Why 8 Hours Sleep May Feel Like 4 to a New Parent
So, you went to bed at 22:00 p.m. last night and woke up at 6 a.m. That is 8 hours—the definition of a good night’s sleep. Then what gives? Why are you still feeling so exhausted? Disrupted sleep is to blame.
If you have a baby, it is not uncommon for their squawks and feeds to awaken you every couple of hours. The trouble with that is your brain gets stuck in light sleep, never quite getting the chance to descend into deep renewing sleep. This causes a degenerative problem of new parent sleep deprivation because, unfortunately, your baby’s normal sleep cycles are not yours.
To get technical on sleep disruption, REM sleep—when we dream—makes up about 15% of our slumber. And NREM—the sleep that revives and renews us for the new day ahead—is about 85% of sleep.
The deepest segment of NREM sleep, Stage 3, is considered the sleep sweet spot. Basically, you are sleeping like a log. Breathing is slow and regular, and your face and body are relaxed but not floppy. It is called ‘slow wave’ sleep because your brain waves switch from jittering little bounces seen during awakening to slow undulating waves. These waves wash over the brain 1000 times a night, erasing memories from the day just passed and preparing your brain for a new day of learning.
In this deepest sleep, you are tough to rouse—and when you do awaken, you need a minute or two to figure out where you are. However, you can still awaken for important signals, like a smoke alarm or your baby's cry.
The Mismatch That Leads to Disrupted Sleep
One pivotal difference between adults and babies is that adult sleep cycles last 90 minutes while babies keep cycling up and down in just 60.
Babies’ quicker cycles mean they return to very light—easily disturbed sleep—every hour. And when disturbed, they may grunt, groan…or awaken fully to eat! Those disturbances often fracture our sleep cycles—right in the middle—and chip away at your NREM.
When robbed of NREM sleep, our body and brain have not been adequately restored and refreshed. New parents often feel like they are in a state of insomnia—we awaken feeling tired—and often low energy persists throughout our entire day.
Preventing Disrupted Sleep
My favorite sleep-extender for babies is rumbly white noise. It often aids to prevent little outside disturbances (passing planes, ambulances, etc.) or internal irritations (teething pain, stuffy noses, etc.) from fully jarring babies every hour when they enter light sleep, helping avoid frequent sleep disruptions.
White noise can also help you sleep, too. Who does not fall asleep more easily to the light tap of rain on a rooftop?
The more you establish healthy sleep habits for your baby in the early days and beyond, the more you will set yourself up to get the deep NREM sleep you need to…be happy, healthy and functional day to day!
Did you know? Happiest Baby creates science-based solutions to everyday parenting problems. Our SNOO Smart Sleeper detects infant fussing and responds with increasing levels of soothing white noise plus motion to lull your baby back to sleep during the light portions of their sleep cycles. Learn more about how SNOO works.
Have questions about a Happiest Baby product? Our consultants would be happy to help! Submit your questions here.
Disclaimer: The information on our site is NOT medical advice for any specific person or condition. It is only meant as general information. If you have any medical questions and concerns about your child or yourself, please contact your health provider. Breastmilk is the best source of nutrition for babies. It is important that, in preparation for and during breastfeeding, mothers eat a healthy, balanced diet. Combined breast- and bottle-feeding in the first weeks of life may reduce the supply of a mother's breastmilk and reversing the decision not to breastfeed is difficult. If you do decide to use infant formula, you should follow instructions carefully.