Sleep deprivation, unfortunately, is part of every parent’s vocabulary. It’s a tough pill to swallow, but every parent will deal with adjusting their sleep schedule once they take the plunge into the world of parenting. In fact, a poll taken by the National Sleep Foundation of the USA found that 76% of parents suffer from some form of sleeping problem. New parents can especially relate to this statistic considering the sporadic sleeping patterns of newborns.
Each and every mummy out there will have to deal with a dramatic change in the way they catch z’s on a nightly basis. So, one has to wonder: how do they do it? How can mums function on little to no sleep? The obvious answer is that mums aren’t human–they’re superhumans who’ll do just about anything to care for and nurture her child. And, yes, that is true…but there’s also a bit of science that can explain the phenomenon.
First, it’s important that we understand the basics of sleep. In case you didn’t know, there are actually two different types of sleep: rapid eye movement (REM), known as dream sleep, and non-REM. Non-REM consists of four levels or stages. Stage one is a drowsy state in which your body starts to calm down; you’re only semi-aware of everything around you. In stage two, body and eye movements cease and brain waves slow down. This is the stage that we commonly refer to as “falling asleep.” Stages three and four are deep sleep; breathing is regular and you show no response to outside stimuli. These are the most restorative stages of sleep.
In all, it takes about 90 minutes or so to progress through each of these stages of sleep. Then, we reach the glory that is REM sleep. I say it’s glorious, because this is the point of slumber in which dreams occur. Believe it or not, this stage of sleep happens for only 10 minutes; however, it should be noted that given a full night’s rest, the previous four sleep stages will be repeated as will REM. In each instance, the REM sleep increases in length. Generally speaking, the deep and restorative parts of sleeping happen in the first 1/3 of the night.
Now that we understand the different types of sleep and how they operate, we can analyse how exactly mothers are able to function without the recommended levels of sleep required of a person.
Frankly, it comes down to the brain. Margaret Moline, PhD, director of the Sleep-Wake Disorders Center says that “when a person who’s long been bereft of sleep finally gets some shut-eye, the brain will make up both deep and REM sleep.” In short, a mummy’s brain is able to adapt to the situation and alter itself so that she can handle her parenting duties.
Another way in which mums adapt is by relying more on naps. New mothers know the importance of a power nap. Especially considering that they’ll easily be sacrificing hours of proper sleep patterns. A 20-30 minute nap can change your day! The National Sleep Foundation claims that “[a 20-30 minute nap] provides significant benefit for improved alertness and performance without leaving you feeling groggy or interfering with nighttime sleep.” Alertness and performance are to things that mums have in spades! It’s no wonder they value a power nap so much.
Simply put, there’s little to explain how a mum can function on little to no sleep. The best explanation is the ability for a mum’s brain to adapt, and her superhuman willpower to adapt in the first place. Mums are just programmed to be loving, mentally flexible, parenting machines!
While it’s difficult to say that the struggle of sleep deprivation is easy, or that it’ll change anytime soon for mothers of newborns, it’s comforting to know that mum’s are strong and capable of pushing through like a true hero.
This article was based on a piece from Parents.com
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