Just before the baby came along I read two brilliant items on sleep and parents that I wanted to share here.
The first is an excerpt of the fascinating book Sleep: Multi-professional Perspectives. The title may be sleep-inducing (haha) but the contents covers everything you could ever want to know about sleep. Including this great quote from Olympic rower Annabel Vernon:
“…I could probably think of a hundred different ways of being tired….There’s walking-up-stairs tired, falling-asleep-everywhere tired, generally-a-bit-grumpy tired, counting-strokes-on-an-ergo tired, losing-your-sense-of-humour tired….”
As a parent you might add: oh-my-I’m-responsible-for-this-tiny-baby tired, how-do-I-get-him-to-stop-crying tired, I-haven’t-slept-for-more-than-two-hours-in-a-row tired,…
The list goes on but most of the research I’ve looked at has simply asked whether parents were tired or not tired. Now, maybe “sleeping more” is an awesome solution for “physical tiredness” but not for “I’m terrified of being a mother” tiredness (plus “sleeping more” is at the same time the most obvious and useless advice for anyone with a newborn, IMHO). I'm thinking that if we looked at parent tiredness’ differently, dissecting into all the different components and causes, we could perhaps find more imaginative solutions to help sleep-deprived parents feel better.
Which leads me to...
One of the many papers I recently read contained this gem:
“… subjective sleep quality predicts subjective daytime sleepiness”.
So, how tired you think you are depends on how well you think you slept (and not necessarily on how well you actually slept).
This was demonstrated to me very clearly the day the clocks went forward here in Brazil. My baby woke me up as usual and I took him into the living room where the clock on the TV receiver said 8 a.m. I couldn’t believe it! My 2-month old was sleeping until 8 o’clock in the morning! We’d had four hours uninterrupted sleep since his last nursing session! Hurrah! I felt fresh, fit and full of energy…. until I decided to wake up my husband and his bed-side clock told me it was actually 7 a.m. A wave of tiredness and exhaustion washed over me. Quite silly really how easy it was to fool my brain. Perhaps as a mother’s day gift, fathers should change all the clocks in the house?
But seriously, to me this shows that feeling good about sleep while taking care of an infant involves more than just increasing hours of sleep. As the advice to “nap when your baby naps” seems unhelpful at best, we obviously need more research on how to make mothers (and fathers) at least feel more awake and energetic.