Newborn Night-Waking Has A Detrimental Health Impact On Parents
April Flowers for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
One of the hardest parts of new parenthood is never getting enough sleep. Once an hour, every night, the baby cries out for food, comfort, or to be cleaned. Most new parents report feeling more exhausted in the morning than they did the night before.
Professor Avi Sadeh led a team of researchers from Tel Aviv University’s (TAU) School of Psychological Sciences to conduct the first study to examine why interrupted sleep can be as physically detrimental as no sleep. The findings, reported in Sleep Medicine, reveal a causal link between interrupted sleep patterns and many negative effects, including compromised cognitive abilities, shortened attention spans, and negative moods. The team, which included Michal Kahn, Shimrit Fridenson, Reut Lerer, and Yair Ben-Haim, found that interrupted sleep is equivalent to no more than four consecutive hours of sleep.
“The sleep of many parents is often disrupted by external sources such as a crying baby demanding care during the night. Doctors on call, who may receive several phone calls a night, also experience disruptions,” said Prof. Sadeh. “These night wakings could be relatively short — only five to ten minutes — but they disrupt the natural sleep rhythm. The impact of such night wakings on an individual’s daytime alertness, mood, and cognitive abilities had never been studied. Our study is the first to demonstrate seriously deleterious cognitive and emotional effects.”
“In the process of advising these parents, it struck me that the role of multiple night wakings had never been systematically assessed,” said Prof. Sadeh, who directs a sleep clinic at TAU. Professor Sadeh advises exhausted and desperate parents on how to cope with their children’s persistent night wakings. “Many previous studies had shown an association, but none had established a causal link. Our study demonstrates that induced night wakings, in otherwise normal individuals, clearly lead to compromised attention and negative mood.”
Student volunteers at TAU’s School of Psychological Sciences participated in the study, where their sleep patterns were monitored at home using wristwatch-like devices. The devices detected both sleep and wake states. First, the students slept a full eight-hour night. The second night, they were awakened four times by phone calls. After each call, they had to complete a small computer task before returning to bed after 10-15 minutes of wakefulness. Following each night, the students were asked to complete certain computer tasks to assess alertness and attention. They also completed a questionnaire to assess their mood. Even after only one night of interruptions, the research team found a direct correlation between compromised attention, negative mood, and disrupted sleep.
“Our study shows the impact of only one disrupted night,” said Prof. Sadeh. “But we know that these effects accumulate and therefore the functional price new parents — who awaken three to ten times a night for months on end — pay for common infant sleep disturbance is enormous. Besides the physical effects of interrupted sleep, parents often develop feelings of anger toward their infants and then feel guilty about these negative feelings.”
“Sleep research has focused in the last 50 years on sleep deprivation, and practically ignored the impact of night-wakings, which is a pervasive phenomenon for people from many walks of life. I hope that our study will bring this to the attention of scientists and clinicians, who should recognize the price paid by individuals who have to endure frequent night-wakings.”
The team is continuing their research by investigating interventions for infant sleep disturbances to decrease the detrimental effects on parents.
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