New Parents and the Urgency of Sleep

Today, we have smart phones, smart cars, smart TVs… basically, smart everything. We integrate technology seamlessly into our daily routines, yet when it comes to parenting, tech is often chided as the enemy — seen as harmful or shameful. We believe we’re supposed to “do it all” ourselves, and if we rely on tech to help us with our babies (or to help us so we can help our kids)… we’re failing.

Case in point: New parent exhaustion.

Moms think they need to care for their babies every minute, 24/7.

Of course, caring for one’s baby is the most fulfilling experience, but many parents get overwhelmed. No wonder an “I-should-do-it-all” attitude can lead to exhaustion.

Today, 50% of new parents get less than 6.5 hours of fractured sleep each night.[1] Studies show this level of sleep deprivation can cause the same mental impairment as being drunk.[2]

Exhaustion is the number one cause of new parent stress, and it can lead to serious problems — many of which we hate to talk about: impaired bonding, marital stress, decreased breastfeeding, emotional crumbling with suicidal tendencies and thousands of infant deaths.

Approximately 3500 babies a year die in their sleep. As many as 70% die when brought into an adult bed by desperately fatigued parents.[3]

Serious exhaustion is the number one trigger for postpartum depression (PPD), something which isn’t often discussed. PPD affects 10–15 percent of all new mothers — and at least 25 percent of their partners. Yes, men get PPD too, and it causes huge suffering for all involved. Most recently, Chrissy Teigen penned a moving, insightful piece in Glamour to share her battle with PPD to help raise awareness with other moms.

Yet, given the real consequences of exhaustion, why aren’t we doing more? With .5 to 1 million women suffering from this emotional burden each and every year, it’s a terrible failing of our health system that doctors have no successful interventions to prevent postpartum depression.

New parents need to be on their game for their kids…and their jobs.

Millenial parents (yes, I’m talking to you): you’re probably raising your kids mostly on your own. And, you might not have a wealth of previous experience caring for babies. I’m here to tell you: it’s okay to need and ask for help!

Today having a nanny is cush, but for the entire history of humanity — up until 100 years ago — all parents had the help of 4 to 5 “nannies:” their moms, sisters, cousins and friends… because it truly does take a village. Now, our families are spread throughout the country, and in most households, both parents have full careers.

So…when does a new parent sleep?

For years, I’ve wondered if we could use technology to build a smart sleeper that would ease the burden on parents. Might we recreate a womb-like environment that responds to crying, soothes infants and lets parents get the rest they need? Beginning in 2011, I began a research project with MIT-trained engineers and leading industrial designer Yves Béhar and discovered that the answer is… well yes. Yes, we can.

In a thousand years, there has been no innovation in infant sleepers. They are simply versions of boxes and still, flat beds, often in dark quiet rooms. That’s massive sensory deprivation for a baby who is used to the rich symphony of touch, sound and motion they enjoy 24/7 in the womb.

After five years of hard work and testing hundreds of families, we created SNOO — the first smart sleeper, which boosts a baby’s sleep by imitating the rhythmic sensations babies enjoy while in the womb. It adjusts the level of soothing motion and white-noise, increasing it as the baby cries (just the way an experienced parent or night nurse does it) to turn on a baby’s “calming reflex.” SNOO is also the safest baby bed ever made, with a special swaddle that guarantees the baby stays on its back for the first 6 months (no more panicked waking at 2AM to check if the baby has rolled to a risky position).

The SNOO swaddle clips securely into the sleeper, keeping babies on their backs, all night long.

SNOO’s swaddle secures to the sleeper, keeping babies safely on their backs, all night long.While I could go on about how SNOO works, my focus here is on solving the biggest complaint of new parents: sleep deprivation.

Overall, SNOO is not a magic bed, but it definitely helps babies learn to be better sleepers. It has been shown to help boost infant sleep an extra 1–2 hours each night. And, it helps infants slide back into sleep in between those late-night feedings. Molly Sims has called it a lifesaver.

New parent Christina Ladd recently tested SNOO for New York Magazine and said, “You have no idea how grateful I was to have those extra, precious minutes of sleep for myself.”

A smart device like SNOO can help parents feel confident and capable, which leads to a better bonding experience and better parenting. It can also help infants and parents develop healthier sleep habits, which is timely for World Sleep Day.

Given the often under reported and misunderstood consequences of sleep deprivation, we want to support parents — not replace them. We want to make clear that it’s okay to need help, as we’re not supposed to do this whole parenting thing on our own. And because we happily allow technology to help us in every other aspect of our lives… why not let it help new babies — and parents — get safer, better sleep? A bit more sleep will make everyone happier and healthier.

[1] Kendall-Tackett, Kathleen, Zhen Cong, and Thomas W. Hale. “The effect of feeding method on sleep duration, maternal well-being, and postpartum depression.” Clinical Lactation 2.2 (2011): 22–26.

[2]Semin Neurol. 2009 Sep; 29(4): 320–339. Neurocognitive Consequences of Sleep Deprivation. Namni Goel, Ph.D.,1 Hengyi Rao, Ph.D.,1 Jeffrey S. Durmer, M.D., Ph.D.,2 and David F. Dinges, Ph.D.1

[3] Colvin JD, et al. Sleep Environment Risks for Younger and Older Infants. Pediatrics 2014;134:e406–e412

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