Torturing new mothers? Who does that? Well, as a society, we all do. I’m not kidding, I’m perfectly serious, and I’m going to stop mincing my words and say it how it is. We torture mothers.
Sleep deprivation is a method of torture that has been used for at least 500 years, and is still used today. It was used extensively in Guantanamo Bay. The difference between sleep deprivation in Guantanamo Bay and in new mothers is that no-one is systematically and intentionally hurting new mothers. But the effect is the same. Sleep torture is designed to create psychological changes, which are supposed to encourage the victim to submit, to lose their sense of reality, and to talk.
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Chronic sleep deprivation is not good for you. It leads to cognitive impairment, anger and irritability, anxiety, and even psychosis. Yes, you read that right. Chronic sleep deprivation is known to cause psychosis. Puerperal psychosis in new mothers is not common thankfully, but it is dangerous. I’ve been lucky enough to attend a few study days on perinatal mental health recently, and they have all included really valuable talks by people who have recovered from severe postnatal depression, posttraumatic stress disorder and psychosis. What I noticed was that they all had one thing in common. They all mentioned lack of sleep as a factor in their illness.