It’s no secret that parents of newborns suffer sleep deprivation.
Yet the extent of those sufferings may be a little more hidden. And when you yourself are tortured by the delirium, hallucinations, generalised emotional disturbances and cognitive and physical degeneration that a lack of sufficient shut-eye brings, it can be difficult to believe that anybody else is going through this is exact same brand of postpartum hell.
But you aren’t alone.
A new survey conducted by Owlet Baby Care found that nearly half of all parents with children six months or younger get just one to three hours of uninterrupted sleep a night. Not exactly a surprising statistic for those who have been there, done that.
However; given that adults, in general, need a solid 8 hours of undisturbed zzz’s in order to function as sane members of society, how can people even hope to adequately look after a baby on such severely rationed sleep?
Is what we have come to accept as the rite of passage into parenthood actually interfering with our abilities to be good parents?
Owlet reports that just 5 percent of parents with children aged zero to six months sleep that full eight hours a night. Nearly half of all parents with kids in this age range get just one to three hours of undisturbed sleep on a regular basis, with 17 percent of respondents saying they get poor sleep every single night while raising newborn children.
Broken sleep can be tantamount to no sleep at all — so even if mums and dads are clocking up a few fair snatches of rest, their physiological and psychological systems are still significantly affected.
Very few are taking the advice to “sleep when the baby sleeps”, either: 41 percent of the parents surveyed said they can never sleep during daytime nap hours – whether due to work, other childcare responsibilities, or purely because they find it impossible to wind down in the daylight hours, no matter how exhausted they feel.
Around 30 percent of new dads have fallen asleep at work, 21 percent of parents have fallen asleep in parked cars, twelve percent have fallen asleep at the kitchen table and 11 percent have drifted off in the shower. And besides the obvious safety risks involved in losing sleep, there’s the frightening toll it takes on relationships.
So how do we deal with the unavoidable? Babies will cry, and their night wakings are not only natural, but integral for survival. There’s no ‘fixing’ that. On the other hand, parents, categorically, cannot ‘survive’ on such limited sleep – or at least be well-behaved human beings for the duration.
The old adage “it takes a village” isn’t some abstract concept; it’s about how every new mother and every new father needs on-hand practical support from outside sources.
Historically, all family members pitched in with the tasks of childrearing. It was never meant to be done in isolation.
Of course, not all of us are flush enough to shell out for a night nurse. We do have a responsibility to ask for help, though, whether from partners, family, friends, neighbours, church members, or parental organisations. Babysitting, help with chores, night feed shifts shared between partners, mummy’s helpers…take advantage of every offer that comes your way – because soldiering through the agony of sleep deprivation on your own will not do anybody any favours; including your children.
Oh, and sleep when the baby sleeps…