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MomTalk.com November 19, 2017:   The women's magazine for moms about children, family, health, home, fashion, careers, marriage & more


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Basic Instinct: The Sleep-Deprived New Mom


by Rachel Swardson-Wenham


I was so afraid that I would find out, only after my baby was born, that I had no maternal instinct, that I lacked the chromosomal manual that would allow me to coast through motherhood. I quickly learned that I did have some level of maternal instinct. But within a few weeks of motherhood it seemed like my instinct for sleep had been swapped with my instinct to parent. I would awaken at the slightest sound, would opt to clean instead of nap even though I was exhausted. I not only didn't sleep, eventually it was like I physically couldn't sleep. The less sleep I got the more simple things became complicated and parenting less enjoyable. I can now recognize that I was dangerously sleep deprived.


According to Science Digest, most new mothers are. A recent study showed that many subsist on an average of 5.4 hours of sleep during the first eight weeks of birth. This leads to impaired judgment, memory loss, and an increase risk of illness, and postpartum depression. A Harvard study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology even suggests that postpartum women who suffer from sleep deprivation have "three fold higher risk of substantial weight retention". Well-intentioned advice for new mothers to catch up on sleep by 'napping with the baby' or to 'ease up on housework' is not always helpful. Realistically when there is more than a newborn in the house, or a career is involved, life, to a certain extent, has to go on. One thing that can be very helpful for new mothers is to tune into their basic instincts when it comes to their needs, just as they listen to their maternal instincts when it comes to caring for their child.


During daytime hours, humans have natural survival instincts that keep us alive. Feelings of thirst prompt us to hydrate and hunger inspires us to eat. During the day we are also wired to seek and expect light. On a very primal level our bodies are in tune with daytime exposure to light and nighttime exposure to darkness. In the 1980's Scientists at the National Institute of Health (NIH) discovered that the sleep/wake cycle is regulated the Suprachaismatic Nucleus, or body clock. This part of the brain relies on bright light, like sunshine, and darkness to tell the body to wake up or remain sleeping.


Many postpartum women spend much of their waking hours indoors, where they are exposed to scarce amounts of bright light. They are often up and awake at night to feed or tend to the baby, which exposes them to light during the time their body expects darkness. On a very primal and basic level, the relationship of light/dark as it contributes to our ability to sleep is imperative in our ability to be and feel rested. In new mothers, who are not exposed to enough bright light during the day or darkness at night, this can cause their body clock, basic sleep instincts, to be thrown completely out of whack.


Darkness is critical in the production of melatonin, a powerful antioxidant that is also referred to as the 'sleep' hormone. Melatonin in the blood makes us feel drowsy and signals to the body that it is time to sleep. The eye has nerves that run from special sensors in the retina that are connected to the pineal gland. When the eye senses darkness, the pineal gland produces melatonin. If a new mom is in semi-darkness, or dim light during the day small amounts of melatonin will be leaked out. This can cause her to feel drowsy, as well as inhibit the production of large quantities of melatonin in the evening, when it is supposed to. Exposure to bright light during the day decreases melatonin production so she won't feel drowsy during the day and has also been shown to increase serotonin levels. This is critically important to new mothers as serotonin is associated with mood and energy levels, and can play a role in preventing depression.


While it may not be possible for a new mom to nap or have a solid nights rest, just getting outside and seeking exposure from sunlight can decrease feelings of sleepiness and better her mood. Using a small nightlight or low blue light, to limit the amount of light she is exposed to in the evening can prevent melatonin disruption allowing her to feel more rested, even on less sleep.


I once heard that a mother lifted up a car because her child was stuck beneath it. Our maternal instincts are fierce. We can and will do anything to protect and provide for our children. But we can do nothing well if we are sleep deprived. Reconnecting with our basic instincts for sleep can make a world of difference in our survival as parents.


Rachel Swardson Wenham is a mother, writer and the founder of "Go Home Gorgeous".

"Go Home Gorgeous" provides luxury postpartum care for new parents. From in-hospital spa treatments, shower gifts and a comprehensive night nanny service designed to mother the mother as well as care for the new baby.
"Don't Just Leave the Hospital...
Go Home Gorgeous!"
GoHomeGorgeous.com



Categories: Babies, Children, Pregnancy,

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