The ABCs of ZZZs
Do you recall a nightly ritual that involved closing your eyes and staying horizontal for eight hours, until dawn? You probably don’t if you have a baby. According to the National Sleep Foundation, 76% of parents suffer from frequent sleep problems. This is not news, especially if you are a parent of an infant.
It’s obvious that sleep deprivation is not something to be taken lightly, regardless of whether it’s caused by the birth of a baby or other issues. There are ways to get the sleep you need.
Sleep is often viewed as one, constant state of unconsciousness. There are two types of sleep. One is rapid eye movement (REM), also known as dream sleep. The other is non-REM. Non-REM can be divided into four stages. Stage 1 is when your body relaxes and you are semi-aware of your surroundings. Stage two is when the brain waves slow down and body movements stop. This stage is what we refer to as “falling asleep”. Stages three through four are deep sleep. Your breathing is normal and you don’t respond to the world around you. These are the most restorative stages.
These four stages take approximately 90 minutes to complete. After that, the body transitions into REM, where most dreams happen. As if watching a movie, your closed eyes start to move back and forth. Brain waves speed up. Amy Wolfson, PhD is the author of The Woman’s Book of Sleep, New Harbinger 2001. She says that each stage and REM phase can be completed approximately four to six times per night. The REM segments typically last around 10 minutes and then increase in length as time goes by. The majority of deep, restorative sleep occurs during the first third of the evening, while dreams sleep tends toward the morning.
The importance of sleep
Fragmented sleep can have a profound impact on your ability to think clearly and manage stress. This type of sleep deprivation doesn’t just affect your deep sleep but also your ability to dream, according to Lauren Broch, PhD director of education at the Sleep-Wake Disorders Center in New York-Presbyterian Hospital.
Dreams are more than just a source of inspiration for the next day. They play an important role in our ability think clearly. According to Margaret Moline, PhD (director of the Sleep-Wake disorders Center), REM sleep is when the brain processes the day’s events and sorts memories. REM sleep is essential for memory lapses, making it more difficult to perform tasks that require higher cognitive functioning. This can make it difficult for moms to do a variety of daily tasks, such as balancing the checkbook or dealing with a cranky toddler. It’s actually more difficult to use distraction or humor (instead yelling) when you are exhausted.
Newborn Sleep Patterns
Your infant’s sleeping patterns are not the same as yours. Your infant’s sleep patterns are different than yours. At 3 months old, your infant spends between 50 and 80 percent of his sleep in REM. This compares to your 20 percent. His sleep cycles last approximately 50 minutes, while yours take 90.
This means your newborn will be able to wake up quickly, sleep for shorter periods of time — not more than three to 4 hours per night, and keep his disordered, light “pattern” throughout the day.
Here are some helpful tips for sleeping
There are many ways to achieve your dream quota, no matter what is preventing you from blissful unconsciousness
You can make up the sleep you’ve lost. It’s possible to make up for what you haven’t gotten by sleeping less. Moline says that REM and deep sleep are made possible by waking up after a long time without sleep. The lightest stages of sleep will be affected by the increase in time spent in deep and REM sleep. It can be beneficial to sleep a little more on weekends, for example, 2 or 3 hours. Don’t let extra sleep turn into a sleep binge. You won’t feel tired when you sleep too much.
Take a break. It is not a good idea for new moms to try to make their baby nap more productive. You will feel refreshed after a 20-30 minute nap. A short nap in the afternoon is something that most people can benefit from, even new mothers. You should not sleep later than 2 or 3. This could interfere with your bedtime. Friends and family may be able to help your baby if he doesn’t have a regular nap time. Your mother can hold the baby and entertain it while you go to sleep.
You can trade off mid-night feedings. It’s tempting to ask the at-home parent (typically the mother) for all the feedings when the other half of the new-parent family is working outside the home. This will allow the “working” parent to get up earlier in the morning. However, taking on 24-hour feedings can cause sleep deprivation. Rotating nights may be a good idea. One person will take care of all the feedings and the other one sleeps. This will ensure that at least one person has a restful night, and not both of you falling asleep in a jumbled state. Mothers who are nursing might pump milk to ensure Dad has at least one night of care.
Reduce the volume of your monitor. Newborns can be active sleepers. You don’t have to get out of bed if your baby is crying or groaning during the night. Your baby should learn to sleep through the night. Most babies can sleep seven to eight hours for a period of time by 6 months. If your baby is still awake, put her to bed. This will encourage her to go to sleep independently and not cry for you. You can wean her off of any strategies she’s used to soothe her to sleep (rocking or nursing, for example). This will teach her not rely on them when she wakes.
Other Sleep Problems
Sleepless nights can also be caused by hormones. Progesterone levels begin to drop after ovulation. Sleep problems are more common if levels fall quickly.
It may take you longer to fall asleep, feel less refreshed, and be more tired in the period between ovulation and the beginning of your period. You may also feel too uncomfortable to fall asleep due to the tender breasts and cramps that can be caused by menstruation.
The most frustrating thing about it all is the inability to fall asleep despite our desperate need for sleep. Here are some ways to sleep well.
Get professional help. Talk to your doctor about any sleeping problems you are having. Sometimes, problems like insomnia can be a sign of an emotional or physical illness.