A friend once told me about the time she arrived at the daycare center to pick up her baby. She felt incredibly tired and she swung her car into a parking space and then continued driving it...right into the building!

Exhaustion is rough on new parents…and stressful. Frequent waking keeps us swirling in light sleep and reduces the deep, restorative slumber we need to prepare our minds and bodies for the next day. We may be able to muddle through despite night after night of poor sleep, but we build up a mounting “sleep debt” that eventually must be paid, either with some solid catch-up sleep...or with our health.

Tired parents face both mind and body exhaustion effects. 

Prolonged fatigue wreaks havoc on our well-being. Our mood drops. We get whiny, unhappy and demanding. Our coordination flops. We get klutzy, off-balance and accident-prone. We get forgetful and confused. Our resilience crumbles. It sets off a kind of chain reaction, worsening our health. We get fat. We get pimples. We get mastitis...and so on, and so on.

A tired parent's brain actually functions at a lower level. The University of Pennsylvania’s renowned sleep researcher David Dinges has probably robbed more people of sleep than anyone else in the world. For an experiment, his team had some volunteers sleep only six hours a night while others got to snooze for eight. During the day, the scientists measured their subjects’ ability to pay attention. The well-rested group stayed sharp. However, the sleep-deprived participants got increasingly scattered…then two weeks into the study, their attention spans dropped to levels found when legally drunk!

Exhausted parents, be careful out there!

Alarmingly, the National Sleep Foundation’s Sleep in America poll found that 48% of parents admitted to driving while drowsy, and 10% confessed to falling asleep at the wheel.

As with drunkeness, lack of sleep causes poor judgment, slow reaction time, and impaired memory. When you’re exhausted, you stagger, stutter and slur your words. At its most extreme, sleep deprivation even triggers hallucinations.

Bed-sharing and sleeping on iffy surfaces are common risks exhausted parents take with babies when they’re bone tired, choices that up the chances of SIDS/suffocation. I recommend babies sleep in their parents’ room for the first six months, but in SNOO Smart Sleeper, a bassinet or co-sleeper, so your baby is nearby...but in a safe bed of their own. You wouldn’t drive when you’re drunk…so take extra care of yourself and your baby when you’re drunk tired!

About Dr. Harvey Karp

Dr. Harvey Karp, one of America’s most trusted pediatricians, is the founder of Happiest Baby and the inventor of the groundbreaking SNOO Smart Sleeper. After years of treating patients in Los Angeles, Dr. Karp vaulted to global prominence with the release of the bestselling Happiest Baby on the Block and Happiest Toddler on the Block. His celebrated books and videos have since become standard pediatric practice, translated into more than 20 languages and have helped millions of parents. Dr. Karp’s landmark methods, including the 5 S’s for soothing babies, guide parents to understand and nurture their children and relieve stressful issues, like new-parent exhaustion, infant crying, and toddler tantrums.

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Disclaimer: The information on our site is NOT medical advice for any specific person or condition. It is only meant as general information. If you have any medical questions and concerns about your child or yourself, please contact your health provider.