CAUTION: Parenting While Sleep Deprived

Sleep. It all takes on a new level of importance and elusiveness when little humans enter your life.   On some level, this is an acknowledged and commonly held understanding.  In large part, our culture tends to acknowledge sleep is "good" and then just as quickly ignore this fact to keep up with the pace we feel we "ought to" be walking through life.

So, have you ever been told exactly WHY sleep is important? What about the effects lack of, or interruption of, sleep DOES TO THE BRAIN AND BODY?   How about the possible effects of PARENTING WHILE SLEEP DEPRIVED?

Let's assume you are a visual learner like we are and show you first: 

 No sleep = no joke

No sleep = no joke

Uh oh, sleep deprivation is effecting WHAT?

  • COGNITIVE abilities
  • Attention span
  • REACTION timing 
  • Ability to LEARN NEW SKILLS and MEMORY acquisition (baby brain anyone?)
  • impairing our moral JUDGMENT and REASONING 
  • Negative MOODS, potential for anxiety & depression
  • Irritability and hostility
  • Chronic health issues
  • Decreased ability for the body to heal/suppressed immune system
  • Increase of the STRESS hormone, cortisol
  • PSYCHOSIS?! (1-2 of every 1000 women experience Postpartum Psychosis)

What does baby sleep look like?

 baby sleep= unpredictable AND EVER CHANGING

baby sleep= unpredictable AND EVER CHANGING

Most parents, if being honest, will tell you they want to shoot daggers from their eyeballs at those who use the (incredibly inaccurate) cliche that is somehow intended to have positive connotation, "I slept like a baby!"

Parents of babies and young children sleep like CRAP.  In more clinical terms, interrupted sleep that is par for the course at some time or another for parents of young children, can begin in pregnancy and is also associated with fertility struggles and treatments. 

"Sleep debt," is the cumulative effect of not getting enough sleep.  Both deprivation and interruption of sleep have huge negative consequences.  In addition to whatever else may interrupt or alter your sleep as an adult, adding children to the picture adds additional DEBT TO YOUR SLEEP BANK at some time or another.

The vast majority of sleep research studies that have been done thus far include participants who are not pregnant or parents and know they can discontinue at any point and return to their normal sleep pattern at any time.  PARENTS do not have this luxury and THIS can cause a great deal of distress, desperation and certainly can have the chronic effects we discussed earlier.

We warn people about driving while sleep deprived.

Where are the considerations, warnings or education about the effects sleep deprivation can have on parenting?

That's right, just suck it up.  It's part of parenting.  Wait, what?

There are national movements and efforts aimed at having babies sleep safely, ride in cars safely, be HANDLED safely (Don't shake the baby), parents interacting with their babies to stimulate growth properly- learn this, do that, don't do this, do that. Remember, we are also a culture that values productivity and forward movement.

This doesn't leave much room for parents to put any emphasis on transitioning to parenthood, recovering from childbirth or a loss, parenting multiples or a child with chronic or special health issues.  We also see that due to the interruptions in restorative sleep during this time, OUR BRAIN AND BODY aren't functioning at optimal or even normal levels. 

Mom and Dad may not even be able to learn and retain information or have their normal levels of reasoning and judgment with all of these messages of parenting safely and optimally.  Their brain and body may also be inundated with cortisol, the stress hormone which may affect a baby's development during pregnancy and the interactions between parent and baby once baby is earthside.


Considerations for the effect interrupted sleep and lack of sleep may have on your parenthood journey are important to attend to.  Flexibility in the expectations you have on yourself while in the midst of unpredictable sleep cycles must be considered.  Perhaps planning to invest in ways that are more helpful for you and your growing family such as inviting a trusted family member, friend or paid caregiver to be present in ensuring opportunities for better sleep.  This as opposed to preparing a baby registry that is filled with items you may find much less important when your eyelids, patience and health are threatening to give out.

Can we begin to change the way we view the priorities of early parenthood (when the quality of interactions between parents and child are so important, yet sleep is sometimes nowhere to be found) when we recognize the importance of taking time to protect sleep, heal the body and attend to our emotional health?  

Lauren DePaolaComment