What’s Really Causing You To Be Tired? How Parental Fatigue Impacts Your Perception of Infant Sleep.

As a sleep specialist, it is my job to really get to know you and your family and dig into the root of your child’s sleep “problem.” I often find that parents reach out for support as a result of their exhaustion and assume it’s due to a deficiency or pathology in their child’s sleep. This is NOT unreasonable. You weren’t as exhausted before having your baby and your baby wakes often. For instance, one study found that 20% of 6-18 month olds were waking 3+ times per night (Hysing et al. 2014). While the interrupted sleep may seem like a logical reason, there may actually be other causes for your exhaustion:

  • Your personality. Are you an introverted person? Do you prefer time alone? Do you get touched out easily? For these parents, being in constant contact and the constant co-regulation can be draining. As well, if you’re a new parent, having someone be dependant on you all the time is an adjustment.
  • Your circadian rhythm. Do you stay up late and wake late? Do you go to bed early and wake early? Either way, you’re now operating on someone else’s schedule and you’re being forced into a rhythm that isn’t natural. Again, your body needs time to adjust. This is something my husband can relate to. He was someone who still needed a nap at 25 years old and 12 hours of night time sleep. When our son was born and his sleep could no longer be like it was he had such a negative perception of our son’s sleep (our son was actually a good sleeper giving us long stretches from the get go). It wasn’t our baby that had a problem, it was husband having difficulty adjusting.
  • Poor Mental Health. Are you experiencing stress (financial issues, lack of support, troubled relationships, lack of parental/maternity leave…)? These are all determinants if parental mental health. Did you have any birth trauma? If so, that’s not uncommon. Up to 75% of women can find the birth a child distressing. Are you experiencing anxiety, depression, baby blues, anger? Again, that’s also common. 1 in 7 women experience perinatal mental health concerns. If you’re experiencing any of these things, it’s not uncommon for sleep to be disrupted and for parents to have negative perceptions (e.g., on their parenting, on their child’s sleep and behaviours).
  • Self-care and self-sacrifice. Are you taking care of yourself? Are you asking for help? Are you allowing others to help? Are you prioritizing and setting boundaries? If not, this may be the cause of your fatigue. Raising children is hard and we weren’t meant to do it alone.
  • Expectations. Did you expect one thing and are finding that it doesn’t work? Are you trying to force generic information onto a unique situation? Are you aware of developmentally appropriate child sleep behaviour? Would understanding your baby better relieve some stress?
  • Mirror neurons. Babies and children are sponges. They have the ability to pick up on everything that they are experiencing from us. However, they don’t just soak it up, they reflect it back. If you’re experiencing any of the things discussed above that is resulting in exhaustion, anger, frustration, alarm, depression, etc., your baby may be reflecting these vary same feelings, emotions, and behaviours back to you. Thereby, making their environment feel unsafe, causing difficulty settling.

So I ask, what is really causing you be tired? Is it your baby and their sleep? Or is it something within? We CANNOT control someone else. We CANNOT control our baby’s sleep. We CANNOT force someone else to sleep. What we CAN control is ourselves. We can practice self-love and compassion and give ourselves time and grace in adjusting to this new life. We can seek support from appropriate professionals. We can adjust our expectations. We can practice vulnerability, as well as, set boundaries for ourselves. We can learn more about ourselves, do some self work, and heal from our own childhood and past. I promise that by understanding yourself, you will build a deeper, more effective, and enjoyable relationship with your child.

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