Have you ever wondered what the effects of sleep deprivation can have on your family? Here we share some scary facts, and provide some tips on how you can make sure your children are safe …
It is almost inevitable that at some point or another in the first years of your baby’s life, parenting and sleep deprivation will go hand in hand. This wonderful journey that is parenthood is full of ups and downs when it comes to sleep. Whether you have a great sleeper or not most of us will experience some form of sleep deprivation possibly from the very start of parenthood. When we welcome our precious new little baby into the world we don’t really know how much they will sleep hence how much we will sleep.
It is something we really can’t prepare for until it happens. And it can be one of the toughest adjustments to make within the early months and beyond. Whether your child is a newborn that requires regular night feeds, your child is sick, or your child is just generally not a great sleeper then you would have experienced tiredness and trying to function whilst sleep deprived.
It’s not fun nor easy, especially if you have had to back it up by going to work the next day or take care of other children. The demands of life without sleep can wear you out, make you cranky and can even be a concern when it comes to thinking without a foggy head.
One study found that after 17-19 hours without sleep, performance on some tests was equivalent or worse than if your BAC was 0.05%. After longer periods without sleep, performance reached levels equivalent to the maximum alcohol dose given to subjects (BAC of 0.1%). The findings of this study reinforce the evidence that fatigue from sleep deprivation is an important factor likely to compromise the performance of speed and accuracy the kind needed for safety on the road and in other industrial settings 1.
When I worked in the mining and construction industry there were very strict guidelines around fatigue management because workers were putting themselves and their workmates at risk if they were working whilst fatigued. It was my responsibility to make sure the fatigue management policy was tightly adhered to otherwise we were in breach of the contract.
However, when it comes to parenting we don’t have a choice, tiny humans depend on us and we have to get up and keep going.
Of course, you are given great advice like sleep when the baby sleeps, or rest when you can but sometimes it isn’t that easy especially if you have older children to care for or work commitments to fulfill.
When I am exhausted from being awake for hours through the night with sick or teething children I have definitely found that I am not myself the following day, I am easily distracted, and I am not as engaged as I would like to be with my children.
I know what it’s like I have just spent months living tired from serious sleep deprivation when my newborn turned 4 months and the 4-month sleep regression kicked in. Coffee was my saviour but there have been moments where I am running on autopilot, my alertness is somewhat slower, and I find it extremely hard to concentrate.
One evening I was preparing dinner and I took a tray out of a hot oven, sat it on the bench went to do something else and turned back to the tray and grabbed it with my bare hand. I burnt two fingers. I was so angry at myself for doing something so stupid, but I was tired and probably needed to slow down and regain my focus.
There have been many days where I made the decision to stay at home because I didn’t trust myself behind the wheel of a vehicle.
When I look back I know I wasn’t at my best. Those days I chose to put all my energy into supervision rather than multitasking with other household chores we played low-risk safe games and activities mainly in the loungeroom sitting on the floor, I stayed with my children and my priority was just getting through that day safely.
When I came to learn that injury is the leading cause of death of children aged 1 to 16 years in Australia and hospitalisation rates have not decreased in 10 years (2001 – 2012) at a cost of $2.1 billion2 I asked myself am I unintentionally missing some dangers in our everyday environments because I am tired?
Sleep deprivation is considered to be a frequent cause of behavioral disorders, mood, alertness, and cognitive performance.3 If being awake for 17 hours is the equivalent to a 0.5 blood alcohol limit, then I have definitely been fatigued.
I made the decision then to make our home safe when I wasn’t so sleep deprived to avoid feeling overwhelmed when I hadn’t had any sleep through the night. I also knew I had to be kind to myself and just do what I could manage.
By safeguarding your home on a regular basis, you are greatly reducing the likelihood of your child sustaining an injury. When we take the time to manage the risks before our baby comes along whether its baby number one or baby number four we can rest a little easier knowing we have taken the time to make our immediate environments as safe as possible i.e. the home, the car or the children’s sleep environment.
Of course, there is no substitute for effective supervision but there are some things we can do to make life a little easier to get through and keep our children safe when sleep is lacking.
- Ask for help
- Always be attentive to hazards in your home as a priority and manage them as soon as possible
- Use the “Home Safety Checklists” from Safe Start Australia and schedule in time to do those checks
- Slow down and don’t get overwhelmed look at the immediate areas in your home your children spend time then plan to check the rest of your home when you can
- Do regular visual checks of the areas your children play and ask yourself is this area still safe
- Rest when you can I know this is a contentious one but even if it is watching a movie with the kid’s rest is important to recharge
My amazing friends Rebecca, Micka and Nicole have 8 children between them and they offer some great advice from being there once themselves. The following tips will help make life a little easier and prepare you for those times you have had limited sleep. Remember self-care is necessary as it can help you take care of your babies.
- Self-care is an absolute must, no one else is going to take care of you so you must do something kind for yourself even if it’s something small like buying that expensive nice block of chocolate
- Be ok with saying no to extra play dates or no to work
- Cut yourself some slack and lower your expectations, the washing will wait, the cleaning will wait and take away and TV are ok
- Turn off the phone, pop a sign on the door saying do not disturb. Mum and bub are sleeping and sleep when the bub is sleeping (if you can)
- Meal prep and make sure you have snacks and dinner prepared. There are so many great places that pre-make dinners and deliver for a reasonable price
- Call your bestie and have a cry and ask for help. I can guarantee you aren’t alone and knowing this makes things a little easier
Parenting is one big rollercoaster ride of ups and downs. My life since 2015 has been a combination of wonderful challenges that I haven’t previously experienced. Injury prevention doesn’t have to be hard it’s planning ahead and taking whatever time you can to make things safe for your children.
Children are fearless and explore by nature, let’s make sure we are ready.
Written by Nicolle Sharkey Founder of Safe Start Australia.
From the Heart
Where to now?
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For any further injury prevention information for your infants and young children visit our website at www.safestartausteralia.com.au
- A M Williamson, Anne-Marie Feyer. Moderate sleep deprivation produces impairments in cognitive and motor performance equivalent to legally prescribed levels of alcohol intoxication. School of Psychology, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia. Occup Environ Med 2000;57:649–655
- Mitchell R, Curtis K, Foster K. A 10-year review of the characteristics and health outcomes of injury-related hospitalisations of children in Australia. Day of Difference Foundation. University of Sydney. 5th May 2017.
- Paulo Breno Noronha Liberalesso1,2, Karlin Fabianne Klagenberg D’Andrea1, Mara L Cordeiro3,4,5*, Bianca Simone Zeigelboim1, Jair Mendes Marques1 and Ari Leon Jurkiewicz1. Effects of sleep deprivation on central auditory processing. Liberalesso et al. BMC Neuroscience 2012, 13:83 http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2202/13/83