A survey reveals that parents lose an average of six months’ sleep during the first 24 months of their child’s life. Approximately 10% of parents manage to get just two-and-a-half hours continuous sleep each night, the Silentnight survey found.

Over 60% of parents with babies aged less than 24 months get no more than three-and-a-quarter hours sleep each night.

Silentnight sleep expert, Iftikhar Mirza, said:

An hour here and there doesn’t negate sleep debt.

Mirza advises parents to “take regular, gentle exercise to release endorphins, which should lower the risk of mood swings.”

According to the National Health Service (NHS), UK, the majority of healthy adults require from 7 to 9 hours sleep each night. As we get older we generally require less sleep. The average person aged over 70 years needs no more than 6 hours each night.

One of the complications felt by many parents whose initial months/years with a new baby disrupts their sleep patterns, is the development of a longer-term insomnia problem.

Insomnia, from the Latin “in” (not) and “somnus” (sleep), is a condition characterized by difficulty falling asleep and remaining asleep. It includes a broad spectrum of sleep disorders, from lack of quantity of sleep to lack of quality of sleep. Insomnia is often separated into three types. Transient insomnia occurs when symptoms last from a few days to a few weeks. Acute or short-term insomnia is when symptoms last for several weeks. Chronic insomnia is characterized by insomnia that lasts for months and years.

Insomnia itself may be a symptom of an underlying medical condition. However, there are several signs and symptoms that are associated with insomnia.

  • Difficulty falling asleep at night
  • Awakening during the night
  • Awakening earlier than desired
  • Still feeling tired after a night’s sleep
  • Daytime fatigue or sleepiness
  • Irritability, depression or anxiety
  • Poor concentration and focus
  • Being uncoordinated, an increase in errors or accidents
  • Tension headaches
  • Difficulty socializing
  • Gastrointestinal symptoms
  • Worrying about sleeping

A human needs a good diet, regular exercise and proper sleep for good health. Sleep deprivation can have physical as well as mental health consequences. Not getting enough sleep will eventually undermine the individual’s quality of life.

Some complications caused by lack of sleep include:

  • Quality of work is affected
  • Slower reflexes and response to stimuli. This can be dangerous if the individual is operating heavy machinery or driving.
  • Mental health problems, such as anxiety disorders and depression.
  • Obesity – there is a link between not getting enough sleep and having overweight/obesity problems. (link to article)
  • Weakened immune system. For your immune system to work properly, an adult needs 7 to 9 hours sleep each night.
  • Health consequences – such as hypertension (high blood pressure), diabetes and heart disease. (Lack of sleep and hypertension link)
  • Premature death – too little (and too much) sleep is linked to premature death. (link to article)
  • Chronic migraine – sleep deprivation leads to changes in the levels of key proteins that facilitate events involved in the underlying pathology of migraine. (link to article)

Parents who are finding it hard to cope should consider asking relatives or friends for help, joining local support groups, and talking to their doctor.

Some tips on getting more sleep:

  • Grabbing moments of sleep matter more than catching up with household chores. If it is daytime and the baby is asleep and you feel sleepy, seize the opportunity to get some sleep yourself. The benefits of catching up on sleep are greater than the undesirable consequences of postponing some household chores.
  • Ask people to watch the baby while you have a nap. If you know that person really well, do not be afraid to either ask them to help out on some household tasks while you are napping. If they offer, do not politely refuse.
  • Avoid stimulants that can undermine your getting to and staying asleep, such as caffeine. Nicotine is also a stimulant. Alcohol can affect some people’s ability to stay asleep.
  • Breastfeeding – lie on your side while breastfeeding. It is more restful.
  • Bottle feeding – if you are bottle feeding, organize the bottles so that if you do have to wake up to feed, you do not have to keep going to the kitchen and using up precious sleep time preparing things. Have a bottle ready next to you.
  • Sleep the baby with you – some people find that the baby wakes up less often if he/she shares the bed with the parent(s). This is a controversial subject and there is a risk of smothering the baby during the night.
  • Lunch break at work – if you can find a way of grabbing an extra hour’s sleep during your lunch break, take it.
  • Visits – be strict about letting friends drop in. If you plan to have a nap, be upfront and tell people you need the sleep and make arrangements to meet some other time. If it is a good friend/relative, suggest to them that a bit of baby-sitting by them while you get some sleep would be really appreciated.
  • Take turns to sleep – if sleep deprivation is becoming a serious problem talk to your partner and work out a sleep-shift system. While one is on standby the other sleeps, even if that means going into another room to sleep. Even if you have to share 9 hours by 2 (4.5 hours each), getting those 4.5 hours of continuous and restful sleep will help both of you.

Written by Christian Nordqvist