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You do not have to 'put up' with Sleep Deprivation

This week I am going to talk about sleep deprivation, what effect this has on your child, on you as the parent and what is considered ‘normal’ or appropriate sleep for your child.

I get really frustrated when I hear conversations normalising sleep deprivation, that by having a child you should simply ‘put up’ with constant sleepless nights and relentless broken sleep, It can be really damaging to a mother's mental health to hear these types of conversations. It can make them feel a sense of guilt for expressing dismay about their sleep situation and for even mentioning that their child doesn’t sleep through they are met with quite strong opinions about what sleep expectations are for a child.

I am telling you right now, you do not have to ‘put up’ with broken sleep for months and years on end, it is not normal or healthy for your child or you to be having prolonged or chronic sleep deprivation. Sleep deprivation is not healthy for your child, it is dangerous for a mother to be chronically tired and it is unsafe for you to be in that state and caring for a child.

Having a child is challenging that’s for sure, but you should not be that chronically tired that you simply cannot function in a safe manner whilst taking care of your baby. It is entirely normal for your child to suffer regressions in their sleep and wake several times a night during these times, or to go through a period of sickness and need some extra support at night. At most, these periods should only last for 2-4 weeks they should not continue for months or years on end with several wake ups a night that are causing a severe sleep deficit.

Sleeping through the night is an age-appropriate milestone and your child's ability to sleep through the night is linked to their biological development. All babies are different and will sometimes sleep through from as little as 12 weeks, some children take a little bit longer and that is ok too. I do not employ any specific sleep training techniques until 4/5 months and I do not encourage or advocate for dropping night feeds unless your baby is biologically or physiologically able to do so. From 6 months we can focus on a holistic strategy and still offer one night feed (sometimes 2), this is entirely age appropriate. Once your child reaches 9 months of age, is on solid food, their diet is well rounded with the right foods for healthy sleep, they are tracking within the right weight range, you have received approval from a GP or Paediatrician then they can be encouraged to sleep through the night and it is biologically appropriate to expect they can achieve a stint of 10-12 hours sleep at night. Of course, there are a lot more factors to take into consideration when sleep training, as stated in several of my other posts, we can encourage this behaviour but it is only until they reach 9 months and several other markers that this is an appropriate goal.

If your child is 9 months or over and is still waking, you are happy with the situation, you aren’t chronically tired and this is working for your family, that is completely ok! I would not say this is wrong or that you need to drop this feed, it really is what works for your family. If your child is 2 years old and still waking at night, then certainly some sleep training could help with your situation. What I am saying is that if you have a child at 6 months that is waking 3-4 times a night or a 9 month old who wakes 2-3 times, you are so tired from this broken sleep, your babies mood is low, they are cranky, you can tell they are tired, then yes we can improve on this situation and we can encourage them to sleep better.

When your child is suffering from broken sleep, with several wake-ups or with inadequate sleep for their age, they will possibly suffer from the following symptoms: Low mood, they seem cranky, they show tired signs even after they have just woken up, day naps don’t consolidate, cortisol levels do not dissipate, their emotions don’t have a chance to regulate, their adrenal glands and sensory system is overloaded, they miss out on important functions like cellular and tissue repair, their memories are not moved from short-term into long-term memory which affects their learning ability, lower cognitive function including decreased fine and gross motor skill function and overall their body does not achieve restful or restorative sleep which can be hard on their little bodies.

When you are sleep deprived, you suffer from the same symptoms but they are specifically damaging to you in certain ways. The most important of them all is the decreased cognitive function, which impairs your ability to impart good decision making skills and this could inhibit your abilities on a day to day basis. With lower cognitive function your reaction time is also decreased which impairs your driving ability. We have all seen the advertisements from the government that if you are tired while driving you should stop and rest, because if you are tired while driving your cognitive function is on par with that of a drunk driver. And we do this with our children in the back seat!! This is a particularly dangerous factor of how sleep deprivation can harm a parents ability to operate a motor vehicle safely and to the best of their ability. There is also evidence to suggest that sleep deprivation is a contributing factor in a mothers mental health, specifically the instances of developing postnatal depression and the ability to recover from the condition.

It is unsafe for you to be that chronically sleep deprived that your cognitive function is decreased to this level and that you are at risk to your mental health. It is not ‘normal’ to be like this for months/years on end, it is in yours and your child's best interest to achieve restful and restorative sleep regularly to ensure your child is healthy, developing well and you are rested enough to adequately and safely care for your child.

Please don’t be swayed by the argument that you have to ‘put up’ with sleep deprivation, you don’t! When you are in this haze of a huge sleep deficit it can be so hard to break a cycle of sleep deprivation, you simply are so tired that you do all that you can just to get through the day. I get it, I have two young boys of my own and we have seen our fair share of sleepless nights/weeks. I've slept on the floor of my son's bedroom multiple times supporting him through a sickness or helping him through some fears of the dark. I've shuffled into my son's bedroom for the night feeds, screamed into my pillow when he woke for the 5th time that night, so I know what sleep deprivation is like. I also know what healthy sleep regressions or phases should look like and they certainly should not extend for more than 2-4 weeks at most.

Let’s face it, we have changed as a society in the last generation, things are so different from when even our own parents had children. Families now quite often have to go back to work soon after having a child, which throws another spanner in the works. What if you are chronically sleep deprived and you are also working? Do you think you could function at your best in your workplace? What if you have a high-pressure job that contains important decision making choices? Do you think you could function at your absolute best self in this state? Would it be affecting your work performance?

If you are in a cycle of sleep deprivation and can't see a way out, there is help available. Contacting a sleep consultant who can independently view your situation and provide a holistic guide to healthy sleep habits could make an immense difference for your family. Your child will be happier, they will be receiving the correct amount of sleep for their biological and physiological development and if they are sleeping better, then you will be too. Don’t put up with chronic sleep deprivation any longer, it is not normal and you can encourage healthy sleep habits gently with a holistic guide to healthy sleep.

My final note is this, if your child is waking at night and they are not suffering from any ill effects from this, that is ok! As long as you and your child are content with the situation and you are not experiencing any symptoms that I listed above, then why change things? I respect the fact that you choose to parent in your own way and as long as you are happy and your child is happy, isn’t this what parenting is all about? This post is aimed for children who are not dealing with a sleep deficit, or for mums who are not coping either, it is not aimed at families who have a sleep situation that is mutually effective for everyone involved.

If you would like to explore your options with sleep training then please feel free to get in contact about a free 15 minute phone consultation. In this phone call, we can discuss your current sleep struggles, if your sleep expectations are appropriate for your child's age, if you or your child are suffering from chronic sleep deprivation and how we can improve your situation. Fill in the contact form on my website to get in contact about your child and let’s discuss how I can help.

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