Why Sleep Deprivation is a Form of Torture

unmade bed

Sleep when your baby sleeps, they said. And we all laughed and laughed and laughed.

For new moms, sleep deprivation becomes a lifestyle. We’re woken up throughout the night most nights, if not every night – we watch the clock change at every hour, we know exactly what time the sun rises each day, we stare daggers gaze lovingly at our sleeping partners while they sleep peacefully – and we’re expected to function as valuable members of society during the day. If we’re lucky we manage to squeeze in a nap here or there, but most of the time we just learn to get by on the minimum of sleep.

When we’re not crying into our coffee, we can even laugh at ourselves for putting the TV remote in the fridge or wearing two different shoes (both true stories), but the effects of sleep deprivation are real. There is a reason sleep deprivation is a form of torture.

No wait – there are many reasons.

A lack of sleep can lead to:

Moods

Irritability and anxiety. Even small things can be overwhelming when you’re tired. I find myself snapping more at the Beard and losing my patience more easily with the boys after a bad night. 

This usually leads to a whole load of mom guilt – for getting angry, for working, not being present enough, not enjoying every second, letting them watch tv, giving them fish fingers for supper – the list is endless.

Then there is the added worry of falling into post-natal depression. I’ve always been prone to depression, and though I don’t think I have ever gone as far as PND it was most definitely the lack of sleep which didn’t help and my support structures which saved me.

Brain farting

Forgetting why you walked into a room, putting random stuff in the fridge or shampooing your face are all real issues. It might seem funny at the time but if you’ve ever tried doing something that requires serious mental energy (like work) then things like this can cause problems. For me as a writer, forgetting words can be a monumental time waster – and extremely frustrating when the words are aeroplane or brunch.

Learning is also affected. Memories are formed while we sleep. Our brains transfer memories from our short term memory to long term memory while we sleep, so if you’re not sleeping well, whatever you have done in the day will quickly be forgotten. If you’re trying to study anything, you’re pretty much screwed.

Brain fog is another thing. It can be quite difficult to think clearly, rationalise or make decisions when you’re tired. Ever tried to put a niggly baby to sleep for ages and only later realised you just needed to give him milk/rock him/turn off the light – things you would usually automatically do to get your baby to sleep? That’s because you’re tired. 

On a much more serious note, a lack of sleep can lead to slower reactions. This can have disastrous consequences if, say, you are driving. In fact, studies have shown that sleep-deprived drivers performed worse than drunk drivers on driving simulator tests. This is why you should uber if you manage to get out for a evening, even if you’re not going to be having a drink.

Lower motivation

Being tired makes everything more difficult. It’s not surprising that when you’re tired you actually can’t be bothered to do much. 

Reduced sex drive

See above.

Health issues

I think we all realise that being tired decreases your immunity. It’s usually no surprise if we are tired and we seem to catch every cold that’s floating around.

If that isn’t enough, serious fatigue can cause high blood pressure and diabetes. Not to mention that a lack of sleep can lead to obesity by releasing insulin, increasing appetite and stimulating high-fat, high-carb cravings – which explains why I daydream about pizza for breakfast if I’ve been up since 4am. 

So what can you do if you are so tired you forget what your name is? Or in my case, my children’s names? 

Top Tip for parents of two: give your kids the same name so you can’t confuse the two.

Get some sleep, obviously. Even if you can manage a 20-minute power nap it will go towards helping you function a bit more like a human being. You can try giving your child away to a partner, friend or grandparent to watch just for a bit so you can go lie down and try relax. Well, until they start screaming bloody murder for your boobs. Then they can bring the kid back.

Stuff the washing, cleaning, cooking blah blah blah. Sleep is king. Naps trump household chores any day. 

Turn off Netflix. While sometimes we might want to spend some time doing something anything besides sleeping or doing baby things, if you’ve had a really bad few sleep days rather take those 45 minutes for a nap instead of watching the next episode of [insert current series favourite here].

Get a night nurse for a night. Controversial, I know, and a luxury most people can’t afford, but if you can, swallow your pride, put away your control issues, call in a night nurse and enjoy one blissful night of 8 hours sleep. 

Luckily, as a parent we know this is a stage that we will get through. While I don’t quite yet believe friends of teenagers who tell me they struggle to get them out of bed, I do know eventually both my boys will sleep through the night – and at the same time! (Big dreams, I know). 

But if you are in the middle of the sleeplessness, don’t forget to be good to yourself. You’re going through a rough patch and being tired makes it all the more difficult. So pour yourself another coffee, sneak in a quickie nap, and good luck!

Featured image: Tracey Hocking on Unsplash

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