I haven’t written anything yet about the connection between postpartum depression and sleep deprivation, but it’s something I’d like to delve into more in the months to come. This blog post, “Sleep, Motherhood And Postpartum Depression,” by Kim West, aka “The Sleep Lady” on the Huffington Post, is my first foray into this topic.
West’s post includes a number of lists, the last of which is titled “Postpartum Depression Action Plan,” and includes as its final point: “Sleep!” She writes:
“Getting at least five or six hours of uninterrupted nighttime sleep is essential to treat and potentially lower your risk of postpartum depression. This last tip — sleep — seems daunting when you have a newborn but even breastfeeding moms can do this” and then she proceeds to list four tips on how to make it happen. Please give this advice a read if you are struggling — believe me, so many women have been there, and you deserve all the help you can get.
by Sarah J. Heim
My older son snores. Recently we returned to giving him a nasal spray in the evenings before bedtime. If I understand his doctor correctly, this helps to reduce the size of his adenoids, allowing him to breath in a less audible way while he sleeps.
This is strange for us, as parents, because we are used to hearing him sleep. And now he is no longer making any noise. It’s quiet on the monitor while we watch our television in the basement. It’s silent when I stand in his doorway before I turn in for the night.
This lack of sound is, of course, a good thing. It is possible that his sleep was being disrupted by his snoring, though he showed none of the tell-tale signs of not sleeping well at night – grogginess, difficulty focusing, short fuse – during the day.
But the reality was that it didn’t sound good. So we fixed it.
You’d think I’d be thrilled. My son no longer sounds like a 65-year-old man when he sleeps. He no longer sounds like a rattling box of rocks every time he slowly inhales and then exhales. He is silent.
It reminds me of when he was a baby and he’d sleep longer than the three hour stretch he’d perfected the week before, and I’d wake up in a sweat, peer over the edge of the pack n’ play next to our bed and put my ear down close to his sweet lips to listen for a sound. I’d watch for a small movement, a twitch. I’d gently poke his swaddled hip. Sometimes I would wake him up.
And now it’s happening again. I stood at his door last night, straining to hear any noise at all and erase the irrational thoughts racing through my head. I went to his bedside and pulled back the tent covering his lofted bed. I reached my head over as close as I could to his face and listened. I pried back the covers and put a hand on his five-year-old chest, feeling for the natural rise and fall of his breath.
Sleep is so lovely, so peaceful, and yet, when it is so eerily quiet, it can also be so scary.
This week’s “On the Record” showed up in my Facebook news feed three times last week, and on Friday my husband sent the article to me in an email, thus marking the first time he’s ever shared a parenting article with me in our history of being parents. So it must be super important. If you haven’t yet read it, here’s the relevant clip, which is discussing how French parents “educate” their children rather than “discipline” them:
“One of the keys to this education is the simple act of learning how to wait. It is why the French babies I meet mostly sleep through the night from two or three months old. Their parents don’t pick them up the second they start crying, allowing the babies to learn how to fall back asleep.”
The Wall Street Journal, where this article, “Why French Parents are Superior,” was published has certainly struck a nerve with American parents–not unlike the stir it caused around this time last year when it published Amy Chua’s “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior.” However, Chua gave no input, in the article or in her book, “The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” on how her girls slept as babies. Very well, presumably. Did they have a choice?
According to her mother, Christa Purcell Crafts wasn’t a super duper sleeper when she was a baby. But it sounds like her sleep-trouble-gene skipped a generation in her immediate family. Sure she and her husband have hit a few bumps while helping their five children under the age of nine learn how to sleep well, but for the most part, Christa’s story is one that will make you wonder why you can’t get your grade schooler to take a restorative doze every once in a while. Here’s a sneak peak into what life and sleep are like in the household of this seasoned Mom:
Do parents often ask you for sleep advice because you have five children?
Do you feel like a “sleep expert” because of your large family? What is something you always tell parents if they are struggling with getting their kids to nap or with nighttime sleep?
I think I would say I am a “Sleep Veteran” instead of an expert, but I have tried out a lot of tactics with my kids. All children are not the same and there is not a tried and true strategy that works for everyone. If you are trying one tactic and you are completely unsuccessful, then switching to the opposite tactic halfway through the battle can often change the outcome.
My personal opinion is that kids need sleep and are overall happier during the day, in my experience, if they are sleeping through the night. Once my babies conquered the nighttime sleep, they took longer and better naps during the day. This was very surprising to me as I expected an eleven-hour night of sleep to decrease naptime. I focus on helping them sleep through the night from the seven to nine month age. This is also usually when I am VERY exhausted and I need to sleep through the night in order to be a nice mom the next day.
Even with my older children in school, I still have them nap once to twice a week. Often I’ll do this on Thursdays. We get back from school at 3:15 p.m. and I’ll put everyone down for a nap. Sometimes my seven-year-old son will protest a little bit, but more often than not he falls asleep. And if he doesn’t, at least he lays down for a while. I often have to wake the kids up at 5 p.m. Usually I do the same thing on one of the weekend days, but earlier in the day, say from 1-3 p.m. and my husband rests at the same time. Generally they still go to bed around 8 p.m. – the older two might read in bed for a little while before actually falling asleep.
Each child has a different way of showing me they are going down the road to exhaustion (whining, being stubborn, being mean and crying over silly things) usually means a nap is in store for them. My kids like to see me imitate their “I am tired” characteristic!
What is it like when you travel with your family in terms of sleep? Do you need to bring a lot of sleep-related paraphernalia? How well do your children sleep away from home?
Traveling means less sleep for all seven of us. It also means we are all sleeping in at least one or two rooms together. It is harder to get them to settle down and sleep, but it’s also a treat since they love having the slumber party experience. If we have one in the pack-n-play, it usually means they will wake up in the night since it’s an unfamiliar environment and I will wake up quickly to help them go back to sleep before everyone else wakes up. This usually means I am the most tired during a trip since I sleep very lightly in fear that a crying child will wake up all seven. Each child has a blanket they bring with them as their “comfort item.” Overall, the kids sleep pretty well away from home, but they do seem to rise earlier….
Do any of your children share a bedroom? How did you decide to partner the kids up, and what advantages (and challenges) does this present?
I am a big advocate of sharing a bedroom! My oldest two (girl and boy) and middle two (2 girls) share rooms. In about two years, my plan is to have the three girls in one room and the two boys in one room, even though I have other bedrooms I can utilize. I have often considered having them all sleep in one room and have clothes and toys in the other rooms. Sleeping in the same room decreases the fear in the middle of the night. If one is scared, he or she usually crawls in bed with a sibling or the sibling calms them down. My fourth used to cry out in the middle of the night and I would get up to comfort her. Many times while walking down the hall I would hear the older one saying, “It’s okay, I am here and it’s only a dream.” It is very sweet, and then I get to go back to sleep too! Also, it is cute to hear them chat while they are falling asleep. I hope that they will have good memories of trying to talk at night while hearing their parents yell from downstairs, “Go to Bed!!!”
Do you ever take a nap yourself? How have your sleep patterns changed (or not) since becoming a parent?
Unfortunately, I am not a napper. I desperately wish I was! When I am very tired, I am more likely to go to bed early and try to catch up on sleep. During the newborn/infant stage, I will save up my exhaustion and nap about every 3-4 weeks for a good few hours. I don’t think my patterns have changed much since becoming a parent. I think my natural decreased need for sleep has been helpful in this process of parenting. My husband needs much more sleep than I do, so often I enjoy it when all six family members take a nap on the weekend together and I have a few hours of quiet to myself during the day.
During an interview with Tara Brown of 60 Minutes, Brad Pitt, the famous father of six, sums up succinctly his thoughts on sleep: “later” (as in “I’ll get it later”).
To hear Pitt’s brief commentary on the status of sleep in his chaotic household, click here, and skip ahead to minute 5:25 or scroll down in the transcript to “TARA BROWN: And trying to get some sleep and…?”