time disturbances are driving you to despair and impacting on your daily life, then it’s time to address it before it grinds you down. Don’t let sleep deprivation conquer those precious years of parenthood!!