We all know lack of sleep goes hand in hand with parenthood. Tell someone you’re expecting and after the congratulations and celebrations, comes that common refrain, ‘Enjoy a good night’s sleep while you can!’

But despite all the warnings and knowing looks, new parents are often ill-equipped for the true brutality of seemingly never-ending sleep deprivation. And for some, this exhaustion can be a major risk factor in developing perinatal anxiety and depression, as PND is now called. In others, symptoms of perinatal anxiety and depression are ignored because a parent will assume they’re ‘just’ chronically exhausted.

Sleep deprivation and depression

Sleep coach, Cheryl Fingleson, has seen first hand how many new mums, in particular, develop this common mental health illness while struggling with their baby’s sleep issues.

‘Mums often come to me because their babies won’t sleep and that’s the focus of their worries. But when we begin talking, it becomes clear that the effects of sleep deprivation is causing them huge emotional and physical problems,’ she explains. ‘And for some parents, this can be a trigger for developing depression and anxiety.’

Warning signs

The effects of prolonged sleep deprivation appear very similar to the symptoms of perinatal depression and anxiety such as feeling despondent, sad, or crying for no reason as well as having sudden mood swings. So it’s important to know the other symptoms of perinatal depression and anxiety, which PANDA explain can be:

  • Persistent worrying, being nervous or panicky
  • Being easily annoyed and irritated
  • Withdrawing from friends and family
  • Difficulties sleeping, even when your baby is sleeping
  • Abrupt mood swings
  • Feeling constantly tired and lacking energy
  • Physical symptoms like nausea, vomiting, cold sweats, lack of appetite
  • Having little or no interest in the things that normally bring you joy
  • Fear of being alone or with others
  • Finding it difficult to focus, concentrate or remember
  • Increased alcohol or drug use
  • Panic attacks
  • Obsessive or compulsive behaviours
  • Thoughts of death, suicide or harming your baby.

‘It’s so important to get help if you’re experiencing any or some of these symptoms. Even if you just don’t feel quite right, talk to your GP for support and help,’ says Cheryl. ‘The sooner you get help, the sooner you will begin to feel better.’

istockPicture: iStock

Sleeping cure

So, can more sleep make PND go away? Put simply, no. A good night’s sleep can certainly help parents feel more equipped and able to handle everyday stresses and strains, but perinatal depression and anxiety is a serious health condition that needs to be addressed by a health professional. There’s no one-size-fits-all treatment, but many sufferers have been helped by therapy, counselling, self-care or medication.

‘If you suspect you are, or a friend is, suffering from PND, then please seek support and help. It’s such a common illness: one in five mums and one in ten dads experience perinatal depression and anxiety, so please understand that you’re not alone,’ says Cheryl.

Find out more about Perinatal depression and the help available through COPE.