Feeling anxious? Forgetful? Irritable? Do you have too many balls in the air? Perhaps a child who is not sleeping at night and keeping you up?
Sleep deprivation is a real problem with parents of young children. It has many symptoms that can mimic post partum depression. “It’s very hard to tell if someone has sleep loss or depression,” Director Dr. Joyce Walseban, former director of Bellevue Hospital Sleep Disorders Center explains. “Mood and sleep use the same neurotransmitters.” Sleep deprivation can be more than annoying; it can be dangerous.
Mothers seem to be the worst at recognizing and dealing with the problem because they feel like they need to be Supermoms. The truth is that sleeping fewer than six hours per night for just one week can lead to serious health issues. Even scarier, after one night of little sleep, you’re more likely to eat more, have more accidents, lose focus and brain tissue, have problems remembering things and are more likely to get emotional. It can affect relationships, work performance and even driving. Sound familiar?
Here are some tips for getting more sleep with little kids in the house:
- Sleep when they do. The dirty dishes, load of laundry or your favorite tv program can wait. On a day when you can nap, do it. Grabbing an extra hour here and there, as long as it does not disrupt your nightly sleep, is a good thing.
- Take a tip from your toddler. Notice how hard they play and then how hard they sleep? Get your exercise too. That way when it is time to sleep, your body is tired and can rest.
- Don’t get on electronics before bed. This activity stimulates your brain, so shut it all down at least an hour before your bed time. Try to keep your bedroom a tech free zone.
- Go to bed early, even when you don’t want to. You may want to sit up and watch another tv show in quiet, or catch up with your friend on the phone or even your spouse. Make sleep a priority.
- Avoid alcohol. You might think this will aide in sleep, but it produces the opposite result. Of course with little ones who may be getting up at night, being less than 100% available and responsive isn’t good parenting.
- Tell yourself you will get a good night’s sleep. Plan for it with your time, emotions and prepare an optimal sleeping environment. This might mean purposefully falling asleep in your bed (not on the sofa), turning on a noise machine, making sure the room is blacked out, and the temperature is right. Just make sure you have a monitor so your can hear your child if needed.
While it is normal and expected to have some sleep deprivation when you have young children, you can put into place practices to minimize those sleepless nights. You want to be well rested, more alert, more available mentally and emotionally for your children, your spouse, your co-workers and friends. If you cannot solve your sleep problems and suspect it might be something more, seek professional help from your doctor. Sleep disorders are common and so is depression, so catching these issues before they become serious is important to your well beging and to your family’s.