The Effects of Lack of Sleep on Parents
Being a parent is a tough job. Having your sleep interrupted every night for extended periods may make life really challenging. You are not alone – many parents have successfully navigated sleep challenges that include rough patches and low points and have come out positively on the other side.
We all have an in-built body clock that influences our day waking/night sleeping cycles. It’s called the circadian rhythm. Babies are not born with in-built day and night sleep patterns or rhythms. Their brains need to mature sufficiently to develop a consistent pattern of night sleeping- for most full term babies this is usually around three months.
As your baby experiences more activities during the day and less at night, they will slowly sleep more at night time. By twelve months your baby’s day-night rhythm should be more or less established with longer consolidated sleep periods at night, similar to an adult. However, babies still need to sleep during the day.
Disturbed sleep patterns and lack of sleep may be exhausting. Some effects include having trouble remembering things – being tired makes it hard to think straight, reduced tolerance – it’s harder to stay calm and rational when tired, relationship stress – your lack of sleep may affect everyone in your life. Common feelings include irritability, feeling too tired to play with your children or talk to your partner. Your relationships with friends may change as you are too tired to make the effort. Depression is a huge disturbance from lack of sleep, being tired all the time may make you feel hopeless, angry, teary or alone.
The effects of lack of sleep on children
Babies and children also need sleep and they too feel the effects of sleeplessness in much the same way as adults. Children are less able to deal with even the normal separation from caregivers; toddlers in particular may find it more difficult to manage feelings. Behaviours can escalate as toddlers find that they are less able to self soothe and calm, becoming easily frustrated and irritable.
Infants can become poor feeders, they can depend on soothers or being feed to sleep and wake up frequently overnight for the same regime. Infants can become dependent on parents to assist them to sleep, with parents often sharing the same sleep space through sheer exhaustion on needing sleep. This creates a cycle of frequent small feeds and not a lot of sleep in between.
The long term consequences of sleep deprivation for children are that may not be able to experience life to the fullest, gain the most from it or consolidate learning. Children may have reduced energy, making more difficult to learn positive coping mechanisms to deal with everyday stress, they will zone out and could miss opportunities for important skill based learning.
Facts about the importance of sleep
When your child is asleep, hormones are being made in the brain prompting physical growth. Babies and children practice new skills and process information and experiences during sleep, e.g the baby that practices crawling around in their cot or the older child dreaming of experiences they have learnt. Memories are processed and stored during sleep. Sleep helps to maintain a healthy immune system; your child has a better chance of staying healthy if they have the recommended amount of sleep. Sleep is necessary for health brain development and sleep helps us to feel happier and more relaxed.
How much sleep is needed
All babies, young children and adults wake numerous times overnight for brief periods. Learning to be able to go back to sleep quickly is the key to a rested night’s sleep. Each sleep cycle consists of Rapid Eye Movement (REM) – often called the light or dream sleep and Non Rapid Eye Movement (NON-REM) –often called deep sleep.
In a newborn a sleep cycle may only last for 20-40mins. As baby reaches four to six months old they may have learnt to self sooth through a cycle extending their cycle to up to an hour. If baby is unable to self sooth, they will wake around the 20-40minute mark and cry out for your help. This is where your baby may require your support to help sooth them back to sleep so that baby will eventually be able to link the cycles together. Depending on what you do to help sooth your baby will create patterns –good or challenging. In comparison an adult sleep cycle last about ninety minutes.
Babies and children need more sleep than adults. Deliberately keeping your child awake during the day or limiting their day time sleep so they will sleep better at night does not work. Research clearly demonstrates that babies and children who are overtired have more difficulty settling and feeding during the day and night.
- Between 0-3months babies require 12-20 hours’ sleep per 24 hour period.
- Between 3-12months babies require 10-18hours ‘sleep per 24 hour period.
- Between 1-2years toddlers require 12 – 15 hours’ sleep per 24 hour period.
- Between 2-5years children require 12-13 hours’ sleep per 24 hour period.
These amounts are split between day and night.
Tired signs of an infant are closed fists, rubbing eyes, jerky limb movements, yawning, worried facial expression, arch backwards, difficulty focussing, suck fingers. Older babies will also pull at ears, be frustrated with play, clumsy, clingy, demand attention, fussy with feeding and low tolerance. Toddlers will cry/scream, have tantrums, difficult to console, not interested in food, unable to play appropriately and be clumsy.
If you are experiencing challenges with your child’s sleep, seek professional support for your child, yourself and your family.