Sleep-Deprived Mothers: The Health Effects
Of course, many sleep-deprived mothers just pooh-pooh the recommendations about getting more rest. Sure, it would be swell if they could sleep eight hours a night, but it just seems absurdly unrealistic.
It doesn't help that as a culture, we tend to look down on sleep. Getting too much -- or even just enough -- implies softness. Some sleep-deprived mothers take pride in doing too much and sleeping too little, trading war stories of sleepless nights with other moms at the park.
But sleep experts are trying to get people to change their attitude about sleep. "We really need to look at sleep as something that's just as important to good health as diet and exercise," Ronald Kramer, MD, a spokesperson for the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and a specialist at the Colorado Sleep Disorders Center in Englewood, Colo.
Roth agrees. "We have good data linking insufficient sleep with all sorts of problems," Roth tells WebMD. "It's connected to poor performance at work, obesity, diabetes, excessive risk-taking behavior, and heart disease." Honestly, if you pick a disease or health problem at random from a medical text, it's probably worsened by or linked to sleep loss.
The Impact of Sleep Loss on Mothers
If looking after your own health isn't enough to get you to change your habits, remember that you're not the only one affected. If you're constantly tired, your whole family will feel it.
"If you're getting enough sleep, it will help you be a more involved mother," says Mindell. "It's certainly a lot easier to play the 17th round of Ring Around the Rosie with your 2-year-old when you're not exhausted."
There are real risks to chronic exhaustion, too -- risks that many sleep-deprived mothers just don't take seriously.
"Not getting enough sleep really affects your ability to function," says Mindell. "You're more likely to make mistakes when you're tired. You're more likely to slip and fall, or cut yourself when chopping vegetables, or forget to fasten the straps of your baby's high chair."
Some of the scariest risks come when a sleep-deprived mother gets in the car. Studies have compared the risks of driving drowsy with the risks of driving drunk -- it's estimated to cause 100,000 auto accidents a year. And yet mothers who would never, ever drive their children after having a few glasses of wine drive exhausted every day.
"I worry a lot about all the moms out there who are driving drowsy," says Mindell. "They're struggling to stay awake with a 1-year-old sitting in the backseat. That can have terrible consequences."