Sleep deprivation among young parents is “incredibly debilitating” and “not actually talked about enough”, a leading expert in child sleep has said.
Certified sleep consultant Erica Hargadon is also a mother of three and remembers vividly how the birth of her first child 14 years ago turned her world upside down.
“It completely knocked out my physical and very much my mental health and being able to deal with the new chapter in my life - becoming a parent,” she told Newstalk Breakfast.
“So, sleep deprivation, it’s not actually talked about enough and… how debilitating it is for new parents [for] their relationships, their work relationships, every aspect of their lives.”
Ms Hargadon said it “varies from baby to baby” whether a child is a good sleeper and just because one sibling sleeps well, does not mean the next baby will too.
“There are some people who get the unicorn that just sleeps really, really well from when they’re born,” she said.
“I got one of those, the other two weren’t like that.
“So, on average, your child, when they’re very small, is going to be waking up every couple of hours overnight.
“As they get beyond the six month stage, they have the capability, many of them, to be waking less… but that doesn’t happen for every parent and every child, unfortunately.”
Needs of adults and children
A newborn baby will need between nine and 18 hours of sleep every day until they are three months old.
The needs of adults vary but Ms Hargadon said it is mostly mothers who end up getting up in the middle of the night.
“I think in the early days of parenting, we [women] sleep less,” she said.
“I think women will be the responder 90% of the time, that’s what I have found in surveying my own customers and clients over the years.”
For those parents who are struggling with sleep deprivation, Ms Hargadon said it is important to treat yourself with “kindness and understanding” at all times.
“When you’re dealing with sleep deprivation, your world can become quite dark,” she said.
“That’s down to the predisposition you will go to; a difficult mood, you’ll be more predisposed to anxiety and depression.
“So, support each other through it; if you’ve got a partner in your life, share the load [and] make sure that you do get back to bed."
The HSE's advice to parents struggling with sleep deprivation is to take turns with nighttime feedings, prioritise rest over household tasks and to try and sleep when the baby is asleep.
Main image: A mother and baby. Credit: Iuliia Bondarenko from Pixabay