Sleep Deprivation: Signs you need to seek professional help

Sleep deprivation is probably the hardest part about parenting. Nothing prepares you for it, and the word ‘tired’ doesn’t do it justice.

Does any of this sound like you?

  • Your head is foggy, and you struggle to make decisions
  • You’re running purely on adrenaline or cortisol
  • You’re irritable, frustrated and quick to snap at people
  • You’re teary and feel flat
  • At times, you feel like you’re screaming inside: ‘I need some sleep!’
  • You’re clumsy and disoriented
  • You have trouble stringing a coherent sentence together
  • You’re more/less hungry than usual (and probably craving sugary foods)

Tips to help you cope when you’re sleep deprived

Getting through each day when you feel like you’re barely functioning can be incredibly challenging. It doesn’t matter how much sleep you’ve had the night before, some days are harder than others. Read our tips for coping with new mummy stress and lack of sleep here.

What’s normal and what isn’t

It’s normal to feel stressed and emotional at times as you adjust to the demands and responsibilities of a new baby. When you first bring your precious bundle home from the hospital, you might experience what is known as the ‘baby blues’. It’s a common condition related to hormonal changes and affects up to 80 percent of women (Beyond Blue).

“However, if you are feeling sad, have lost interest or enjoyment in things that you once enjoyed or find yourself worrying over things to the point that it is causing you to feel distressed, this could be a sign of postnatal depression or anxiety” (COPE).

The baby blues is different to depression, which is usually long lasting, and can impact not only the mother, but her relationship with her baby, her partner and other family members. You might think that exhaustion, worry, and sadness are just normal parts of being a new, sleep-deprived parent, but they can actually be signs that you need to seek professional help.

Signs that you need to seek professional help

  1. You struggle to sleep when you get the opportunity
  2. You want to sleep constantly
  3. Ongoing lack of sleep is negatively impacting your emotional wellbeing
  4. You’re eating less or you’ve lost interest in food
  5. You’re eating drastically more than before you were pregnant
  6. You’re feeling constantly anxious about your baby
  7. You constantly (over a long period) worry that something will happen to your baby
  8. You’re experiencing ongoing mood swings that last for two months or more

(Source: Centre of Perinatal Excellence)

If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, get help early

If you feel that something’s not right, that it’s more than sleep deprivation or the baby blues, seek professional help now. If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms on an ongoing basis, and it’s impacting your ability to carry out day-to-day activities, don’t try to just ride it out. It’s easy to attribute your feelings to sleep deprivation, and generally to the huge (yet wonderful!) change in your life.

Who can you turn to for help?

Before your symptoms get worse, reach out for professional support and they will assess whether you are possibly experiencing the symptoms of a mental health condition. You owe it to yourself and to your baby. The sooner you seek support, the sooner you can begin treatment and start to feel better.

  • Speak to your GP, and they will rule out any physical conditions, or direct you to the best treatment options.
  • Speak to your maternal and child health nurse for advice and information. Call their 24 hour health line 13 22 29.
  • If in doubt, call the PANDA (Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Australia) National Helpline (between Mon to Fri, 9am – 7.30pm AEST/AEDT) Call 1300 726 306.
  • For more information and professional support options, look up COPE’s (Centre of Perinatal Excellence) directory.
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