Louisa Claire


Encouragement For A Tired Mum

What’s the difference between extreme sleep deprivation and Post Natal Depression?

I’m not talking about a little bit tired, I’m talking about extreme exhaustion that renders you unable to think straight, act calmly or even have full control over your emotions and responses. The type of tired that leaves you feeling utterly helpless, overwrought and unable to cope.

I’m no doctor or psychiatrist so I can’t explore the medical or scientific nature of these two things, but it seems to me that the line between the two is fine, and that effects of the two blur that line even further.

The biggest difference is that if you are just tired then some sleep will improve your situation. If you are suffering from Post Natal Depression, or any other form of depression, it’s clearly a lot more complicated. This of course, is quite a big and important difference.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot of late, since I’ve found myself in a better “place” and thus able to cope better with the antics of a 3 year old. I’ve also been thinking about a post I wrote just before Bliss broke her leg, where I wasn’t coping to so well. If you missed it, you can read what wrote here: Help! I Don’t Know What To Do With My 3 Year Old. It generated a lot of support (thank you!) and led to a bigger discussion about smacking. Looking back at the time the smacking aspect seemed huge to me and I wondered Why is everyone talking about smacking? That’s not the point. The point is I’m at my wits end. In fact, it seemed to me that the discussion was so focused on this that I felt compelled to write a follow up post called SmackDown. When I look back at the comments now, actually hardly any of them refer to the smacking in that initial post.

It tells me a lot about the emotional and mental state that I was in that I focused on the smacking comments, and reminds me of just how skewed our perspective can be when we aren’t coping. At the time, it was like an outer body experience; I knew I had the power to change the tone of our house and of Bliss’ attitude by changing my reaction, but I couldn’t find the reserves within myself to make a better parenting choice. It wasn’t so much the theory of parenting that was the problem, but the practice  of it.

This is not an excuse for bad parenting, but a reflection on real parenting. As I played that silly game of Hide & Seek with Bliss the other day I realised that a couple of months ago I would not have had the emotional capacity to find a way out of her defiance, into something silly like that game. I would have gotten cross with her and been annoyed by her attitude and made the situation ten times worse. I can see that so clearly now, because I’m in a different emotional place.

It’s one thing to be able to stay calm, to stave off the anger we can feel when our children push all our buttons. It’s quite another to be able to diffuse the situation entirely (or even mostly). Being exhausted can make it virtually impossible. Now that I am a little more rested and a little more stable, it seems so easy to make that choice. I can come up with an approach to change the tone of the conversation and give Bliss an “out” that allows her a little space and independence but doesn’t drive me to tears.

It’s annoying and frustrating to deal with defiance, but when you’re rested and well it’s not all that hard. BUT when you’re not rested and well, it’s near impossible.

What’s my point? My point is exhaustion is a very real obstacle to calm and rational parenting. Don’t dismiss the impact of sleep deprivation on your emotional and mental state; there’s a very good reason it’s used as a form of torture. It is real, and has very real consequences and that doesn’t make you a failure as a parent.

Sometimes we just need to hear that from someone who can see what we can’t, and who’s been where we are.


If you are struggling as a parent, be it from PND, exhaustion or another circumstance, you are not alone.

Contact PANDA or Beyond Blue for support.

To hear the story of a very brave and beautiful Mum who is walking this journey visit Becky and James.

Thoughts on “Encouragement For A Tired Mum

  1. I actually did a bit of reading on this and the consensus was that there is very little difference between extreme sleep deprivation and PND and that often the two are confused, even by health professionals. Also, one can lead to the other if not addressed.

    I’m glad you’re seeing things more clearly and enjoying parenting more. I know that for me, stress is another factor that severely inteferes with “rational parenting”, as well as being a depression trigger. In fact, there are probably three major ones for me – social isolation, stress and lack of sleep. By now I’ve learnt to ask myself what is happening in each of these areas, before I start beating myself up for being depressed, again…

    • Thanks for sharing Dorothy and that’s such a helpful point. I’ve also felt that sleep deprivation (and other factors like stress) could lead to depression if not addressed, I guess that’s probably quite obvious to a healthy mind but when in the midst of it I think everything can get quite confusing. I know for me that sleep deprivation is a major trigger and also that I tend to get to that place quicker than others. Telling myself that that doesn’t mean I’m a failure can be very hard when I see other Mums coping with less sleep for longer periods. I’m glad you’ve found your triggers too, one step closer to being able to address them. xx

  2. Hi Louisa,

    So glad to hear that you are feeling in a better place now. I loved reading about your game of hide and seek with Bliss. I know exactly what you mean about struggling with the defiance of a 3-year-old girl! The tiredness does make it so much harder.

    On the tired days, I can sometimes get to the end of the day and realise that I haven’t enjoyed anything about my 3-year-old all day. Her behaviour might be exactly the same as it is any other day, but my attitude is all wrong.

    I try to make a conscious effort, early on in the day, to find something funny, cute, mature, good that she does and just enjoy being her parent – at least for that moment.

    As you say, it doesn’t come naturally on the tired days, but I am training myself!

    • Thanks Julie :) Thanks for sharing your experience, I have days where I can just see that if I can change things would be better, even if I’m calm it’s not the same as having an attitude that diffuses rather then intensifies the situation. I like the idea of training yourself too – that’s a helpful way to think about, without it becoming a burdon or source of failure….gosh, this gig is hard work hey?!

  3. I know I’m worse in everything, especially patience, when sleep deprived. I knew I’d experience it before my first child was born, but the theory and expectation never quite prepared me for the reality. I cope with it, on the whole, by knowing it is short-term, though I’m better on some days than others. I also don’t expect the baby to sleep through so don’t buy into that angst either. Just hoping the grey bags under my eyes finally disappear once I am able to start getting some solid sleep again! :-)

    • They will! Taking the pressure of expectation off helps. I got caught out with Bear because while Bliss certainly had long periods of being a difficult sleeper she also slept 7-7 from 7 weeks. Bear has been the opposite, pretty consistently waking once a night which initially was a shock, but has been easier to deal with in the long term than Bliss who would wake up and cry for hours at a time.

  4. I was lucky enough to avoid PND, but the sleep deprivation with Amy was extreme. She would wake every 40 minutes, ALL night. It was a nightmare and with the screaming, I honestly have no idea how I survived.

    I know nowadays that if we’ve had a bad night, or if I’m having a bad spell with my joints, that I am that much less likely to be patient and cope, as when my joints are stable, or the kids are sleeping through.

  5. I’m another one who has done the extreme sleep deprivation and ended up calling PANDA. Even now looking back I can’t tell you if I was just totally exhausted or depressed. I think perhaps it was the sleep deprivation that lead to depression. PANDA was wonderful. They let me cry and unleash my feelings in such a supportive and wonderful way – it gave me hope and let me move forward again from the horrible pit I was in. I heart PANDA :O) This was all 2.5 ish years ago. So many things contributed for me. We had moved away from all of my supports to run a business, I had 2 kids and a baby and I was still trying to work out being ‘me’ with being ‘mummy’. My other half, bless him greatly, had no idea what to do with me. It was the hardest time in my life and I’m so totally thankful it’s behind me now.

    • Thanks for sharing this Caz. Embarrassingly (having just written this post) I have never called PANDA – I always thought you needed to have PND or something to call them, or was worried that they would say that the service wasn’t really for me and I just needed to “toughen up”. Next time I’m at breaking point I will remember this comment. It’s so good to hear that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel too xx

  6. I love babies, I loved having babies, the baby stage and and even when depressed, I still found I could muddle my way through the worst of days. BUT add sleep deprivation to the mix=me feeling practically psychotic. It’s a very scary experience when your reality becomes clouded by a dark slow fog that you can barely move through and emotions that are raw and fragile……Funny thing is now my youngest are five and I could sleep through the night, I hardly do….I am so used to being half awake and ready to jump up at the smallest noise. One day soon I hope!

  7. Sleep deprivation is incredibly debilitating. I remember feeling like I was being a whiney parent when I told our maternal and child health nurse how I struggled with only getting 3-4 hours sleep a night (and rarely consecutive) hours – this when Heidi was about 3yo. Years of very little sleep had me assuming this was the norm for all parents, the maternal and child health nurse arranged emergency respite and I found my way out of the exhausted fog. Amazing what a difference rest can make.

    • Gosh. There is so much I want to say about this. I felt like a whiney mum because people kept saying being tired was part of the job and so I just thought I shouldn’t speak up. Mind you I may have been hearing that message more strongly that it was presented!! I’m so glad your MCHN was helpful, exactly what you need. How amazing you are to cope with that for so long, just amazing!

  8. I’ve not had what I would call sleep deprivation (don’t hate me! ;)) but have had what I think was mild depression. (Never diagnosed.) I absolutely understand that concept of not knowing what’s going on when you’re in the thick of it, and it’s only now looking back that I can see how bad things were. I’m so glad you’ve hit that light after the darkness, too. x

  9. As someone who has suffered both ‘normal’ depression and normal/abnormal PND, I can tell you that I really believe that sleep deprivation has a lot to do with at least, increasing the symptoms or decreasing the ability to deal with depression. Everything is better after a good night’s sleep. And when you’ve been up all night with a baby, a baby you love more than life itself, and you’re feeling down – it’s just impossible to put yourself first. And so you languish, and put yourself last. And you suffer.
    So I do believe that PND is worsened by sleep deprivation. They are certainly not the same, but I believe we all do better when we feel at least a little rested.
    That’s just my own experience.
    Hugs. xo

    • Thanks so much for sharing your story Bronnie, I really hope that this post didn’t belittle your experience. I remember feeling so guilty, like it wasn’t ok for me to feel so overwhelmed when I had my life’s dream in my arms. It took me some time to get over that and realise that I could still love my child/ren and be facing some real challenges with it.

  10. You are absolutely right about lack of sleep and the affect it has on your mood. I researched this years ago so the info is a little hazy now but we obviously need about 7-8 hour sleep a night for our brains to rest and our bodies to repair so if you don’t get enough sleep everything suffers. Most people have a sleep debt. ie if you only get 5 hours sleep a night then you have a sleep debt of 3 hours. Multiply that by 5 nights that’s 15 hours which is why on a Saturday morning everyone is stuffed an sleeps in; to catch up. Exercise is another thing that has an enormous affect on our mood. A simple walk every day helps.

    The other thing is sunlight. Vitamin D deficiency is linked to moods and depression. I read an article that depression rates rise during the winter in the UK because they have such short daylight hours.

    Love & stuff
    Mrs M

    • Thanks for all that, that’s really interesting and makes sense. The Vitamin D thing is interesting too – my hubs is low on Vit D after this winter. Interesting indeed!

  11. When my second baby was born, I had probably already been suffering AND (anti-natal depression) as I struggled to parent an extremely sensitive (to noise and high energies) toddler who would have enormous meltdowns several times a day, as well as suffering terrible nausea for the first 26 weeks of pregnancy and terrible reflux for the final three months of pregnancy.

    My second baby had reflux and screamed for 8 hours every day, the rest of the time he was breastfeeding or sleeping in arms. We were getting some broken sleep overnight, and I didn’t feel as much sleep deprived as completely overwhelmed with the constantly screaming, on top of the demands of a two year old.

    When I sought help from my GP, and he heard my baby was sleeping in our bed (the only safe place he and I could both get some broken sleep – we took all the precaustions), he dismissed my sense of overwhelm as “merely sleep deprivation” and told me to put my screaming infant son in the room furtherst away from the master bedroom, so I could get some sleep.

    Luckily for both my son and myself, I sought a second opinion. I discovered my son’s severe reflux and was able to medicate it. He stopped screaming all day long, and I sought counselling and medication for my depression.

    Skip forward a year and a half, my depression had lifted. My son had never slept well, but suddenly his sleeping became much, much worse. Because I also had his older brother to care for, and my husband was away from the house for 13 hours a day, there wasn’t any opportunity for me to catch up on sleep when DS2 did sleep, so after six months of only 2 broken hours sleep every night, I had a mental and physical collapse (including two seizures) and ended up in hospital for 4 days. That was extreme sleep deprivation. We managed to sort out DS2’s sleeping on my return home (Dh took some sick leave, his work was great about it all!), and I got some proper sleep for the first time in months, and felt amazing – without the need for medication or counselling.

    • Oh Sif, I don’t even know what to say. What a journey you have been on! I can’t imagine how hard all of that must have been. A few ppl have mentioned that sleep deprivation & PND can often be confused by Drs and I’m so glad you were able to find someone who could give you the right advice and support. I hope you are getting some sleep these days too x

  12. Hi,
    thank you for writing this. I feel as though I have come out of a similar situtation into a better place. I agree with everything and felt the same way only a few months ago. My baby was growing into a toddler, a few health problems in my family PLUS unbelievable sleep depreviation lead to me not seeing straight for quite a while.
    thank you and it is so great to hear someone else going through the same thing.

    • I’m so glad this was an encouragement to you to hear – it helps me too, to know that I’m not the only person who has been through this. I’m really glad that you’re in a better place at the moment, long may it continue! x

  13. Ah, Louisa. That line between them is so blurry. After having 3 children in 3.5 years, I *get* what you’re talking about. And still taking my medication although my youngest turned 2 yesterday. Motherhood can be a tough gig!

    I posted about my experience with PND at http://www.lifeonplanetbaby.com/2010/11/my-life-with-3-children-under-5-and.html. It’s about time I wrote an update.

    Thanks for writing this post – it’s such an important issue and I’m sure many people will feel less alone after having read it. J x

    • Thanks for sharing that Jane, I’m going to go and have a read now. I am in awe of your Mums who get 3 in in such a short amount of time, and so grateful for your honesty and generosity in sharing your story so that others can find comfort and support, or insight. xx

  14. This is a great post. I’m a mum to four kids, all of whom arrived in less than 5.5 years. My eldest has just turned 6, my twins are just 3 and my baby girls is 7 months old. The twins are a handful and a half and I know some days it’s harder to cope than others, and it rarely has anything to do with the kids and absolutely everything to do with my frame of mind. I’ve always been a great believer in learning optimistic thinking skills – not pie-in-the-sky think happy thoughts, but actual strategies that I use to challenge my own thought processes. They aren’t a quick fix, but they do help me understand and manage my own emotional state far more effectively.

    I honestly don’t know what I would’ve done without those skills in the last 10 months. My dad died very suddenly of a heart attack in September last year when I was 25 weeks pregnant (he was only 58 :*( ). I then had to get my head around the fact I was grieving the loss of one of the most significant people in my life, and I was having a baby in 14 weeks, plus I had 3 other pre-school kids to look after and we lived in Brisbane with no family support, while everyone else was in Melbourne. After my baby’s arrival in December, I got very sick with an infection and ended up back in hospital for 3 days on IV antibiotics. Then we found out my husband had a job transfer to Victoria, which was great as it would put us close to my family, but it meant moving 2000km away with 4 little kids. The three weeks before we moved, my husband fell off our eldest son’s skateboard and tore tendons in his shoulder. He was unable to use his left arm at all. Two weeks later he had a rotator-cuff repair (shoulder reconstruction) and the following week we moved. I had four kids, two dogs and a one-armed husband who wasn’t allowed to lift anything heavier than a cup of tea for 12 weeks! It was seriously the toughest time of my life. We moved in April and it’s no surprise that I’ve fallen in an emotional and physical heap since then. I’m gradually coming out of the worst of it, but it’s been rough. I think it’s the knowledge that I’m really not going crazy that has kept me from going totally crazy :P Grief does horrible things to your body and mind and I miss my dad terribly every single day. It breaks my heart that he never got to meet his baby granddaughter (she’s my only girl) and I know how safe and loved she would’ve felt in his arms. I’ve got a long ways to go before I’m back to the ‘me’ I used to be – fun, vibrant, energetic, playful – but I know I’m on the right track. Thanks for reminding me I don’t have to perfect :)

    • Wow Karen, that is just a huge story. I’m with you on the ‘actual strategies’ approach, especially doing what you can to develop them before the rough times come (or come again, as the case may be). So glad to hear you are back on the right track. Are you in Melbourne? Maybe we need to organise a meet up? It’s been so nice to connect with some other Melb bloggers of late.

  15. having suffered through PND twice, I now know that lack of sleep exacerbates the issue. Although I couldn’t see that at the time (even though it seems obvious). My husband noticed it and we now have strategies in place to make sure I get more sleep than I used to. Depression – insomnia – sleep deprivation – depression. lovely cycle.
    add paranoia and mother guilt, pmt, agoraphobia and stress and it’s a fun ride indeed.
    sleep is a magic.

    • That is a seriously rough cycle my friend. Glad you’ve got some strategies and a supportive husband. I appreciate your honesty and candor so much, I can only imagine how many Mums you have helped by just being you! Can’t wait for our road trip in a couple of weeks!

  16. I totally get you, you know I do. I did a follow-up post on your ‘smack down’ and my post focused on ‘what I do when I’m at my wit’s end’ because for a long time there (with 3 under 4) I was at my wit’s end pretty much all of the time!

    I get a bit more sleep these days, but not much. Seven years of sleep deprivation has meant I’ve mostly lost touch with reality, but I go okay. Reality is overrated anyway! x

    • I do know you get me, and I loved the post you wrote – reading it all again now I have fresh eyes to it & while at the time it felt right in my head, now it also feels achievable which is a seriously good thing. It’s so great to be able learn from other Mums who have “been there, done that” and come out the other side with a few war wounds and a lot of wisdom! xx

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