Sleep Deprivation Effects and Coping Strategies

Any parent will be able to regale you with all manner of war stories about simply trying to get some sleep soon after welcoming a new arrival.

The joys of parenthood are plentiful as those early months with your child can be some of the most precious you’ll experience together; the flipside is that it’ll be a while before you get to enjoy a good night’s sleep again! Sleep deprivation effects can soon start to take a toll, particularly if you’re not properly prepared for them.

Upon the birth of his first child, Archie, Prince Harry was jokingly welcomed to the ‘sleep deprivation society’ by his brother Prince William. Millions of parents with little ones of their own will know only too well exactly what he meant! Having a baby means that just at the very moment when you need to get those eight hours of shut-eye per night the most, they’re more elusive than ever before.

However, there are steps you can take when it comes to dealing with sleep deprivation as a new parent. Keep reading to find out about the effects of lack of sleep, as well as coping strategies and handy tips from the experts themselves.

How much sleep do new parents lose?

Research backs up the hunch that sleep deprivation is a serious issue for parents with young children. According to one study, new parents can expect to ‘enjoy’ an average of only four hours and 44 minutes of sleep per night over the first year of their baby’s life. Some new parents might say that sounds a bit optimistic!

Needless to say, losing this much sleep can soon start to accumulate. Another study, this time carried out by the University of Warwick, found that parents could be affected by sleep deprivation for up to six years following the birth of their child. The unpredictable sleep patterns and crying in the night might dissipate as your child gets older, but these can be replaced by new challenges, including sickness and nightmares.

This survey also found that the sleep deprivation effects impacted women worse than it did men. On average, new mums lost around 40 minutes of sleep each night compared with pre-pregnancy standards, while new dads lost a comparatively modest 13 minutes at the three-month stage.

What are the effects of sleep deprivation?

Persistent sleep deprivation can have a wide range of implications for your health, whether physical or mental, as well as your cognitive abilities and mental reflexes. We all tend to be a bit grumpy after we’ve had a poor night’s sleep, but over time this can potentially develop into more serious health issues.

Physiological issues which can arise as a result of sleep deprivation include eye twitches, blurred vision and dizziness, as well as higher blood pressure. It can also weaken your overall immune system, leaving you potentially more prone to a range of ailments including colds and bugs.

In terms of cognitive effects, sleep deprivation can hamper your ability to react (potentially putting you and others at increased risk of accidents, for example when driving) in addition to hindering simple problem-solving, verbal and comprehension abilities.

Sleep deprivation can also take a toll on your mental health if it persists over an extended period. Going without sleep can be enervating and frustrating, adding to your overall stress levels and rendering you more irritable than you’re otherwise likely to be.

Sleep deprivation coping strategies for new parents

So what can new parents do to deal with sleep deprivation? There are various coping strategies that’ll hopefully help you get a more satisfying night’s rest. We caught up with two experts to discuss the matter: Paula, who blogs at Mummy vs. Work, and Max Jennings, co-founder of Hoop, which lists a huge range of family activities suitable for children aged up to 11 years.

Discussing her own initial experiences of parenthood, Paula admitted that she hadn’t initially appreciated the full importance of getting a good night’s sleep. In time, she developed a well-honed, regular routine allowing her to put her two children to bed with the minimum of fuss, as well as enabling her to wind down and sleep better herself.

“From an early age we started with a routine, so for example when we had Ethan, we would settle Kayleigh down in her bedtime routine and then I would feed Ethan and settle him in his cot whilst watching TV quietly or reading in the room,” she explained.

“We never expected him to go to sleep straight away but the calmness allowed him to settle himself and he soon learnt to settle himself to sleep. We then took advantage of this and the early nights to catch up on sleep.”

Both Paula and Max emphasise that parents who find themselves struggling for sleep should remember that there are countless others in the same boat as them. Max suggests that meeting more of them through participating in classes and activities can help parents cope more easily:

“Being surrounded by other parents who are struggling too can really help in the early weeks of parenting,” he says. “The energy you get from being with other parents and children might just surprise you by helping you to face the rest of the day.”

Avoiding sleep deprivation as a new parent

There are other, practical and simple things you can do to help you get a better night’s sleep. Here are some methods we’d suggest for minimising and hopefully avoiding sleep deprivation while raising a little one:

  • Make your environment more conducive to sleep. Sleep-friendly surroundings can really make a big difference. As a general rule, cooler, darker and quieter spaces tend to be better for sleeping in. Minimise distractions, too: the fewer gadgets there are to bother you, the easier it should be to sleep.
  • Try to take naps whenever your baby sleeps. Newborn babies will need to get some sleep through the day as well as at night, so it could be a good idea for you to get some shut-eye yourself when your baby does. Even a quick power nap can leave you feeling noticeably fresher and more energised.
  • Get as much rest as you can when the opportunity presents itself. It’s not just a matter of getting sleep, as important as this is. You should also take the chance to enjoy some general relaxation whenever your baby allows you to! Try unwinding with a book or some calming music. This should help to decrease your general stress levels and counteract sleep deprivation.
  • Ensure an equal balance of household responsibilities between you and your partner. By dividing out those essential chores more equally, you should be better placed to avoid one parent becoming overloaded and overburdened, which can adversely affect your ability to sleep. Make sure your other half pulls their weight (but be nice about it)!
  • Use deep breathing techniques to calm your mind. As a new parent, it’s inevitable that your mind will spend much of the time buzzing with all sorts of concerns. This can, of course, make it that bit harder to drift off to sleep at night. Try doing deep breathing exercises to help relieve the stress.
  • Don’t be afraid to accept help! This is a really important point. It’s only natural to want a break from the duties of parenting every once in a while. If there are people around you who want to lend a helping hand, don’t turn them away! Make use of their generosity and give yourself some much-deserved respite in the meantime. It could be a great opportunity to get some good, solid sleep.

The most important thing to remember during this admittedly challenging period is that things can – and will – get easier. Over time, your nervousness (entirely understandable and inevitable in these delicate early stages) will dissipate, and your baby will sleep more consistently and for longer. This should help to relieve the pressure on you and allow you to really enjoy the wonders of parenting with less stress hanging over you.

To help your little one enjoy a more relaxing night’s sleep, explore the range of cots and cot beds here at Uber Kids – and don’t forget to take a look at the rest of our wide selection of nursery furniture and bedding.