Sleep deprivation is a major issue worldwide and has significant associated financial and health related implications. According to researchers at the not-for-profit research organisation RAND Europe, sleep deprivation leads to a higher mortality risk and lower productivity levels among the workforce, which, when combined, has a significant impact on a nation's economy.
In summary the findings of the study were:
- Lower productivity levels and the higher risk of mortality resulting from sleep deprivation have a significant effect on a nation's economy.
- Sleep deprivation increases the risk of mortality by 13 per cent and leads to the UK losing around 200,000 working days a year.
- Increasing nightly sleep from under six hours to between six and seven hours could add £24 billion to the UK economy.
Although Sleep deprivation is a worldwide issue affecting all age groups, parents of new-born babies stand out as being a major segment of society that suffer disproportionately. A study conducted in 2018 by sleep technology brand Simba found:
- New parents will get just four hours and 44 minutes of sleep in an average night during the first year of their baby’s life and in the first 12 months of a child’s life, mothers and fathers sleep 59% less than the recommended eight hours a night, losing the equivalent of 50 nights of sleep.
- A typical parent was found to spend 54 minutes per day trying to get their baby to sleep, adding up to almost 14 days in their first year.
- Mums and dads will also pace the equivalent of two miles while rocking their baby each day and night, totting up to 730 miles – the equivalent of 28 marathons – over a 365-day period.
- And 23 per cent of those polled believe the lost sleep in their child’s first year at home led them to behave "slightly unusually."
- In their sleep-deprived state, 11 per cent have hallucinated something which wasn’t really there, and 44% have completely forgotten what they were saying mid-sentence.
- 8% have even forgotten the name of their baby.
- 64% look back on their first year as parents and are "amazed" they were able to function through it all as well as they did.
Sleep deprivation can take an emotional toll on relationships too, with the average new-born waking three times a night when they first arrive home. More than two thirds of British parents believe they have got into arguments with their partner purely as a result of their baby’s poor sleep habits.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t end there for new parents. A study published in 2019 by researchers from the University of Warwick shows that after the birth of the first child and up to 6 years after birth mothers and fathers sleep duration and sleep satisfaction do not fully recover to the levels before pregnancy.
So, what can you practically do to get some much needed shut eye as a parent of a new born to feel more revived and re-energised?
Sleep when your baby sleeps
Don’t feel guilty about sleeping when your baby sleeps. The housework and other chores can wait. After all you will be far more effective following a power nap and you will be in a much better mood and state of mind according to family wellbeing expert Dani Binnington of healthywholeme.com, who said:
“There really is no need to rush around the house frantically while your little one is having a nap. There’s always a wash to put on and bins to empty – especially with a new baby around – but remember: These chores are nowhere near as important as looking after your wellbeing.”
Adjust your Bedtime
Keep a sleep diary monitoring your child’s resting patterns, as you might find that they have repetitive habits, such as waking up very early in the mornings. After a few months your new-born baby’s circadian rhythm will adjust to more normal patterns and they will wake up less during the night so you could fit in your 6-8 hours based on their more normal sleep patterns, eg. if they wake up at 6am then try to get to bed by 10pm at the latest.
“Research suggests that every hour spent asleep before midnight is worth two hours spent asleep after midnight. So, don’t worry about getting back to your old sleep routine – go to bed early instead for better quality." - Dani Binnington
Get outdoors when you can
If you’re struggling to keep your eyes open during the daytime, getting outdoors could be the key to staying awake until you’re next able to get some rest. Take regular walks to get some fresh air, and the sunlight in the morning (especially during spring and summer months) provides vitamin D that will help to keep you alert during the day.
Be mindful of what you eat during the day.
When it comes to food, stick to lighter meals and snacks, as these are less likely to make you feel drowsy or affect your alertness. Fruits such as bananas are great snacks to have on hand, as they contain slow-release sugar which will give you energy over a longer period of time.
Ask for help and support when you need it.
Many of us try to put on a brave face when we become new parents for fear of showing signs of weakness or criticism or feeling like a failure. Parenthood is immensely challenging and a huge learning curve, and it’s always a good idea to seek professional help if your sleep issues are becoming a burden. While feeling tired is normal during the early days of parenthood, if it is preventing you from carrying out day-to-day tasks and affecting your quality of life, you should speak with your GP.
Don’t set unrealistic expectations.
Quite often we try to get back to the old routines of work, exercise and socialising but this can lead to burnout and the related health issues. Instead, listen to your body and get the rest you need when you need it. Many employers also now offer flexible working arrangements and if you are lucky enough to be working for a compassionate employer then don’t feel compelled to stick to the old 9-5 routine.
- Richter, D., Krämer, M.D., Tang, N.K.Y., Montgomery-Downs, H.E., & Lemola, S. Long-term effects of pregnancy and childbirth on sleep satisfaction and duration of first-time and experienced mothers and fathers. Sleep, 2019 DOI: 10.1093/sleep/zsz015/5289255