Calendar An icon of a desk calendar. Cancel An icon of a circle with a diagonal line across. Caret An icon of a block arrow pointing to the right. Email An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of the Facebook "f" mark. Google An icon of the Google "G" mark. Linked In An icon of the Linked In "in" mark. Logout An icon representing logout. Profile An icon that resembles human head and shoulders. Telephone An icon of a traditional telephone receiver. Tick An icon of a tick mark. Is Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes. Is Not Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes with a diagonal line through it. Pause Icon A two-lined pause icon for stopping interactions. Quote Mark A opening quote mark. Quote Mark A closing quote mark. Arrow An icon of an arrow. Folder An icon of a paper folder. Breaking An icon of an exclamation mark on a circular background. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Caret An icon of a caret arrow. Clock An icon of a clock face. Close An icon of the an X shape. Close Icon An icon used to represent where to interact to collapse or dismiss a component Comment An icon of a speech bubble. Comments An icon of a speech bubble, denoting user comments. Comments An icon of a speech bubble, denoting user comments. Ellipsis An icon of 3 horizontal dots. Envelope An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of a facebook f logo. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Home An icon of a house. Instagram An icon of the Instagram logo. LinkedIn An icon of the LinkedIn logo. Magnifying Glass An icon of a magnifying glass. Search Icon A magnifying glass icon that is used to represent the function of searching. Menu An icon of 3 horizontal lines. Hamburger Menu Icon An icon used to represent a collapsed menu. Next An icon of an arrow pointing to the right. Notice An explanation mark centred inside a circle. Previous An icon of an arrow pointing to the left. Rating An icon of a star. Tag An icon of a tag. Twitter An icon of the Twitter logo. Video Camera An icon of a video camera shape. Speech Bubble Icon A icon displaying a speech bubble WhatsApp An icon of the WhatsApp logo. Information An icon of an information logo. Plus A mathematical 'plus' symbol. Duration An icon indicating Time. Success Tick An icon of a green tick. Success Tick Timeout An icon of a greyed out success tick. Loading Spinner An icon of a loading spinner. Facebook Messenger An icon of the facebook messenger app logo. Facebook An icon of a facebook f logo. Facebook Messenger An icon of the Twitter app logo. LinkedIn An icon of the LinkedIn logo. WhatsApp Messenger An icon of the Whatsapp messenger app logo. Email An icon of an mail envelope. Copy link A decentered black square over a white square.

Health: How bad is long-term sleep deprivation for new parents?

Sleep deprivation can cause a number of issues.

We’re bombarded with messages that sleep is vital for our physical and mental health. Sleep allows the brain to process information, the body to recover from the day, our heart rate and breathing to slow down and hormones to regulate, among other things. So if you’re a new parent, that messaging can make you feel quite powerless.

“Sleep while you still can,” everyone told me before I had a baby. We’re conditioned to understand that “newborn equals tiredness”, so of course everyone expects multiple night-time waking and early mornings. But I didn’t really expect not to have a full night’s sleep for almost a year – and the impact that would have.

“The lack of sleep can be a huge surprise when you have a new baby,” says Lucy Shrimpton, sleep expert and founder of The Sleep Nanny ( “It is another level of tiredness and can be a huge shock to the system.”

“You have a concept of what not having sleep is like – but actually the reality of it is stark,” adds Dr Nihara Krause, consultant clinical psychologist at Bloss (

Dr Nihara Krause, consultant clinical psychologist at Bloss.

What’s the impact on health?

While in the short-term, deficient sleep is likely to make you irritable, lack focus and affect your mood. Krause says: “Long term, new parents are at risk of increased anxiety, depression, general fatigue [and] burnout. If you have a vulnerability to postpartum depression then it can highlight that. If you have a prenatal history of mental ill health then that can be very sensitive to long-term sleep deprivation.”

The problem is often a lack of REM sleep – the deepest kind – because many new parents tend to sleep much more lightly than before, because they’re so aware of the tiny human now present.

“It’s just not refreshing sleep,” says Krause. “You’re not going to process things in the best possible way, your reflexes might be slower, your memory might be disrupted (because a lot of our short-term to long-term memory storage happens during sleep). It can also have a physical impact in terms of more likelihood of lower immunity and delayed repair.”

Sleep deprivation can cause a range of issues.

What about psychologically?

“Sleep deprivation is used as a form of torture and there’s reason for that,” notes Shrimpton, “it makes you operate from a place that would be measured as insane – where you’re totally irrational.” Any less than five hours of sleep in 24 hours, broken or otherwise, is far too little to operate on psychologically, she says.

There’s an additional mental torment in not knowing when your baby’s sleep might improve too. The impact of that particular unknown is “huge”, says Shrimpton. “When you’re in it as a parent and your baby is four months old, you do momentarily think, ‘This is my life now’. You don’t have a grasp on the fact that in a few weeks or a few months’ time, you’ll be in another place.”

Psychologically, I could cope with very small – or even no – improvements in sleep, night on night. But when setbacks occurred, it was particularly challenging mentally.

“One of the most difficult things is the unknown,” agrees Krause. “We all experienced it a little bit when we went through the pandemic, but the unknown is something that is almost hard-wired into our brain to be seen as us under threat, and it’s dangerous.

“If the unknown goes on for a long time, people can start to feel really helpless, which is the last thing you want when you’re a new parent. With time, that can lead to depression.”

It is important to remember you will get through this stage, as hard as it is.

Can sleep deprivation do permanent damage?

“It will go back to normal,” reassures Krause. “Ultimately, our bodies and brains are absolutely wired to protect. So while the anxiety will say, ‘I’ll die if I don’t get enough sleep’, if you really don’t have enough sleep, your body will be forced to do a sort of catch-up sleep at some point.

What can actually help?

By six to eight months, some parents choose to enlist professional help.

Krause acknowledges the “sleep when the baby sleeps” advice is “really irritating – because it’s not that easy”. Between work, other children, additional responsibilities, and babies who contact-nap (on you), often it’s just not possible. But, she says, “a nap here and there really helps, even 10-15 minutes seems to help a tiny bit.”

‘Sleep when the baby sleeps’ is not always the most practical advice.

Shrimpton says: “If you can just put your feet up and rest, put your phone away, don’t read anything, don’t do anything physical, just listen to some music or meditate and that will make a huge difference.”

Asking for help is crucial though. “There’s something about new parenthood and thinking, ‘I can’t [get help] because people will think I’m not a good enough mum or dad’,” Krause says. But we don’t have to do it all ourselves.

Try a shift-like pattern with your partner, and pump or mix feed if needed. Shrimpton suggests “two nights on, two nights off – that’s better than alternating, as you get proper rest that way and you recover”.