The hidden costs of sleep loss for new working parents
Being a new parent is a wonderful and rewarding experience, but it also comes with many challenges. One of the most common and difficult to handle is getting enough sleep, usually as a result of frequent night wakings and feeding schedules, as well as stress and anxiety about the overnight safety of your baby. In fact, studies show that only 5% percent of parents of babies up to 6 months of age are getting the recommended 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night, with only about 10% of new parents managing to get just two-and-a-half hours of uninterrupted sleep each night after the arrival of the baby. In addition, nearly 70% of parents lose an average of three hours of sleep per night in their baby’s first year, which is equivalent to losing 133 nights of sleep before their baby turns one!
How Sleep Loss Affects Your Brain Performance
Sleep loss can have serious consequences for your brain performance and focus, which can affect your professional performance as well as your relationships and health. Sleep is essential for your brain to function properly, especially when you are having to work while caring for your new baby. During sleep, your brain processes and consolidates information, repairs cells and tissues, and regulates hormones and chemicals. Sleep also helps you form memories, learn new skills, solve problems, make decisions, and regulate your emotions. Sleep loss can impair all these brain functions—known as cognitive functions—resulting in:
- Difficulty remembering important details or instructions
- Reduced ability to learn new information or skills
- Poor concentration and focus
- Increased distractibility and mind wandering
- Slowed reaction time and reduced accuracy
- Impaired judgment and decision making
- Difficulty solving problems or finding creative solutions
- Reduced motivation and initiative
- Increased irritability and emotional instability
- Decreased empathy and social skills
These brain impairments can affect your daily functioning and quality of life. You may find it harder to perform your tasks at work or at home. You may make more mistakes or errors that could have serious consequences. You may feel more stressed, frustrated, or overwhelmed by your responsibilities. This could lead to a significant negative impact on your professional performance, especially if your job productivity requires high levels of brain skills, creativity, or social interaction. Thus, you may miss out on opportunities for promotion, recognition, or learning. Even worse, you may also lose your passion for your work or feel dissatisfied with your job.
How to Improve Your Sleep Quality as a New Parent
As a new parent, you may not be able to control how much sleep you get every night, but you can try to improve the quality of your sleep. Here are some tips to help you get better sleep:
- When your baby sleeps, take the opportunity to rest, too. Go to bed at night when your baby goes to bed, and if your baby takes a nap during the day, take a nap for 10 minutes, which is the ideal duration to feel better almost immediately, and enjoy improvement in your brain performance for as long as 155 minutes.
- Share the load: If possible, ask your partner, family member, friend, or babysitter to help you with some of the night duties. You can take turns feeding, changing, or soothing your baby, or alternate nights of uninterrupted sleep. This way, you can both get some rest and support each other.
- Make your bedroom comfortable: Keep your bedroom dark, quiet, cool, and comfortable. Use curtains, blinds, earplugs, fans, or air conditioners to block out any noise or light that might disturb your sleep. Invest in a good mattress, pillow, sheets, and blankets that suit your preferences, and avoid using telephone or computer screens in bed.
- Explore sleep aids that work for you. For example, Nutch, a dietary supplement designed to combat morning fatigue and tiredness, can help you sleep better and wake up fresher, especially when you don’t get enough hours of rest. It contains glycine, a naturally occurring amino acid found in many protein-rich foods that helps you fall asleep faster and reach deep sleep more quickly, making each hour of sleep you get more efficient. Nutch is vegan, gluten-free, sugar-free, and allergen-free. It comes in a convenient stick pack that you can take before bedtime. The amount of glycine in each serving is equivalent to what you would get by drinking a little over 2 oz (66 g) of milk, or in a serving of chicken.
- Avoid caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, and heavy meals before bed at least four hours before bedtime.
Even though serious lack of sleep is the norm for new parents, if you have persistent or severe sleep problems that interfere with your daily functioning, it is possible that you may have a sleep disorder such as insomnia or sleep apnea, and could benefit from getting guidance and support from your doctor.
In sum, being a new parent is a rewarding and challenging journey that requires a lot of adjustment and adaptation. Sleep loss can make this journey more difficult and stressful, but it does not have to ruin your career or the joy of this new phase in your life. By taking care of your sleep quality and your brain performance, you can enjoy the best of both worlds: being a successful professional and a loving parent, achieving your goals and dreams while also nurturing your precious baby.