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Mothers of Newborns Already Know This

Aug. 8, 2014|243 views
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A night of interrupted sleep may be just as hard on your body as no sleep at all. That's the conclusion of a new study published in Sleep Medicine. And it probably comes as no surprise to anyone who's ever taken responsibility for caring for a newborn baby. Getting up virtually every hour on the hour to do feedings has a profound impact on next-day attention and mood. And as any new mother knows, we're not talking about being in a good mood. Far from it.

In the study, volunteers were assigned to one of two groups. One group of young women was wakened repeatedly (four times throughout the night.) They had to get up and perform a purposeful response, requiring at least 15 minutes of wakefulness in the middle of the eight-hour sleep cycle. This was designed to simulate the kind of sleep interruption experienced by mothers of newborns. The other group consisted of volunteers who were simply sleep deprived; they slept just four hours in a 24-hour cycle.

Guess what? Being wakened repeatedly throughout the night was just as detrimental as being outright sleep deprived. Both groups experienced significant reductions in mood, ability to concentrate and general "vigor" the following day. They experienced "increased depression, fatigue and confusion levels...compared to the normal sleep night."

While this finding may come as no big surprise to anyone who has been through this parental rite of passage, it does shine additional light on an often-overlooked problem. "Our study shows the impact of only one disrupted night," said Prof. Avi Sadeh, from Tel Aviv University's School of Psychological Sciences, in a press release. "But we know that these effects accumulate and therefore the functional price new parents—who awaken three to ten 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."

Even relatively short interruptions of ten minutes or less have a cumulative effect by disturbing natural sleep rhythms. The effects are so pronounced, it may be advisable for groggy parents to avoid making any life-changing decisions at this time, as they will be thinking less clearly, and may have a compromised ability to focus and concentrate.

Michal Kahn, Shimrit Fridenson, Reut Lerer, Yair Bar-Haim, Avi Sadeh. Effects of one night of induced night-wakings versus sleep restriction on sustained attention and mood: a pilot study. Sleep Medicine, 2014; 15 (7): 825 DOI: 10.1016/j.sleep.2014.03.016

Tags:  pregnancy, stress
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