10 Frightening Effects of Sleep Deprivation

“Please. Pleeeease. Please go to sleep! This is me on a nightly basis, begging my nine-week-old to close his eyes. He doesn’t ever listen to me, of course. But I plead with him anyway, at all hours of the night, in the hopes that I can get a stretch of shut-eye that extends beyond an hour at a time. As if asking him to sleep is going to be the thing that does it.

My problem isn’t only the lack of sleep. It’s that this isn’t my first rodeo, so to speak. My first son was a terrible sleeper, with colic and reflux that didn’t relent until he was nearly five months old. I hold out hope that my newborn doesn’t follow in his big brother’s footsteps in this regard. But if he does, my husband and I are screwed. Because the sleep deprivation has set in and it hurts. So. Much.

WebMD has a list of 10 side effects of sleep loss that are all too familiar to me. Let us not forget that sleep deprivation has been used as a form of torture. Sadly, that’s what it feels like night after night. Pure freaking torture. Sure, a bad night here and there is manageable. But nine straight weeks without a break? (Or five months, for that matter?) You start to have an out of body experience.

Let’s look at WebMD’s list and see how it applies to us new parents, shall we?

1. Sleepiness causes accidents

This is particularly frightening since in my current state I’m not only responsible for my own life, but for the safety and well-being of two small children. All joking aside, the NY Times notes that “[s]leep deprivation is associated with an increase in car accidents (which are a top killer of older children).” On a recent afternoon, I left the kids with my husband so that I could run a few errands around town. As I drove from one store to the next I actually felt a little tipsy. Only I hadn’t had a drink or two, I had just nursed a baby all night long. I returned home quickly and vowed not to drive on days when I was feeling particularly exhausted.

2. Sleep loss dumbs you down

I have a master’s degree and I couldn’t form a cohesive sentence in a recent conversation with a friend. I routinely substitute the word “word” when I am struggling to be a functioning human being. Here’s an example: “I ordered food from the, um, what do you call it? I ordered food from the word the other day, and it was good. You know what I mean. Some word. What is it? Oh right, the diner.” Yes, folks, this is how I talk now.

3. Sleep deprivation can lead to serious health problems

This, I’m hoping, doesn’t apply to relatively short-term sleep deprivation, as I’m experiencing now. WebMD mentions things such as heart attack, high blood pressure, and diabetes as potential outcomes of chronic sleep loss. While I have no doubt that my toddler sometimes gives me high blood pressure while he’s refusing to eat the meals I’ve prepared for him, I’m sure that I won’t have a heart attack simply because my newborn wakes me up every ten minutes for the next few months.

4. Lack of sleep kills sex drive

So do newborns. Moving on…

5. Sleepiness is depressing

There is no doubt in my mind that my lack of sleep ushers in depression for me – especially when it’s accompanied by all of my new mommy hormones. I have been relatively lucky in that I haven’t had to deal with a lot of postpartum depression since having my baby. But I do experience bouts of it, and it always hits me the hardest after a particularly rough night with my little guy.

6. Lack of sleep ages your skin

When I wash my face every day, I look in the mirror and I sometimes scare myself. No sleep for the last couple of months has certainly done a number on my skin. It is dull, and the circles under my eyes are spectacular. I could easily be cast in a Tim Burton movie without a second thought. My skin actually looks tired. If there is one thing I vow to do when I start getting sleep again, it is to begin an intense skincare regimen that can somehow erase the evidence that my ten-pound child has been kicking my butt since his birth.

7. Sleepiness makes you forgetful

“Honey, would you bring my sweatshirt downstairs with you when you come down?”

“You just asked me that.”

Some version of this conversation happens multiple times a day in my household. Not only can I not remember words, but I lose entire conversations. Also, since I’m breastfeeding, I start on a different breast every time my son eats. He eats every two hours. And I can’t for the life of me remember which one he started on the last time he ate. I forget to drink my coffee. I forget if I washed myself in the shower while I’m still in the shower. I forget mid-sentence what I was talking about. If it’s not written down, it doesn’t happen. (And even then, there’s no guarantee…)

8. Losing sleep can make you gain weight

I’m sure that this is true. In my case, being sleepy all the time makes me hungrier, so I comfort eat when I’m exhausted. Sure, I could comfort-eat my way through celery sticks and hummus, but my particular brand of exhaustion requires the comfort that only HEATH Bar flavored Klondike bars can provide. But hey, I’m breastfeeding, so my body burns upwards of 500 extra calories per day. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

9. Lack of sleep may increase the risk of death.

I sometimes feel like I’m dying because I’m so tired, but this is another one that I think applies more to lifelong non-sleepers. At least I hope so…

10. Sleep loss impairs judgment.

Did I mention the nightly Klondike bars?

My friend, who is a mom to two young boys, recently pointed out to me that sleep is greedy. No matter how much you get, it just wants more. She’s right, you know. Because while I would give my Klondike bars for four hours of uninterrupted sleep, I know that when that does happen, I’ll still feel exhausted and want six. And so on until I am waking up without the buzzing of an alarm or the wailing of a child. So I’ll keep my Klondike bars, thank-you-very-much, and I will sleepwalk through life until my children are old enough to make themselves breakfast and tiptoe past mommy and daddy’s door when they wake up in the morning.