Sleep deprivation in new mothers is one of the most common health issues that we simply don’t talk about enough. While mothers and families are certainly accustomed to the issue, it isn’t often treated as a health emergency so much as an inevitability attached to starting a family. As a result, the simple truth is that not enough is done. Citing input from numerous relevant professionals and organizations, a Washington Post piece on new mothers and sleep put it in blunt, troubling terms: “far too many mothers are left unsupported and exhausted, desperate for sleep.”
Make no mistake, this is not merely a discomfort or inconvenience. It’s a health emergency, and one confirmed all over again by some recent experiments. Last year, studies on sleep deprivation by Michigan State University found that in just a single night, a severe lack of sleep can have a major effect on performance the next day. Subjects in the study who were kept awake all night (something mothers are very familiar with) were significantly more prone to testing errors and lapses in concentration than those who slept ordinary hours. That sort of effect on concentration and cognitive function is in and of itself a health issue — to say nothing of more long-term effects on the body and mind.
The all-important question, then, is how new mothers can cope with this problem, and ultimately find ways to get more rest. Of course, we don’t want to be unrealistic. A new baby is a uniquely demanding responsibility, and some loss of sleep is inevitable. But the following strategies can help mothers to cope with the situation more effectively.
Experiment with Relaxation Techniques
Relaxation techniques came up in a more general look at ‘Stress and Sleep’ posted here previously, and we’re mentioning them again here because when they work, they can be invaluable tools for maximizing rest. If you’re able to find a given exercise, breathing technique, or sleep-inducing tool that works for you, you’ll gain the ability to quiet your mind and fall asleep when you need to — something that can be surprisingly difficult to the sleep-deprived. Granted, uninterrupted, full nights of sleep are healthiest. But being able to rely on a technique to fall asleep for a quick nap now and then can work wonders as well.
Seek Personal or Family Therapy
To some new mothers, seeking out personal or family therapy can seem like a means of giving up, or admitting the job can’t be done alone. And yet it can help to know just how common these kinds of therapy can be, whether or not someone has a new baby. There is an ever-present need for psychiatric and social work, to the point that these fields of expertise have started to be offered by online educational institutions so that enough people can study to meet demand. Numbers quoted on Maryville University’s online BSW program breakdown reveal as a result, health professional jobs are growing at 19% year-on-year. People working with families and children, meanwhile, are seeing a 14% growth — well above the average job growth in the U.S.
No mother needs justification to seek professional therapy with sleep deprivation issues or resulting problems. But those numbers should reassure those mothers who may feel somehow inadequate or isolated by considering the idea. Enough families are seeking mental and social help that these are among the fastest-growing job fields. It is perfectly ordinary, and more importantly, it can be very helpful.
On top of the unrivaled and relentless responsibility of raising a newborn, a lot of mothers feel a responsibility to maintain other responsibilities as well. From spending weekend recreation time with older children, to cooking meals, to tidying up, there are all sorts of things that can fall into this category. For the time being though, the healthiest decision is usually for new mothers to delegate or even ignore these responsibilities whenever possible.
If there is anyone in the picture who can help — a husband, a relative, the baby’s older sibling, a friendly neighbor, or even a hired assistant — a new mother should delegate freely without a second thought. This frees up a little more time to sleep or relax, and keeps extra burdens from mounting unnecessarily on top of newborn care.
Focus on Your Diet
In a collection of advice to mothers at Huffpost, the interesting idea to “eat for energy” was raised. This strikes us as a valuable tip for two reasons. First is that if you’re relying on food for energy, you’re less likely to turn to caffeine. While a quick cup of coffee seems essential when you’re exhausted and need to be alert, it can also leave you unable to nap when you may desperately need to.
The other reason, though, is that by keeping healthy snacks on hand you can work on building natural energy when you need it, and you can improve your physical health even as your sleep patterns are disrupted. That’s not to say a good diet will totally balance out sleep deprivation, but anything healthy you can do for yourself moves things in a positive direction.
Keep the Faith!
Last but not least, try to keep the faith! There will come a day when your baby starts to sleep longer and more regularly, and you can begin to ease back into something like a normal schedule. As parents know, there are always bouts of sleepless nights now and then until a child is truly of a mature age. But the unrelenting sleep deprivation will stop, and keeping this in mind can offer some hope and positivity.
Exclusively written for everpillow.com by Talia Porter