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Sleep deprived

The sleep deprivation you face as a new parent can lead to irritability, lack of focus, memory loss and, in some cases, depression. Here are some expert tips to help you get through the day after a sleepless night.

Be aware of your moods. It’s not your fault that your head is in a fog, you snap at everyone around you and running a simple errand seems like an impossible task. “When you’re sleep deprived, you agonize over simple decisions,” says Carlyle Smith, a psychology professor at Trent University in Peterborough, Ont. Tell your spouse where your moods are coming from — letting off steam can prevent stressful situations from escalating.

Know your limits. Don’t make big plans or expect too much from yourself when your memory and concentration are impaired. Now is not the time to take a course, says Smith. More importantly, research shows that sleep-deprived drivers are just as impaired as drunk drivers. When you need to go out, take public transit, or get a lift from a well-rested friend.

Embrace the power nap. The advice about “napping when the baby naps” doesn’t always work, especially if you have older children. Still, it’s important to recognize that a quick snooze may be exactly what you need. It can reverse some of the problems caused by sleep deprivation and makes up for nighttime sleep loss. “It needn’t be an hour,” Smith says. “Even a 20- or 25-minute nap is helpful.” Get your nap in before 4 p.m., however, because after that it will impair your nighttime sleep, adds Montreal-based psychologist Eva Libman.

Don’t stress over lost sleep. Losing sleep isn’t ideal, but it shouldn’t make you anxious about your health. “When people’s sleep is disrupted, their bodies are going to try and compensate,” says Libman. Your body will give you more of the essential deep and dream stages of sleep, and less of the lighter stages. Broken sleep isn’t great, but if you can cobble together seven or eight hours, even over a 10-hour stretch, it’ll help you get through the day.

Get help if you need it. While it’s normal to be miserable occasionally, sleep deprivation can trigger postpartum depression when your hormones are fluctuating wildly and you’re dealing with a number of stressors. If you’re suffering ongoing insomnia (the inability to fall asleep even when you have the chance, or the inability to stay asleep), as well as loss of appetite, loss of pleasure in enjoyable activities, decreased energy and feelings of sadness or irritability, talk to your family doctor.