Nick Hobson writes an excellent blog on sleep deprivation and anxiety (see above) – summarized as  ‘a sleepy brain is particularly susceptible to negative emotion states and heightened anxiety’.

What does this mean for new mothers?

New mothers (and any parents with a child who won’t sleep) will relate to a feeling of underlying anxiety. This may range from fears about the child’s health and development or how the household tasks of cooking, washing and caring for older siblings may get done.

It could manifest in worries about feeding, not napping, about waking from a nap when the chores have not been completed, about going out of the home or social anxiety. How does a new mother get everything done? It’s routine to tell a mother to focus on the baby and rest they they sleep. However for a lot of mothers this is very difficult and the essential household tasks of washing, cooking and caring for older children cannot be ignored.

Now add into this mix a return to work commitments, possible previous anxiety and substantial sleep deprivation!

Some parental anxiety is normal and healthy and acts as protective factor for that child. But for some parents who may be particularly susceptible to sleep deprivation or have other stressors in their lives this can tip into an anxiety that cripples a mother internally (although perhaps not outwardly if the ‘game face’ is effective?)!

So what can be done in the first few months? Babies need night feeds and care!

How often as a health professional I hear that the mother is doing all of the night care for a baby or toddler. Due, perhaps to single parenthood or a partners job! This may be manageable in the short-term but not if a baby/child is waking frequently in the early hours of the morning for an extended period of time. The second part of the night is when, as adults, we get most of our REM sleep (interspersed with brief bits of deep sleep). This REM sleep is crucial for emotional regulation, memory storing, processing of worries and fearful experiences. Therefore after a good night’s sleep the previous day’s negative experiences do not feel as painful!

So how does the mother who gets very little of this REM sleep sleep think and feel?

Perhaps as a compromise the mother goes to bed early while partner looks after baby – after 1 or 2 am perhaps then partner gets a chunk of sleep and mum wakes up. On the surface this seems a very sensible division of labour given that partner is waking to go to work. Fast forward several months and mum has lost most of her REM sleep and partner has lost most of their non REM (deep) sleep. Resulting in an emotional and irrational mother and a partner who may have more illnesses and physical complaints – through no fault of their own.

That mother, whose job it is to teach and regulate her baby’s emotions and brain development, is never getting the REM sleep so crucial for processing of her own emotions and logical thinking. Take this to the extremes and that mum can no longer distinguish between real threat and imagined threat and is living a life of crippling anxiety and fear.

How do we improve this situation?

Forget about having an hour or 2 of’me-time’ when the kids are asleep, prioritize sleep which is the ultimate ‘me-time’!

Ensure that both parents get an undisturbed chunk of sleep which is not always at the same time every night.

If there is anyone else who can help allow them to!

For sources of support regarding antenatal or postnatal anxiety and depression see your midwife, health visitor or GP or visit

There are also self-referral services for talking therapies and many local groups for support.

For help with sleep visit