Sleep Deprivation and Its Effect on Bad Behavior

sleep deprivation affects behavior, food choices, and more

Dear Mr. Dad: In one of your recent columns you talked about how sleep deprivation can affect women’s fertility. During the summer, my kids get plenty of sleep, but during the school year they’re almost always tired. What are the effects of sleep deprivation on children?

A: There’s no question that sleep deprivation is bad for adults. Besides affecting fertility, is also increases the risk of depression, anxiety, diabetes, cardiac problem, and car accidents (about 100,000/year are caused by drowsy drivers), and decreases our ability to fight off infection. The effects on children are just as bad. Two new studies underscore just how important sleep is by showing how the lack of it influences children’s behavior and food choices.
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The Long Road from Graveyard Shift to Cradle

sleep deprived

Dear Mr. Dad: My wife and I have been trying to have a baby for the past year. Both of us have been thoroughly checked out and neither of us has any physical conditions that could be causing problems. The doctor says it’s “unexplained infertility,” which isn’t helpful at all. My wife usually works late afternoons or night shifts (she’s a nurse) and is always tired. Could that be contributing to our difficulty conceiving?
A: “Unexplained infertility” has to be one of the most frustrating things a couple can hear. All it means is that even after spending thousands on diagnoses and fertility treatments, you’re not any closer to having a baby than you were before. But in your case, your wife’s work schedule may provide a clue.
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Sweet Dreams: Why Sleep Is Critical to Maintaining a Healthy Weight

Sleep deprivation is a terrible thing: It messes with your brain, making you less alert and less able to think clearly. In previous articles on this site, we’ve talked about how not getting about six hours of sleep per night for long periods of time also increases your chances of being overweight. But according to [...]

Let Me Sleep on It…

Dear Mr. Dad: Our six-month old baby has some serious sleep problems. We’ve tried everything—different bedtimes, skipping naps so he’ll be extra tired, changing lullabies, having him nurse just before bed and putting him down asleep, even getting blackout curtains for his room, but he still gets up in the middle of the night and has a terrible time going back to sleep. My wife and I are both exhausted all the time. What can we do?

A: One of the most important things you can do is to establish a bedtime routine—and stick with it. Babies love—and crave—routines, and constantly changing what you’re doing will just confuse your baby and make it harder for him to figure out when to go to sleep. Actually, routines aren’t just for babies. If you’re like most adults, you probably have a nighttime routine of your own, a pattern of activities that you do to help get yourself ready for sleep: read a few chapters of a book, catch up on your DVR, maybe have sex. It’s pretty much the same for babies: bedtime routines make them tired because they associate the activities with sleep.

A routine doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be something as simple as a snuggle, a story, a minute or two of baby massage, a quick nightcap, and some peaceful music. The number and order of the activities aren’t important. Just make sure you’re consistent. Here are a few other ideas that should help.

  • Play a lot when he’s awake. Getting plenty of exercise during the day will help your baby sleep.
  • Don’t mess with the schedule. It might seem logical that skipping daytime naps would help your baby sleep more at night, but the opposite is true. Your baby takes naps because he needs them. When he doesn’t get enough rest during the day, all the extra dopamine and adrenaline running around his system will make it harder for him to fall asleep at night.
  • Make a distinction between day and night. During the day, you’ll pick up your baby, sing, clap, pay games, and do all sorts of things to engage him. In nighttime mode, you’ll do much less talking, much less physical activity, and generally tone things down.
  • Don’t go overboard. Turning the lights down and making the house a little quieter is fine, but you need a baby who can fall asleep with the lights on and some background noise. Trying for total silence and total darkness will backfire.
  • Put him to bed drowsy but not completely awake.
  • Be patient. Babies can be pretty noisy at night. And like us, they wake up many times and look around to make sure the world is still spinning on its axis. So before your dash in to respond to every whimper or cry, take a deep breath and wait a minute. Chances are your baby will fall back to sleep on his own.
  • Get the toys out. Some babies wake up at night, see all their toys, and decide that they want to play—and, of course, it’s more fun to play with you than alone.
  • Take turns. It’s very chivalrous of you to share the midnight wakeups with your wife, but don’t. Have her take the first few while you get some sleep. Then you take over in the early morning and let her sleep.

Speaking of toys, I just returned from a week in New York seeing (and playing with) hundreds of new toys and games I’ll be sharing some of the highlights over the next few weeks.

Dads Get the Baby Blues, Too

Dear Mr. Dad: I have a 2-week old baby boy, and I’m crazy about him. But I’ve suddenly started feeling really anxious, stressed, irritable, and sometimes even angry. My girlfriend says I could be suffering from male postpartum depression. I’ve never heard of guys getting postpartum depression, is it possible? If so, what can I do about it?

A: Your girlfriend is absolutely right. Most of us have heard of new moms experiencing the “baby blues,” or actual postpartum depression, but few acknowledge that paternal postpartum depression is just as real. In fact, quite a few people ridicule the idea. It’s wonderful that your girlfriend is not one of them.

According to Will Courtenay, a psychotherapist specializing in male postpartum depression, as many as 1 in 4 new dads experience the kinds of symptoms you mentioned, in the days, weeks, and even months after the birth of a child. Unfortunately, men rarely discuss their feelings or ask for help, especially during a time when they’re supposed to “be there” for the new mom. One big problem is that men and women express depression differently. Women tend to get tearful, men get angry or withdraw from their family and retreat to the office. Because depression—including the postpartum kind—is usually seen as affecting women more than men, many mental health professionals don’t recognize the symptoms, or write them off as normal adjustment to the challenges of new parenthood.
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The Joys of Sleep Deprivation

Dear Mr. Dad: Our son is three weeks old and my wife is exhausted from breastfeeding. I have to be out of the house early in the morning to make it to work, but I do help her out between 2am and 4 am. But when I try to get a little sleep before or after those hours, or if I’m too slow to wake up, she’ll say to our son things like “Daddy doesn’t care.” This hurts my feelings because I’m doing as much as I can, and I do have to put in an 8-hour day in the office. How do I handle this situation?

A: This probably won’t make you feel much better, but there are plenty of new parents out there who can totally relate to your dilemma. Fact is, being tired, sleep-deprived, and overwhelmed is a normal part of being a new parent.

I’m sure that everyone you knew tried to warn you that becoming a dad would turn your life upside down, right? And I’m sure you tried to prepare yourself for all the changes. But there’s a difference between watching a tornado on TV and having one blow the roof off your house. Now that your baby is actually here, it’s pretty obvious that nothing could have fully prepped you for the daily (and nightly) challenges of living with a newborn.
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