Did you know that newborn babies need 21 hours sleep a day and children
from six months to two years of age need at least 12 hours sleep? Sleep
deprivation can cause problems for everyone in the family: fractious babies
during the day, exhausted mothers and an anxious, stressful atmosphere.
Sleep starvation is a huge problem for today’s parents. A survey of
2,000 new parents and 2,000 people aged 55 to 65 was carried out by Mother
and Baby and Yours magazines.
It found today's parents try all kinds of things to get their babies
to sleep through the night, including taking the infant into their own
bed. In contrast, parents in the 1960s and 1970s tended to say their babies
had slept peacefully in their own cots.
New mothers of young babies reported that, on average, they only have
three and a half hours sleep a night, compared to five hours which the
older generation said they used to get.
Two thirds of those surveyed said this "sleep starvation" left them
feeling bad-tempered, with the same proportion reporting irritation with
their partner. Other problems included being tearful, forgetful, depressed,
more accident prone or clumsy, unable to function properly, and irritable
with their baby.
So what’s different?
In the 60s and 70s roles tended to be more clear-cut. Fathers went
to work and earned the money, mothers stayed at home and brought up the
Mothers today often feel they are expected to bring up the family and
earn money doing something interesting. This situation can create anxiety:
family members can often be living miles away from each other, so there’s
very little support for the parents.
30-40 years ago you probably had relatives living nearby who could help
with babysitting and be there to offer advice – generally to calm the situation.
I saw a lot of young families while running a homeopathic clinic in Bristol.
They rarely had family support nearby. Here in Cornwall it is noticeable
that there is more family support, possibly because this is primarily a
rural area, strong in traditions.
Anxiety breeds anxiety. If you’re feeling tense and anxious the chances
are that your baby will pick up on this and react in a similar way, so
you get caught in a vicious circle. When other family members come home
they pick up on it too.
Obviously when you’re getting up several times a night to breast-feed
you’re going to feel very tired, but there is a great difference between
being tired and tense and tired and relaxed.
The chances are that if you have periods of time when you can relax
then your quality of sleep will improve. Your baby will pick up on this
and learn to relax as well and your baby’s quality of sleep will improve
because of this.
Sometimes a baby can be irritable simply because he or she hasn’t had
enough sleep. When a young baby isn’t sleeping at all well it can affect
the whole family. Obviously with new born babies disruption is expected
but when the problem persists, sometimes for years, the results can be
Benefits of good sleep
While your baby is sleeping his or her cells are being regenerated,
so the quality and amount of sleep is very important in the development
of your infant.
Often over-stimulated babies calm themselves by looking away, yawning
or sucking on their lips – this self-relaxation increases their parasympathetic
activity and reduces sympathetic nervous activity.
In plain English the parasympathetic nervous system chills us out and
the sympathetic nervous system stresses us out.
The two systems work side by side to create a flow in the system. However,
for example, through lack of sleep, this balance gets thrown out and your
baby is more stressed out then muscles tense up and blood vessels are constricted.
In this culture, with all its inherent pressures, people's Sympathetic
systems very often stay on guard, unable to give in to the softer, more
gentle flows of the Parasympathetic system.
If we’re used to being tense we might not even think it a problem if
our baby is also tense – and, as with adults, a chronic state of tension
leads to stress related symptoms and illness.
What can help?
Learning to relax for a start. There are many forms of relaxation. Yoga,
meditation, tai chi, pilates – these are just a few choices. There may
be classes nearby or you could watch a video at home to learn the right
During pregnancy, especially the final trimester, there can be anxiety
about the impending birth. Regular listening to relaxing music to help
create a relaxed state during pregnancy can actually help during the birth
itself. By the time your baby is born, your body will have learned to relax
even more deeply to the music, as a conditioned response.
Mothers-to-be are encouraged to play music to their unborn babies because
research has shown babies can respond and be soothed by soft music both
before and after birth. According to Dr. Thomas Verny, author or 'The Secret
Life of the Unborn Child' your baby can kick in time to music from 25 weeks.
The right musical stimulation can enhance development, encourage sucking
and promote weight gain in newborn babies as well as help them to be relaxed
A relaxing day
Imagine the difference you could make to your life by getting into the
habit of relaxing through activities like yoga, meditation or listening
to calming music every day – especially if you set a regular time. It’s
If you and your baby are more relaxed then sleep is going to be a lot
easier. If your baby is spending his or her time in a relaxed and calm
state during the later part of the day or around the time you would like
him or her to start dropping off, it can only help.
We’re the same – if we’ve just been dancing away at a party we’re hardly
likely to be in the mood to sleep straight afterwards – we’d be buzzing
- so why should babies be any different?
About The Author
Daphne Nancholas is a registered homeopath and for the past 10 years
has specialised in the female cycle, including pregnancy, birth and babies.
Her book, Taking Off, a handbook for newly qualified homeopathic practitioners
was published in 2003. Her website is: www.daphnehomeopath.co.uk.
Daphne and her partner Graham Smith have written a relaxation CD especially
for mother and baby - the website is: www.calmtime.co.uk.
Calmtime helps during pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding and anytime your
baby is restless, irritable and/or has sleep problems. Helps all the family