Sleep Expert Wants Parents To Know This About Dealing With Sleep Deprivation

We often focus on children's sleep requirements, but what about ourselves?
Maria Varaksina / EyeEm via Getty Images

Whoever came up with the phrase ‘sleeping like a baby’ had clearly never met a baby. Most parents will attest that babies do not, in fact, sleep particularly well.

In fact, 59% of parents with babies under one say their little one sleeps for less than four hours at a stretch, according to the Lullaby Trust. And even as toddlers, it’s still pretty hit and miss.

This is because babies and children go through intense periods of development in their early years which, of course, can impact sleep.

On top of that, factors like the environment they’re sleeping in and pain (which seems to feature a lot in those early years) can trigger regular night wakings.

Often, parents can forget about their own sleep needs because they become so wrapped up with their child’s needs. And it’s no surprise, as soon as they’re born they rely on us for everything – it can feel like our lives become merged.

But it’s really important we also separate ourselves. “We can become so fixated on making sure that they are okay, that our own needs can sometimes fall by the wayside,” Rosey Davidson, sleep consultant and CEO of Just Chill Baby Sleep, tells HuffPost UK.

While sleep disruption is a very normal part of parenthood, that’s not to say we should completely forget about our own needs – especially our physical and mental health, which are directly linked to sleep.

Because “a well-rested parent is a healthier, happier parent too,” says the sleep expert.

Here’s what she wants parents to know.

How does sleep deprivation impact parents?

The importance of taking action to prioritise your own mental and physical wellbeing as a parent should not be underestimated – especially as sleep deprivation can leave you vulnerable to illness, obesity, depression and even a shorter life expectancy.

The issue can also understandably impact parents’ relationships massively – and Davidson has seen how some couples have been on the precipice of divorce because of it.

“Sleep deprivation can be hard on relationships,” says the author of The Just Chill Baby Sleep Book. “It is easy to forget about one another, and purely focus on the baby. We know from research that the number of times we are woken in the night has a direct impact on our sex lives.”

What’s more, when we’re tired, we’re much more likely to be short tempered, argumentative and emotional – not exactly our best selves.

“We might resent our partners if we think they are getting more sleep than us – competitive tiredness can become all consuming,” adds the sleep expert.

But, she notes, it’s more constructive to approach sleep deprivation as “a united front” – and key to this is communicating your needs to your partner (and vice versa).

This might look like having clear boundaries and ideas on how to cope with sleep deprivation, and how you might tackle it longer term.

“An honest, calm conversation, and seeking support if needed, can really transform lives,” she says.

“I have been told on more than several occasions that I have saved marriages, that long lost evenings and date nights as a couple returned, and that relationships were happier and healthier after improving their baby’s sleep.”

So, what can parents do to help themselves?

Davidson suggests it’s more about helping yourself in your waking hours, rather than trying to focus on something you can’t control, like the many hours you’re spending awake in the night.

“We must carve out breaks in our days, and work on building a support system to help us when our tanks are empty,” she says.

“If we have the offer of help, we must take it. We might not live amongst the villages we once did, but we can try to build our own. Whether that be friends, family, or hired help – say yes when you can.”

Protecting your own energy is also crucial – “if you don’t feel like doing something, don’t feel obliged to do it,” she advises.

“If you need to nap, and you have a chance, take that nap. Go to bed early with your baby if you need to – that Netflix show can wait.”

Shining a light on your baby’s sleep routine and any tweaks that could be made might also help.

Looking at where your little one sleeps is the first step – can you do anything to improve it? Do you need blackout blinds to help those early morning wakings? Or white noise to drown out a neighbour’s motorbike? Are they dressed appropriately for the temperature?

“All these things can make a difference. Working on our little one’s sleep can, in turn, help our own,” says Davidson.

Parents can also create their own predictable bedtime routines to give them the best chance of at least getting a bit of quality shut-eye before their first disruption. This might mean reducing screen-time before bed, eating well and having a set bedtime at the same time each night.

“We should treat ourselves with the same care that we do our children,” concluded Davidson.

And the next time you’re pulling your hair out because you’ve slept for three hours, try to remember: you will eventually come out the other side.