Tuesday, September 16, 2008

To Sleep, Perchance to Dream...

Lack of sleep for new parents is no revelation - babies’ sleep cycles during the first weeks of life have them sleeping a few hours at a time around the clock. This doesn’t sync with the sleep patterns of adults. Doctors say that we need eight hours of uninterrupted sleep at night to be at our best. However, parents of infants usually get much less than that (some studies say that new parents lose 450-700 hours of sleep in the first year)! It isn’t just that parents are getting less sleep; their sleep is interrupted, too, causing them to lose out most on the deep sleep that is so restorative. The effects of a lack of sleep are immediate and unforgiving. After just one night of sleep deprivation, memory capabilities and processing time suffer, which of course has implications in all areas of life.

So, what can new parents do about this? I think that the severity of sleep deprivation calls for a battle on two fronts: a fight to find ways to cope with the effects of sleep deprivation as well as a struggle to get more precious sleep.

Managing with sleep deprivation can be tough. Lists can be a parents’ best friend. Going out for some errands? Write down where you are going and what you are doing at each place. Have a few important things to do today? Write them down as you think of them so you can refer to them later. Last time I was a new parent, I was most forgetful about anything having to do with when the new baby (or in my case, babies) did something. For the first two months or so, we kept a notebook where each day had a page that listed when and how much or how long the babies ate, when they had a wet or dirty diaper, and when and how long they slept. This saved us many times during those months! Not into making lists? Coast Innovations came up with a great parent lifesaver called the Itzbeen Baby Care Timer. It has three different timers to mark the last time baby got a new diaper, ate, and slept, as well as a fourth timer you can set for your own uses. Each timer can have its own alarm when it reaches a certain time limit, too!

There are many suggestions out there on ways to get more sleep. Almost all new parents have heard the old adage “Sleep when the baby sleeps.” Parents need to remember that their own sleep is more important than the dishes in the sink or the laundry in the washer. Even so, I have never been one that has done well with long naps (sleep fog is almost worse than sleep deprivation), but a 20-30 minute cat nap can be enough to recharge new parents to face the rest of the day. If it works with the baby’s feeding plan, trading off nighttime duties can help, too! When using bottles at night, new parents can trade off nights of getting up to allow at least one to get a good night’s sleep. Breastfeeding parents can separate duties when the baby gets up - while the mom is in charge of feeding, dads can get the baby up, change diapers, and put the baby back to bed.

I, of course, am tackling this topic because it has been on my mind a lot lately. Our newest little one is all set to arrive, and I am bracing myself for the sleep deprivation. I am hoping I won't be as crazed this time because I have been through it before and because I will have only ONE infant, but this time I will have two other kiddos to play with during the day, too. Should be exciting!

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