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Having a baby is one of the most wonderful experiences in life, but it also faces us with a lot of new challenges.

For new parents, and also parents with other children, the changes to our everyday routine are massive.

How can such a tiny being create such a huge change to our lives!

The word ‘SLEEP’ takes on epic proportions for both parents and baby.

Before having my own child, when Mum’s spoke of their babies sleep routine – “I have to go home it’s time for Billy’s sleep” or “Sarah missed her sleep yesterday so I better go”, I always thought they were being a little bit melodramatic! But now, after having my son who was a very poor sleeper for the first 2 years of his life, I know the importance of babies getting enough sleep, and how this impacts on our own sleep and mental health.

The Post-Partum period is associated with considerable sleep disruption. This begins with delivery of the baby, and ends for most women between 6-12 months of age when baby is sleeping through the night. Approximately 30% of new mothers report disturbed sleep. Sleep time may vary from 4.5-7 hours per night. (1)

Studies on mood states have shown that mood states are most positive in the second Trimester of pregnancy and the most negative at one month postpartum. This relates to increased wake time. (2)

Apart from the obvious sleep disruptions by the baby, there are many other factors that can play a role in sleep disruption. For example, the emotional and physical wellbeing of the mother, methods of birth and feeding, baby’s sleep/wake cycles and co-sleeping.

If Mum is not getting enough sleep, this is when her mental health can be effected. We all know how it feels to have just one sleepless night – we feel irritable, short-tempered and more vulnerable to stress. Imagine months of this.

Studies have shown that even partial sleep deprivation has a significant effect on mood. University of Pennsylvania researchers found that subjects who were limited to only 4.5 hours of sleep a night for one week reported feeling more stressed, angry, sad, and mentally exhausted. When the subjects resumed normal sleep, they reported a dramatic improvement in mood. (3)

With prolonged sleep disruption, as for new mothers, Cortisol (The stress hormone) spikes and continues to stay high, instead of declining throughout the day in preparation for sleep at night. Increased circulating high levels of cortisol induces the following: decreased slow wave sleep and REM sleep, which means less restorative sleep, shorter total sleep time, increased arousal, insomnia, impaired memory formation and neuronal loss in the hippocampus in the brain.

This forms a cycle: Sleep helps reduce stress; Stress influences sleep

So, how do we stop this cycle? Stay tuned for our next blog.

 

References

  1. Sleep, Health & Consciousness – A Physician’s guide, Samvat R. Osiecki H. AG Publishing 2009
  2. Parity & Sleep Patterns Lee K.A. Sleep 2000; 23(7):877-885
  3. healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/need-sleep/whats-in-it-for-you/mood – cited 12/11/20