The New York Times recently published an article on the impact of sleep on your mental acuity and mental health. It’s called, “Yes, Your Sleep Schedule is Making you Sick“. The article is fascinating for a number of reasons. It discusses ways to attack jet-lag depending on whether you’re starting from the east or west and also explains circadian rhythms. But it also discusses real impacts of lack of sleep on one’s mental health.
I think sometimes that we as humans have a tendency to push through and fail to appreciate the incredible value of sleep. In fact at times, lack of sleep can almost feel like a badge of honor. Sure we acknowledge that we feel tired, but it sort of seems like the disadvantages of getting enough sleep end there. Or at least the disadvantages aren’t worth the extra productivity that we get when we sacrifice work or whatever for sleep.
The article is great. Take a look at it. What it really does, is bring it full circle to postpartum depression for me. The postpartum period involves a lot of sleepless periods or interrupted sleep. I think we fail to recognize how important that is. The article goes on to point to cases where lack of sleep can bring out some pretty severe mental health symptoms.
It is so critical for new moms and dads to get sleep. Honestly one of the biggest things that I was worried about when I got pregnant was that sleepless period in the first couple of months. Seems like a trivial fear, doesn’t it?
I’m almost embarrassed that I was so concerned about it. Why?
The reality was quite different from what I had imagined, but it was still insanely hard. Hard to the point that it remains a huge factor in our considerations on expanding our family. My baby was a good sleeper who slept for three to five hours, right off the bat. Though he had colic, it was from 6PM to 10PM and colic was cured largely by nursing him for four hours straight. There was a lot of down time, where I could read or watch TV while he nursed and he would have big chunks of naps in the beginning which were great opportunities for me to catch up on sleep. Still, I became paranoid about sleep. I would get anxious if I wasn’t in bed by 7 or 8 because with a new baby you just don’t know how late they’ll sleep. I needed to ensure that I got a core 6 or 7 hours of sleep even if the baby woke early at say, 4AM. Because of my sleep anxiety, I refused to set an alarm for the first 10 months of my son’s life. When my son was four months old, my husband and I decided that he would take any and all night shifts, since my anxiety over getting enough sleep was so bad.
You do sleep as a new parent, but it’s different. There are many more interruptions which shouldn’t be trivialized because I still don’t think interrupted sleep is as good as uninterrupted sleep. Given that I had an easy baby for the first couple of months, I can’t imagine how much harder it would have been to have had a baby that nursed every hour or so in those first couple of months. I don’t know what the impact on my mental health would have been.
I completely believe that lack of sleep can mess with your mental health. Hormones are a devil in their own right, but sleep is so critical. Take a read on this article and work with your partner to increase your sleep, if you’re struggling. It’s more important than we might think.