Sleep Deprivation and Depression

by | May 6, 2021 | Motherhood, Sleep Deprivation

Depression and sleep deprivation often come as a package.

As a new mum, estrogen and progesterone levels can drop massively right giving birth, which can affect the brain functions that help you to sleep.

And, it isn’t just the lack of sleep which can cause issues, it is also the quality of sleep you’re getting when you do drift off.

If the quality of your sleep doesn’t match up with your body’s natural circadian rhythm, you’ll be getting less restorative sleep which can hugely affect your mood levels.

Lack of sleep and depression can be a vicious circle…feeling of depression can make it difficult to fall asleep, and poor sleep can lead to depression. The tricky part is breaking the cycle.

So, how does this affect our babies’ sleep? Well, newborn sleep isn’t governed by strong circadian rhythms. Although babies do have this internal clock, it doesn’t arrive pre-programmed! 

In the womb, babies are tuned in to their mum’s physiological clues about day and night – when a mum is active, baby’s heart and respiratory rates speed up. When mother is asleep, they slow down. 

So, when babies arrive, their internal clocks aren’t synchronized with the 24-hour cycle of day and night so it takes time to them to get in sync. 

How do I know if I have depression or if I’m just exhausted?

As a new parent, you expect to be exhausted, but ignoring signs of depression can make it more difficult to overcome in the future. 

If you do feel any of these potential symptoms, it is important to speak to a medical professional:

  • Lack of energy 
  • Difficulty sleeping or oversleeping
  • Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness
  • Persistent sadness
  • Constant bad or irritable moods
  • Feeling guilty
  • Not enjoying activities you used to enjoy 
  • Lack of concentration
  • Reduced appetite
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

Depression is more common in women. In fact, studies have shown that women with postnatal depression sleep approximately 80 minutes a night less than those without. In addition to this, babies of depressed mums often experience sleep issues themselves due to their mum’s lack of sleep. (Read my story “I cried so much today”)

If you think you may be experiencing depression, it is important to speak to your GP. They may even refer you to a sleep disorder specialist to find out if an underlying sleep disorder could be causing, or adding to your depression. 

What is the relationship between sleep deprivation and depression?

Sleep deprivation and depression have a complex relationship, which can work in two directions:

  1. Depression can lead to sleep problems
  2. Sleep disorders can lead to depression

Sometimes, it can be difficult to know which came first. But, the important thing to remember is that you don’t have to live with it.

Speaking to a medical professional is the first step and there are lots of different ways depression can be treated.

Why do we need sleep?

Sleep allows our bodies and minds to rest and recharge, giving us the energy we need to get through the next day. Good sleep can help to keep you healthy, but poor sleep means the brain struggles to function properly and can cause other symptoms like those mentioned above. 

How much sleep do we need?

As a general guide:

Adults: 7 – 9 hours

Teenagers: 8 – 10 hours

School age: 9 – 11

Pre-school: 10 – 13 hours

Toddlers: 11 – 14 hours

Babies: 14 – 17 hours

How can you break the sleep deprivation – depression cycle?

Speaking to a medical professional about your feelings is the first step if you’re experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned above. But, there are also lots of things you can do to increase your mood and your chances of a better night’s sleep:

  1. Sleep train your baby – using gentle, age appropriate sleep training methods to get them to sleep through the night so you’re not disturbed
  2. Consistency – stick to a consistent sleep schedule
  3. Limit screen time – reduce the amount of time you spend on electronics in the evening
  4. Exercise – just walking 10 minutes a day can improve your mood and your help (just make sure you’re not exercising up to 2 hours before bedtime)
  5. Avoid caffeine, alcohol, or nicotine in the evening
  6. Support – talk to others about how you’re feeling. If you don’t feel comfortable talking to friends about it, join my private, supportive group for parents here – A Gentle Night’s Sleep Baby and Toddler Support Group
  7. Create a sense of calm at bedtime – meditate, read a book, or listen to some gentle music to increase feelings of relaxation.
  8. Clear your head – write down everything you’re thinking about before you go to bed so you don’t spend hours thinking about it when trying to go to sleep.
  9. Create the optimal bedroom environment – only use your bed for sleeping and for sex, keep the room cool, wear earplugs and a sleep mask if noise and light bothers you and use blackout blinds. A white noise machine may also help.
  10. Share the load – if you have a partner, take shifts with the baby as equally as possible.

For more help, download a copy of my FREE 7 Step Guide to Rescuing Your Sleep. If you feel like you’d like extra support, get in touch with me to arrange a free consultation.

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