How can sleep deprivation affect your relationship?

Sleep deprivation is a well-known side effect of bringing up children, particularly for new parents. We explore what effects this can have on the parents – in particular, how does sleep deprivation affect the parental relationship?

In his book ‘Why We Sleep,’ (2017) Matthew Walker PhD. states “the leading causes of all health issues in developed nations all have recognized causal links to a lack of sleep. [1]

It is estimated that new parents lose out on 109 minutes of sleep each night during the first 12 months of parenthood. This equates to a whopping 663 hours per year.[2]  Unfortunately, this sleep deficit is not exclusive to the newborn stage – a small 2010 study suggested that over 60% of parents with children 24 months or younger get no more than 3 1/4 hours of sleep each night [3]. This is particularly alarming if we consider that the CDC recommends a healthy adult should achieve 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night. [4]

“There is a clear link between lack of sleep and the quality of one’s relationships” 

The consequences of sleep deprivation on an individual’s health have been clearly established (see here, here, and here) – not only does it affect their physical and mental health as an individual, but there is a clear link between lack of sleep and the quality of one’s relationships. [5]

After polling 2000 parents, one study found that 30% of couples who had parted ways said that child-induced sleep deprivation had been a direct causative factor in the breakdown of their relationship. [6]

In light of this, one may not be surprised to learn that a fifth of couples experience a relationship breakdown within 12 months of welcoming a new baby – sleep deprivation can place major additional strain on relationships that are already under pressure in raising a child. 

“30% of couples who had parted ways said that child-induced sleep deprivation had been a direct causative factor” 

How does sleep deprivation affect new parents?

Sleep deprivation isn’t exclusive to parents – many of us know how it feels to get up after a couple of hours of disrupted sleep, with knock-on effects on both mental and physical wellbeing. Parents experience irritability and low mood after a broken night’s sleep, feeling less able to cope with everyday situations and minor stresses. One study by the University of Pennsylvania showed that subjects limited to 4.5 hours of sleep a night for just one week reported feeling more stressed, angry, and sad.[7] It is easy to see how this impact on emotions can put strain on a relationship, provoking more arguments and exacerbating conflict on a day-to-day basis.

Further, important regulatory hormones are also significantly impacted, which can have profound effects on a couple’s sexual health. Men with poor sleep patterns were found to have significantly lower levels of testosterone which can lead to reduced libido and reproductive health. [8] Similarly, sleep deficit is associated with reduced sexual arousal and desire in women. [9]

Lack of sleep can also often lead to a lack of self-care, which combined with an increased risk of weight gain and loss of sex drive could be enough to douse the fires of passion in any relationship, and increase strain. It is easy to see how challenging these factors could be to even the most stable of couples, having clear detrimental effects on the health of a relationship. 

Unlike the body, the mind remains very active during sleep, carrying out many important functions. Adequate sleep is therefore essential to every single process in the body including our immunity, hormone health, metabolism, mental health, and risk of chronic disease. A chronic lack of sleep can therefore be the catalyst for a multitude of changes in all aspects of health and wellbeing. 

“Starting a family does not have to be to the detriment of your relationship” 

How can new parents improve their relationship? 

The good news for parents and parents-to-be is that starting a family does not have to be to the detriment of your relationship. It is possible to establish sustainable sleep associations for children, leading to reduced nighttime wakes, and quality sleep of up to 12 hours a night, reliably. This is addressing the problem at its root cause – good sleep for the whole family has countless benefits for the household.

Undoubtedly new parenting can bring about immense challenges but it also provokes intense growth and revelation. Understanding pediatric sleep and educating parents on what is possible beyond the many modern misconceptions could ensure that new families around the world are healthier and happier and more rested than ever. 

The Rise of Family-Focused Benefits in the Workplace

With the increase in employee churn and focus on employee well-being, we explore the rise of family-planning benefits in the modern workplace. The cost, the controversy, and the alternatives. 

While many of the effects of COVID could be reasonably predicted, such as toilet paper shortages due to panic buying, “The Great Resignation” wasn’t necessarily on everyone’s radar. Many see the mass exodus of employees from their jobs as an indirect result of the COVID pandemic, when thousands of workers traded their current jobs for positions with better salary, flexibility and benefits. This prioritization of work-life balance has forced employers, large and small, to up their game by increasing wages and/or benefits to recruit and retain qualified employees. 

This prioritization of work-life balance has forced employers, large and small, to up their game.” 

Millennials, incidentally, now make up the largest segment of the workforce, many of which are in their prime child-bearing years. One of the employee benefits increasingly being offered to employees is in-vitro fertility (IVF) treatments, a benefit that was once reserved only for elite Silicon Valley companies back in the 2010s. Recently, large private-sector companies such as IBM, JPMorgan, Microsoft and AT&T have joined the growing list of 800 companies estimated to provide the benefit. Some employers are additionally extending coverage to family-building services such as adoption and/or surrogacy, along with egg freezing and fertility treatments, to increase the diversity, equity and inclusion of their workforce and attract Millennials with benefits that reflect their values. Many are also waiving the requirement of an infertility diagnosis for IVF treatment to extend benefits to LGBTQ+ individuals.

IBM,  JPMorgan,  Microsoft,  and AT&T have joined the growing list of 800 companies estimated to provide [IVF treatments].” 

How much does all this cost? For individuals without insurance, egg freezing services can average about $16,000 in the United States, and a single round of IVF ranges, on average, between $15,000 and $30,000. On average, the lifetime cost of fertility benefits totals about $36,000. The out-of-pocket costs and deductibles for employees can vary greatly depending on their specific coverage, as hormone medication ($5,000) and storage costs ($2,000) of egg freezing, for example, can add up quickly if not covered. 

While this may be a hefty price tag for an individual paying out-of-pocket, the actual cost to employers offering the benefit is much lower. In fact, employers in some states are already legally required to cover fertility treatments depending on the size of the company and the type of health insurance the company provides.

The increase in fertility and family-building benefits isn’t without controversy, however.” 

The increase in fertility and family-building benefits isn’t without controversy, however. While these benefits can financially put parenthood within reach for many people that otherwise couldn’t afford the treatments to do so, there is some concern that egg freezing and other IVF treatment coverage promotes a culture that prioritizes work over family and blurs the boundaries between work and home life. Some employees may additionally feel indebted to their employer for the services they receive. Frozen egg storage and usage can also become complicated when employees change jobs. 

Despite any potential controversies, an estimated one in eight American couples have difficulty conceiving a child, making fertility and family-building coverage a relevant workplace benefit for the foreseeable future. Alternatively, many employees may value other benefits that facilitate a better work-life balance, rather than delaying a family through IVF. Benefits such as gender-neutral paid parental leave and childcare services can help employees with children establish better boundaries between work and home life, improving their efficiency and decreasing burnout. While fertility and family-building coverage benefits may be a good fit for some companies, alternative benefits can also promote the healthy work-life balance employees are seeking today.

Why does Batelle offer 6 years of sleep support?

Batelle is unique in its offering of support with sleep struggles until a child’s 6th birthday, completely included. This is a testament to not only our confidence in the Batelle program, but also to the importance of treating improving sleep as a long-term investment in your child’s health.

Children between the age of 4 months to 6 years go through approximately 5-10 sleep regressions. Without intervention, parents’ sleep quality suffers dramatically when their child is born, and generally doesn’t recover until around age 6.[1,2] Sleep training alleviates these problems significantly, and provides a solid framework to reset healthy sleep habits after a regression.

Why do these regressions happen? Not only are children continually learning new things, but their brains and bodies are also constantly changing. As their internal environment is in a constant state of flux, they rely on their external environment to provide a sense of stability. Environmental changes like a new school, a new sibling, or even an ear infection can be majorly disruptive for a child. They are still not fully able to self-regulate their emotions and may not understand what’s happening. [3] The first five years bring many of these disruptive changes, such as teething, decreasing the number and length of naps as the child grows older, moving from a crib to a bed, the possible onset of nightmares and night terrors around preschool age, among others.[4]

“Parents’ sleep quality suffers dramatically when their child is born, and generally doesn’t recover until around age 6.” 

Many of these disruptions manifest themselves as sleep problems, and for good reason. Asleep, in the dark, by themselves, a child is at their most vulnerable. If they’re already feeling uncertain or dysregulated because of their external environment, slipping into this vulnerable state may feel too scary. In this situation, their natural instinct is to seek reassurance from parents, the one constant within the child’s ever-changing world.

Though Batelle’s can accommodate the different stages of a child’s development, sometimes parents may need extra support if family circumstances have changed, a child’s tactics for resisting bedtime evolve in an unexpected way, or the root cause of the regression isn’t clear at first glance.[5]

“We are committed to providing a comprehensive solution, rather than a quick fix” 

If you need help with anything sleep related after you have graduated from Sleep School, you can reach out to the team free of charge until your child is six years old. We see this as a sleep “insurance” offered as part of the service.

Ultimately, sleep training is a lifelong investment in your child’s health, and we are committed to providing a comprehensive solution rather than a quick fix. With this in mind, we’ve developed our method to be resilient and sustainable, able to weather inevitable life changes. When sleep is approached with the consideration of a child’s underlying need to feel safe, the understanding and trust they build up is something they hold onto for the rest of their lives.

Sources:

  1. “Long-term effects of pregnancy and childbirth on sleep satisfaction and duration of first-time and experienced mothers and fathers” David Richter, Michael D Krämer, Nicole K Y Tang, Hawley E Montgomery-Downs, Sakari Lemola (2019). Sleep, Volume 42, Issue 4.
  2. Sleeping like a baby: Sleep in the first years of life.” 2018. The British Psychological Society
  3.  “Children and sleep”. 2022 Sleep Foundation
  4. “Sleep in Toddlers and Preschoolers” 2020. Cleveland Clinic.
  5. Helping children get a good night’s sleep. 2020 Abrams, Z. Monitor on Psychology51(5).

My family tried Taking Cara Babies. This is what I learned.

A mother of two speaks on her family’s experience with sleep deprivation and working on improving their sleep with Taking Cara Babies sleep training, commenting on what it taught her about children, sleep, and herself.

No one prepared me for the exhaustion of motherhood. Before I had a child, I thought I knew what being tired meant, but it wasn’t until baby number one that I experienced the pain and suffering that exhaustion could bring. Waking up hour after hour for months at a time affected every area of my life. My days became a slew of moments linked together by diaper changes, pumping sessions, and tears. I was supposed to be in love, I was supposed to be happy, but I was anxious, miserable, and passively existing through life in the depths of despair. My marriage, career, and mental health struggled – and that’s saying it nicely – so when, after almost two years my little man “figured out” how to sleep, we were determined that when and if we ever had another child we would do whatever it takes to make sure sleep was a priority.

When we did build up the courage to try for baby number two, years later than we expected due to the fear of exhaustion, we knew things would be different. I found Taking Cara Babies sleep training on Instagram and was immediately drawn to her kind voice, patient way of explaining things, and wealth of knowledge about children. Cara is a neonatal nurse, and her husband is a pediatrician; this offered the credibility I was looking for and gave me confidence in her offering. The day after my little guy turned five months old, I purchased her “ABC’S of Sleep” training plan. I was committed and ready to go. I even remember choosing not to nap when the baby did that day (on me, of course – crib naps were not a thing) so I could watch her video tutorials to prepare for the night.

“By the twelfth night, there were hardly any more tears” 

Cara did a great job of explaining the method and preparing me emotionally for the crying that would take place. I knew it would be hard, but I was ready to do the hard things. My child needed good sleep, but more importantly, my child needed a healthy mother, and I knew from experience that I couldn’t be without sleep. Night one was tough. I remember putting my baby in the crib in his dark room and just walking out while he looked at me, confused. He had always been put to bed in my arms so obviously, this change was a lot for him. As a teacher, I reminded myself what I always tell parents: growth is not always easy. My baby expressing his emotion is okay, even if it’s uncomfortable. I will check in on him every fifteen minutes, and he will know I am here and he is safe. 

That first night, he cried for two hours until he finally fell asleep. Hearing his screams and not being able to comfort him was torture, but all along, I kept telling myself that this is what he needed, what our family needed, and that this was an investment in our family’s overall health. During those two hours, the most challenging part was the “pop-ins,” whose purpose was to show your child that you are still there and they are not alone. For me though, seeing him slowly start to calm down when I opened the door only to wail again when I left seemed like cruel and unusual punishment. By night two I told my husband we were giving up, and he informed me that we were not. He reminded me of how hard baby number one was and the toll it took on our whole family, including our relationship. He reminded me that our son was strong and capable and that growth isn’t always easy but that he could do it. We decided that I would sleep in the guest room so I did not have to endure the screams, and my husband would take over.

Sitting in my guest room, hearing the faint sounds from across the house got me thinking about how it didn’t seem fair that I got to avoid the situation because it was too emotionally tough on me, yet I expected my five-month-old to endure it. Those were some of the hardest nights of my life. I would pace the guest room while hearing my baby’s screams questioning how this could be the right thing to do, and the right way to go about this. But one thing I knew for sure was that the hell we were all experiencing was an investment in our family. I did not know of any other options or any other way to teach him to sleep, so I forged through – despite every part of my mama’s heart and soul feeling and knowing that this could not possibly be the best way to teach him to sleep.

“I tried to wrap my head around how he could just “unlearn” this amazing new skill” 

I spent a week in the guest room while my husband spent a week sleep-training our son. When I was with my baby during the day I would look him up and down almost assuming he must have some physical scars from the night, but he always seemed fine and was his usual happy self. By the twelfth night, there were hardly any more tears and I happily returned to my bedroom. We slept ten glorious hours that night and I woke up feeling absolutely thrilled and proud of us – that is, after I ran to his room to make sure he was still breathing! The next few weeks were blissful, as we experienced easy bedtimes and full nights of sleep.

A couple of weeks into our bliss though, my baby came down with a double ear infection and was running a fever. He was miserable; not eating, seeking constant comfort. There was no chance I was going to allow him to sleep in his room alone feeling that sick. I wanted to comfort him, but more importantly, I wanted to be near him to keep an eye on him throughout the night. My husband and I disagreed that night because he was worried that all the work we did sleep training would be for nothing if I allowed the baby to spend one night in my bed with me. Though I feared this too, I reminded him that this person lived in my body less than six months ago and this was a non-negotiable. I set up my bed to make it as safe as possible for the baby that night and sent my husband off to the guest room. It was my turn now.

“It no longer felt right for me to take care of my mental health at the potential expense of his.” 

I spent the next two nights in bed with my baby giving him all the love and care that he needed. Once his fever broke and the medicine did its thing, we prepared to put him back in his crib and get back on track with our sleep. It did not take long for us to realize though, that it was game over and our baby was having absolutely none of it. He screamed for three hours straight that first night, as I tried to wrap my head around how he could just “unlearn” this amazing new skill he had just mastered from just a couple of days of sleeping in a different environment.

It was then I allowed all the cognitive dissonance I had been carrying close for the past few weeks to rear its head. I allowed myself to accept that I had not taught my son a new skill by using the cry-it-out method, I had only shown him that no one was picking him up out of bed, and with enough consistency on our part, he gave up trying. The moment he had us “back,” he had “forgotten” everything he learned. I now know, it’s because he had actually learned nothing at all.

At this point, “crying it out” was no longer an option for us as I could not bear the thought of going through the next months or even years of his life where the response to any sleep regression was forcing my baby to cry it out for hours on end. It no longer felt right for me to take care of my mental health at the potential expense of his. 

 

The above account is what I wrote in my cover letter to Batelle when I applied for a job here, a few years later when it was time for me to leave the classroom. I told them about my journey with sleep with each of my children and how I was fascinated by (but also a bit suspicious of) their no-cry-it-out approach. I was curious, as a mom but also a teacher, how they managed to pull this off as they claimed. 

What I learned in Batelle is quite simple: our children require so much extra assistance in getting to bed and staying asleep because they do not trust sleep itself. While a child is sleeping, it is dark, they are removed from their parents, no one is engaging with them, and it is for an extended period of time. This environmental shift often makes our children feel vulnerable, leading them to seek out some sense of safety and security. This “something” that gives them that feeling of safety and security, more commonly understood as a sleep association, is simply what our children think they need for sleep. The fact that our children are perfectly safe and not vulnerable at all is entirely irrelevant if they do not recognize that for themselves.

At Batelle, we teach you how to teach your child that nighttime is a safe time, that they are not vulnerable, and that they do not need to anchor their sense of safety to anything but sleep itself. This is the explanation I give to parents every day as they wonder out loud why their child can’t just sleep. During these consultations, where we talk about safety and associations, parents often ask what the “secret sauce” is to our success and how we can really solve these issues in just a few short weeks. My response is always the same: there is no secret sauce. Our children need love and predictability because that is how they learn. Through the reassurance that our presence brings them and the pattern they can recognize in a predictable process, they begin to learn to trust sleep. This program is not easy and certainly not a “quick fix,” but the parents that are ready to do the work to build a deeper understanding of what their child is experiencing will see sustainable and meaningful results.

“Our children need love and predictability because that is how they learn.” 

I once read an article that asked parents to list every quality they thought their children would need to become successful adults. The answers were a combination of resilience, commitment, grind, and grit. Next, the author challenged us to consider what life experiences our children need to have to gain those skills. Her point was that our kids must work through hard things to learn how to stay committed, persevere, and be resilient. Those qualities do not develop themselves but are mastered as a natural consequence of their experiences. As my children grow and develop and work through challenges and fears, I will not be there to “save” them from those challenges, as “saving” them will only serve to inhibit their development. Rather, I will be by their side, at every moment, guiding them through as they learn and develop those skills for themselves.

At Batelle, we believe that our children have to walk their journey, even the hard parts, but there is not a moment they need to be walking it alone.