How to Deal with Sleep Deprivation with a Newborn Baby

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August 16, 2022
7 min read

One of the single most stressful things about becoming a new parent – or having to juggle the challenges of a newborn with other siblings too – is sleep deprivation.

Most new parents will experience sleep deprivation at some point. In the first few days of life our babies are nocturnal – they can’t tell the difference between day and night.

The impact of newborns on sleep quality can be significant. Whether you’re bottle of breastfeeding newborns will usually feed every 3-4 hours 24 hours a day, if you’re used to getting 8-9 hours of shut eye a night this can be absolutely brutal. There’s a reason elite soliders are train to withstand sleep deprivation – it’s a form of torture.

Dealing with sleep deprivation can be incredibly difficult and is associated with many and varied physical and mental health problems.

First look at why our body loves sleep so much and what it does for us.

The human body loves sleep:

Standard benefits:

– You’ll be more alert.

– You’ll have a better memory.

– You’ll be less likely to get sick.

– You’ll lose weight.

Emotional benefits:

– You’ll feel more relaxed and calm.

– You’ll feel happier overall.

How much sleep do we need as adults?

There’s a reasonably wide range of the amount of sleep adults need – around the time you have kids it’s 7-9 hours but anywhere from 6 to 10 may be appropriate. I need seven to eight hours! Many of us prior to kids were getting too little sleep or fragmented sleep which is just as bad.

recommended sleep hours

Champions LOVE to SLEEP:

It’s been said” “Sleep is the greatest, legal performance enhancing drug that few athletes aren’t abusing enough” Neuroscientist Matthew Walker

Look at these 3 champions and the amount of sleep they get in a 24 hour period!

lebron james

LeBron James – 12 hours

roger federer

Roger Federer – 12 hours

usain bolt

Usain Bolt 9.5 to 10 hours

There are four stages of sleep:

  1. sleep onset or falling asleep,
  2. light sleep,
  3. deep sleep or slow wave sleep,
  4. and REM sleep.

sleep stages

Stage 1: Sleep onset or falling asleep, characterised by:

  • Heartbeat and breathing slows
  • Muscles begin to relax

Stage 2: Light sleep, characterised by:

  • Regular breathing and heart rate
  • Eye movement stops
  • Body temperature drops
  • Slower brain waves

Stage 3: Slow wave or deep sleep

  1. Blood pressure drops
  2. Muscles relax
  3. Tissue grows and repairs
  4. Energy is restored
  5. Hormones are released
  6. Even slower brain waves

Stage 4: What is REM sleep?

REM sleep is an important stage of sleep characterized by rapid eye movement and a high level of brain activity. It plays a role in memory consolidation, learning, and REM sleep behavior disorder.One of the most important things to do when you’re struggling with sleep deprivation is to try and get as much sleep as possible when you can.

There are many things that stop us sleeping:

  • stress
  • noise
  • drinking caffeine or alcohol before sleep
  • not getting enough exercise
  • Screens: watching TV, scrolling socials or working on the computer in bed/right before bed.
  • Temperature: having a bedroom that’s too hot or too cold.
  • sleeping with pets in the bed
  • bed is uncomfortable
  • Bedroom isn’t dark enough

The impacts of sleep deprivation?

The impacts of sleep deprivation can be serious and range from physical to mental health problems. Physical health problems can include weight gain, high blood pressure, and diabetes. Mental health problems can include anxiety, depression, and hallucinations. It is important to get as much sleep as possible when you are dealing with sleep deprivation.

The links between sleep deprivation and mental health are well documented. Sleep deprivation can lead to irritability, anxiety, depression, and even psychosis.

The links between unsettled babies and post-natal postpartum depression (PND) are also well documented. 1 in 5 mums and 1 in 10 dads suffer from post natal depression or anxiety – in the presence of an unsettled baby these stats almost double!

PND can lead to mood swings, fatigue, sleep problems, and even thoughts of harming the baby. It is important to seek help if you are experiencing these symptoms.

Why is fragmented sleep so bad for us?

The definition of fragmented sleep is sleep that is not continuous you may be only to grab a few hours at a time.

Fragmented sleep is bad for us because it can lead to sleep deprivation – you may never get to the healing and restorative STAGE 3: deep sleep, which can lead to a number of health problems.

Sleep deprivation can cause mood swings, anxiety, depression, and even psychosis. It can also lead to problems with attention and focus, memory loss, and decreased cognitive function. Additionally, sleep deprivation has been linked to heart

Is sleep debt is a real thing?

Sleep debt is the result of not getting enough sleep. The more sleep debt you have, the harder it is to get good sleep. Sleep debt can lead to health problems, decreased productivity, and even car accidents. It’s important to try and get caught up on your sleep as soon as possible.

Practical tips to help you fall to sleep 

  1. Get regular exercise.
  2. Be mindful caffeine & stimulant consumption
  3. Have your room dark, quiet and cool
  4. Power down 1 hours before bed” reduce exposure to lights, minimise physical activity, minimise use of technology

baby sleep programs

Easy right? Sure, but lets try it with a NEWBORN!!

New parents are expected to have up to 6 years of disrupted sleep, sleep deprivation or sleep loss peaks at 3 months for both parents.

Not surprisingly, one of the most common questions I get asked is how to drop overnight feeds, so that everyone can benefit from a good, uninterrupted night’s sleep.

What’s possible when it comes to newborn sleep?

By 6 weeks, some babies are capable of sleeping through the night, 7 straight hours and by 6 months, some babies are capable of going the full 12 hours.

Is there a Sleep Medicine I can give my baby to fall asleep?

No, unfortunately there’s no magic potion – there are no sleep medicines specifically for newborns. There are medications that can help with unsettled babies that will help them burp more, which help them to be more relaxed and in turn help them sleep, read more about this in my colic blog.

So how do I get a good night’s sleep and get my baby sleeping through the night?

Remember, there’s no one size fits all solution. Every family is different, every baby is different. In the first 6 weeks of life it’s normal that your baby sleeps in 3 – 4 hour cycles.

You need to find the routine and the settling styles that suit your babies temperament and your parenting style. You also need to learn to understand YOUR baby. The aim of The Dr Golly Sleep Program is to empower you as parents with all the basics to read the cues your baby is giving you – hunger, tired and wind signs, set up the correct sleeping environment, temperature, white noise and lighting. Newborns are supposed to wake during the night to feed, this is inevitable. Not only does it help them grow, night breastfeeds help to bolster milk supply too.

But from around 5-6kg, your baby may be physiologically able to sleep through the night, meaning a decent stretch from – for example – an 11pm feed through to a 7am feed. At this stage you can start a routine and what is traditionally called sleep training – but the key is to be building healthy sleep foundations from the being.

Music to every sleep deprived parents ears!

Top tips for managing sleep deprivation in the first 6 weeks:

  1. Understand what’s normal and what’s not
    – Your baby feeding every 3-4 hours during this period is normal, until they are 6 weeks 5-6kg they won’t be able to do those longer stretches through the night
  2. Nourish breastfeeding mothers
    – The only thing you can’t do to support a breastfeeding mother is breastfeeding, everything else in the first few weeks is and should be up for grabs for your partner, friends and family.
    – Bring food, do a load of washing, pay for a cleaner, the breastfeeding mother’s physical and emotional health should be the focus – as she’s the one nourishing the baby
    – If you’re not breastfeeding then both parents should share the load
  3. Sleep when the baby is sleeping
    – We’ve all heard this 100 times before and it’s easy to roll your eyes but when they are feeding every 3-4 hours you need to get your sleep when you can get it, be mindful at protecting your own sleep when there are windows
  4. Work on healthy sleep hygiene for you and your baby
    – This is the room environment, caffeine consumption, sugar consumption, screen time, temperature, lighting.  Things as simple as keeping the lights low for your middle of the night feeds and not turning on a screen can help you fall back asleep faster when the baby is fed and burped. Prioritise

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