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Why Lack Of Sleep Can Break You

  • 8 min read

The truth about the sleep-deprived mind and body of parents.

Recently, a new mother with a two-week-old baby messaged me via WhatsApp and explained her situation:

‘My baby wants to be with me, and on me, all the time. She wants to be nursed every two hours. When she falls asleep in the evening, it continues through the night. I can’t manage to get enough sleep. There are only a few periods when I can shut my eyes, and even then, it’s only for a few minutes. I feel drained and exhausted. I feel groggy and hungover. I don’t know what to do. When will it stop?’


Although I love to write about parenting and sharing my experiences with this community and my Mom friends, I felt this was a tricky situation. It’s her first child, her hormones were on a rollercoaster and she was at the end of her tether. She was about to lose her mind through a lack of sleep. I wanted to be sensitive.

As I saw it, there were two alternatives.

Option 1: I could write something uplifting and encouraging to her like:

‘Oh, that’s totally normal in the first weeks. Your baby wants to be close to you and needs to reassure herself that you care for her and will nurture her. I recommend reading about the new-born stage. It’s just a phase and I’m sure you’re still tired from the labour. Hang in there!’

Option 2: the honest answer:

‘I know it’s tough. I’ve been there too. Although my baby is 11 months now, I still don’t get a good night’s sleep as I did before. Unfortunately, that’s the truth of being a mother. It will never really stop, I guess…’


Wake up! The hardship of motherhood regarding sleep never stops

Like her, I thought that the hardship of motherhood you hear about, especially the sleep deprivation, only occurs in the new-born stage. But what was interesting (and sad at the same time) was that a more experienced mother told me lately that the reality is that it goes beyond the toddler stage. She has a 16-year-old son (!) and she hasn’t had a good night’s sleep… well… since he was born.

Now that he is already somewhat ‘fledged’, she can’t turn off the bedside lamp and worries in bed until he is home safe. Again, he’s 16-years-old. I don’t know if I can hold out that long…

There seems to be no finite time of our sleep deprivation. It’s a continuous challenge. It doesn’t stop. Even when they go off to college, you continue worrying about them. It’s always something, for sure. A permanent crunch time.


From high blood pressure and taking pills to revenge bedtime procrastination

In the early days of motherhood, I was so tired, I couldn’t concentrate for long periods. I even was afraid of driving my baby to the paediatrician because I felt too sleepy.

I would have loved to turn into a coffee zombie. But unfortunately coffee couldn’t save my life. I was breastfeeding and a huge caffeine-boost isn’t allowed then.

Out of the blue, I started to have high blood pressure and a racing pulse. It was 150 plus. Finally, the doctor prescribed me an antihypertensive drug. But taking pills only helped artificially, addressing the symptoms, not the cause.

Especially for new mothers, it’s common to lose their sleep. But you brush the issue under the carpet because you are told it’s totally normal and everyone gets through it. You get comments such as ‘Sadly, that’s part of mom’s life’, or ‘Hang in there. It will pass.’

In our society, we undervalue sleep. We try to artificially prolong the day, even though we’re totally exhausted and would really be best off in bed. Does that sound familiar to you? There’s a label for this behavior: it’s called ‘revenge bedtime procrastination’.


Your brain needs sleep and a car wash

That’s the reason I think it’s crucial that influencers such as Arianna Huffington shed a light on this important topic. Arianna ‘experienced firsthand the high price we’re paying for cheating sleep when (she) collapsed from exhaustion’.

In her bestselling book ‘The sleep revolution’ she explains that getting enough shut-eye is not just vital for our health, but also critical to helping us achieve our goals.

In her book Arianna states:

sleep is not empty time. Sleep is a time of intense neurological activity — a rich time of renewal, memory consolidation, brain and neurochemical cleansing, and cognitive maintenance. (…) In fact, getting the right amount of sleep enhances the quality of every minute we spend with our eyes open.

A recent research report from Boston University shows that we need sleep in order to keep our brains healthy.

‘Sleep physically washes toxins, including those that can lead to Alzheimer’s, from your brain.’

To put it simply:

from day to day, new garbage is piling up in our Mom-brain like dirty laundry. If you don’t sleep at all, or with interruptions, your brain becomes full to the brim with toxic garbage. This, the report points out, can ultimately lead to Alzheimer’s because we never get them washed away.

So sleep is like a car wash. If you manage to get your eyes shut for a decent length of time (I measure it by the moodiness or happiness of the next day), it washes away the dirty laundry from the day before.

Additionally, NHS emphasizes that a lack of sleep puts the rest of your health at risk:

Regular poor sleep puts you at risk of serious medical conditions, including obesity, heart disease and diabetes — and it shortens your life expectancy.

It’s now clear that a solid night’s sleep is essential for a long and healthy life.


Don’t let sleep deprivation break you during the course of your motherhood life

Woman photo created by wayhomestudio

When I heard this news, I thought:

OMG, I’m going to take the car for a drive off a cliff. It has to end… ahh.’

Yes, as a sleep-deprived Mother, you don’t have much resilience left and can’t see the world with fresh eyes every day.

Oftentimes it’s a dark place because of the moodiness, the loss of autonomy, and all the to-dos that are spinning through your head even when you want to find some rest in the evening.

In fact, around 90% of mothers report getting less than eight hours of sleep each night — according to the State of Motherhood survey 2021.

The restless nights of sleep are only one piece of all the unseen work moms do.

Dear Mothers: don’t let sleep deprivation break you. Sleep is so important. Sleep is essential. Try to sleep whenever you can. Try to find solutions. For instance a ‘sleep divorce’ with your husband.

Try the breast pump and bottle feeding to let your partner take the shift. Try co-sleeping. Try sleep training. Find a way!

Otherwise, I’m absolutely sure our sleep deprivation, without a proper car wash for our filled brains, will break us in the course of our motherhood life. I’ve heard that what’s causing the sleepless nights morphs. What was hard with them becomes easy and the other way round. So, sleep deprivation is part of our (unwritten) job description.


So what did I answer my Mom friend?

You may be wondering, what did I text my friend in the end?

Well… the truth. Option 2. I can’t keep my mouth shut about our new reality. We have to find a way to cope with it in order to not want to drive the car into the ocean or off a cliff. Better to take your car to the next car wash. Think about it. Drive back home. Let your mother babysit or your partner take care of your little one and try to get some sleep. Explain your situation by telling this story about the connection between the brain car wash and Alzheimer’s.

They don’t want you to forget about the supposed most wonderful time of your life. Do they? 🙂

Happy car wash!

© Kristina God



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