Everything was going so well with my newborn son. He had quickly figured out his days and nights. He could latch on with the best of them. And, most importantly, he was starting to give my husband and me long stretches of time to sleep.
Then he turned 6 months old and started an 18-month reign of terror where he'd wake up no fewer than six times a night with a wail that could wake the dead. Some time around month two, I moved from denial ("It's just a phase") to full-blown crankiness ("He's awake? Again??"). My Google search history during that time consisted of phrases like "sleep training techniques that actually work" and "what's the least amount of sleep a human needs?" I cornered every well-rested-looking parent I could find and all but forced them to tell me how they were getting their baby to sleep through the night.
Yeah, it was a dark time.
So when a new study published in Sleep Medicine found that interrupted sleep can have the same physical toll on you as no sleep at all, I was hardly surprised. Researchers at Tel Aviv University's School of Psychological Sciences found a connection between broken sleep and "compromised cognitive abilities, shortened attention spans, and negative moods," according to Science Daily -- and that was after volunteers endured just one night of interrupted sleep. If that weren't bleak enough, the scientists also discovered that a night of fitful rest is basically the same as getting four (four!) consecutive hours of sleep. "These night wakings could be relatively short, only five to 10 minutes," points out lead researcher Professor Avi Sadeh, "but they disrupt the natural sleep rhythm."
"Our study shows the impact of only one disrupted night," he continued, "but we know that these effects accumulate and therefore the functional price new parents -- who awaken three to 10 times a night for months on end -- pay for common infant sleep disturbance is enormous. Besides the physical effects of interrupted sleep, parents often develop feelings of anger toward their infants and then feel guilty about these negative feelings."
And those bad feelings, to be honest, were much harder on me than the crush of nausea and exhaustion that greeted me every morning. Here was this innocent, beautiful child who I loved more than anything, yet his constant wakings were causing my husband and me more angst and stress than anything ever had. Dr. Sadeh, who regularly counsels new parents at TAU's sleep clinic, hopes studies like this one bring attention to the issues exhausted moms and dads face. As a mom who survived a wicked, relentless stretch of sleep deprivation, I hope so, too.
Tell us: How did you deal with sleep deprivation?
Baby Sleep: The Importance of Self-Soothing
Image of baby and sleep-deprived mom courtesy of Shutterstock