How sleep deprivation affects you. By Jo Ryan.

Having a baby who doesn’t sleep well is EXHAUSTING. It is unrelenting and has a huge impact on how you feel and deal with life. Women are tough but a relentless lack of sleep is not good for anyone. It can take its toll on all aspects of your life.

Here are some of the effects of continued sleep deprivation:


When you haven’t slept, it can make you feel dreadful emotionally as well as physically. After having a baby, you are already physically quite tired, but the mental toll can be significant. If you think you might be suffering from postnatal depression, it’s important to talk to your doctor or a maternal child health nurse. You can get help.

Even if you are not suffering from the clinically defined depression, when you are tired, you can just feel incredibly low. One mother I helped told me how she would sometimes lie down in the hall outside her baby’s room and sob. She just didn’t have the energy to try and settle her baby one more time. Sadly, this level of sadness can be quite common when you are getting no sleep or interrupted sleep.


We’re all conditioned to believe that having a baby should be a time of great joy and elation. When you’re tired, it’s hard to find the enthusiasm. Fighting with your partner or snapping at your family or other children is extremely common. You just don’t have the reserves left to be nice.


Stress is an expected by-product of having no sleep. When your baby isn’t sleeping you worry about them. You worry about why they won’t sleep, about how to fix it, about why what you do isn’t working – and it goes on. Of course you are stressed!


It’s not just your mood that changes when you’re tired. It’s estimated that a driver who has been awake for 17 hours has a driving ability similar to someone with a blood alcohol level of 0.05, and after 21 hours, similar to 0.15. In fact, fatigue is one of the leading causes of car accidents.


We have all got sick when we are tired. After that long flight, the weeks of working late, sickness was an unfortunate result. The link between sleep and our immune system is not fully understood but we know that our T-cell count goes down when we’re tired and T-cells are crucial to our immune system. Women who are sleep deprived can feel physically terrible and little things seem to take longer to get better or heal.


When you are tired your body reduces its ability to burn fat. You just don’t metabolise food in the same way when you are tired and you end up craving sugary treats.

What can you do?

If your baby isn’t sleeping, then you won’t be sleeping, so trying to help get your baby to sleep better will help you. Understanding what might be contributing to your baby not sleeping and getting some help to teach you some new techniques is a good start.

In the meantime, here are some other things you can do that might also help:

  • going to bed early and grabbing naps when you can
  • getting some regular exercise
  • don’t overbook yourself – have plenty of rest time
  • cutting down on out caffeine
  • eating healthy
  • trying something like meditation or yoga
  • ask for help – don’t be afraid to ask your partner or family and friends to pitch in if you are really struggling.

Article by Wattle Health resident expert, Paediatric Nurse, Jo Ryan.