Sleep deprivation is no joke!

A_Very_Sleepy_Mom_Carrying_Her_Screaming_Baby_and_a_Bottle_Royalty_Free_Clipart_Picture_091013-003989-741053About a year ago I read an interesting article in a magazine about a rat study that showed that rats that were deprived of sleep died sooner than rats that were deprived of food.  Wow, I knew sleep was important, but I had no idea that going without it could actually kill animals faster than going without food would.

Sleep deprivation makes a huge impact on all sorts of brain functions.   Recent studies have shown marked negative impacts on mood, cognitive performance and motor function in people who are sleep deprived.  One study I read stated that “profound neurocognitive deficits accumulate over time” in people who are deprived of sleep.

If you’re a parent, I know you’ve experienced sleep deprivation on some level.  It’s starting for me during the last month of pregnancy.  And I know my sleep will be disrupted for many months to come as I breastfeed through the night.

Even when your kids are older, they wake up in the middle of the night vomiting or they wet the bed or they have a nightmare they can’t shake.  And although it decreases as your kids get older, you’re likely to have some sleep deprivation when your kids are teenagers too, as you wait up for them or worry about them when they’re out at night.

So the question I propose is, what can we do about it?  How can we mitigate some of the effects of sleep deprivation so that we can feel good, keep our wits about us, drive safely, and cook dinner without cutting or burning ourselves?

I have a few ideas.  First, take naps.  I don’t know about you, but in order to feel good about taking naps I had to work through a lot of beliefs that napping is “lazy” or “unproductive”.  Now that I’ve seen the sleep deprivation research, I know that taking naps is neither lazy nor unproductive.  And if it keeps me in a good mood and helps me have better motor coordination, I’d say it’s a pretty good solution to missing sleep at night.

So now you’re thinking, “That’s great, but who can find the time?!”  Well, I’d say, it’s just like anything else in life, if it’s a high priority, you’ll make the time.  And if you’re grumpy with your kids and you’re noticing that you can’t think straight, I think napping could become a high priority pretty quickly.  You can nap when your kids nap, or take turns with your partner.  Or, you can all nap together as a family.  If you have kids who don’t want to nap, set them up with some quiet activities that they can do nearby and get some rest, or call a friend or sitter to come over and hang out with your kids while you nap.

Here’s another thought to help you get the sleep you need.  Cut out the caffeine! Caffeine feels like the perfect solution when you’re so tired you can’t even imagine running errands or doing paper work, but when we use caffeine we trick our bodies into thinking they have more energy than they actually have.  We also throw our cortisol levels out of whack which can affect blood sugar, and even brain function.  Cortisol is considered the “stress hormone”, so let’s leave that one out of the equation whenever possible.

Lastly, I recommend you discover out the amount of sleep that works best for you and structure your life around getting it.  Often, we don’t know how much sleep we really need because we’re too busy doing what needs to be done to figure it out.  Sure, we all know that most people do well on 8 hours of sleep per night, but do you know how YOUR body best functions?

There was a short time when I worked only in the afternoons and I was able to get as much sleep as my body wanted.  I realized over the course of a few months  that 9 hours of sleep per night is the amount that’s right for me.  When I get 9 hours of sleep, I wake up easily, I feel refreshed and ready to take on the day.   And when I get less than 9 hours, I feel tired and grumpy, especially when I get less than 9 hours for several days in a row.

Now I structure my life around getting the sleep I need, and as a result I enjoy my life so much more!  So, consider that the “8 hours of sleep per night” is just a guideline and see what you can do to restructure your life so that you get as much sleep as you need.  I guarantee you’ll be a better parent as a result.

And, if you’re curious about the amount of sleep your child needs, I highly recommend “The No-cry Sleep Solution” books by Elizabeth Pantley.  You might be surprised how many of the things you think of as behavior problems or lack of coordination could actually be caused by sleep deprivation

Please share about your own experiences in the comment box below.  I always love to hear from you!

Have a restful week, Shelly


Hi, good information. I'm writing a College psychology paper on stages of sleep and I had never heard of the rats dieing earlier because of sleep deprivation. Thanks for the information. I hope I will be able to include that in my paper somewhere.