Looking back, the first few months of motherhood are a blur. I remember telling my husband it felt like the hardest job imaginable. We had no training, no time for breaks, and absolutely no sleep—all after major surgery. Sounds fun, right? For us, the turning point was the moment we learned about healthy sleep…this was also the catalyst for becoming a sleep consultant myself. There is so much more to sleep training than just getting a baby to sleep through the night. Sleeplessness has endless effects—on babies and new parents.
I felt extremely overwhelmed in my new role as a mom of twins. Trying to be a wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend, employee, etc. on disrupted sleep led to feelings of anxiety and even made it difficult to bond with my new daughters. This isn’t surprising or uncommon, as a study in Sleep Medicine shows one night of life-like repeated night-wakings negatively affects mood and sustained attention. If ONE night can impact our mood, think of how affected we are by weeks, months, or sometimes years of disturbed sleep!
Another study, cited on PBS Science, shows how long sleep deprivation can last:
“Months into a new parenting adventure, even after an infant is beginning to sleep more regularly, data shows moms are often still sleep-deprived…The mothers registered medically-significant levels of sleepiness, even after 18 weeks.”
If that doesn’t drive home the importance of sleep, another study published in Families, Systems & Health shows that cognitive function and marital satisfaction can both be negatively impacted by the lack of sleep associated with the transition to parenthood.
What is this telling us? That sleep should be a priority for everyone, not just our children. That one good night of sleep unfortunately cannot make up for months of disturbed sleep. That those ugly emotions associated with new parenthood are sometimes simple – we’re exhausted! As moms (and dads) we don’t need a weekend getaway to catch up on sleep – we need to incorporate healthy sleep habits into our everyday lives to be our best selves!
So, what can we do?
Prioritize sleep – Make healthy sleep habits part of your everyday healthy habits like brushing your teeth or eating a balanced meal. Sleep training is not a two-week fix-all, but rather the adoption of a new way of life, where sleep is right up there with exercise and nutrition. The pay off? According to studies referenced in an article by Happier.com, people who get the sleep they need rate their lives as happier!
Walk the path less taken – Don’t be sidelined by those who may not understand your desire to stay on a sleep schedule or your insistence on early bed times. A 2015 study conducted by Dr. Quach and colleagues from Murdoch Children’s Research Institute and University of New England showed that mothers of children who went to bed early had better mental health than those with children who had late bed times. In the end, you know what works best for you and your family and what you need to prioritize to be happy and healthy.
Understand (your own) signs of sleeplessness and know when to make changes – Do you lose focus? Become more agitated? Stay in tune with your body and recognize your own personal feelings and consequences related to sleep deprivation. If you notice them happening, talk to your pediatrician or a sleep consultant to get more tips for healthy sleep.
Know when it’s more than sleep deprivation – If you think you may be experiencing postpartum depression, make an appointment to discuss treatment options with your doctor.
Remember, healthy sleep isn’t just important for your baby or toddler – it’s important for YOU!
Colleen is a Family Sleep Institute Pediatric Sleep Consultant trained with Well Rested Baby where she helps families navigate the confusing world of baby sleep. Colleen also works in healthcare, and lives in Wakefield, Massachusetts with her husband and their twin daughters. Please feel free to reach out to her at firstname.lastname@example.org