Resist sleep deprivation so you can be present for your life.
Let me guess: You are tired, maybe even too tired to take a nap. You daydream about sleeping so deeply that you do not remember you dreams. The sentiment behind a cathartic bestseller that is a book for sleep-deprived parents has become a bedtime prayer of sorts for you.
Becoming a mother has many consequences—some glorious and lovely and moving, and others tiresome and tedious. Among the latter, unfortunate, set is the reality of sleep deprivation. First, we are tasked with the role of helping our little ones sleep—enabling them to establish a healthy sleep routine and to learn to self-soothe. Second, in order to be there for them when we are awake, we are in dire need of getting good rest ourselves.
Even when children are not part of our lives, women are more prone to insomnia than men. The 2002 NSF Sleep in America poll found that more women (63%) than men (54%) experience symptoms of insomnia at least a few nights a week. According to The Mystery of Sleep: Why a Good Night’s Rest Is Vital to a Better, Healthier Life by Yale sleep medicine doctor Meir Kryger, some of the difference can be attributed to hormonal fluctuations associated with menstruations, pregnancy, and menopause. Women are also more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety, both of which are implicated in sleep deprivation. And the bundles of joy tugging at our skirts during the day and waking us up during the night aren’t exactly conducive to healthy sleep habits, either.
But sleep is so key to long-term health, not to mention to our current glamour and energy, that we must not accept insomnia lying down. Along with exercise, sleep truly is the miracle fountain of youth. It is the best beauty spa that money can’t buy.
“Nearly every disease killing us in later life has a causal link to lack of sleep,” says Matthew Walker, a leading sleep researcher and UC Berkeley professor of psychology and neuroscience. “We’ve done a good job of extending life span, but a poor job of extending our health span. We now see sleep, and improving sleep, as a new pathway for helping remedy that.”
Here’s the good news: Even though your life is understandably challenging, you can take tested steps to improve your sleep. Sure, your sleeping habits won’t likely reach perfection, but you don’t have to! As a mother, you know very well that perfection is the enemy of the good. The attainable good in this case is incorporating some of the healthy sleeping hygiene to the extent you can. Doing just that has tremendous benefits for your health, cognition, energy, and beauty. Follow all or some of the 10 tips below, to the maximum degree that you can, over a month and notice yourself feel better:
1. Help your children establish a healthy sleep routine. Better sleep for children = better sleep for mamas.
2. If you have a partner, discuss with him or her your need to sleep better. Recruit them and other family members, friends, and babysitters if you can afford them, to take over for you at times when you need sleep. See if they can help you go to sleep at the same time each day.
3. Guard your time from things are sound good, but that you cannot afford to do. Say no to extra responsibilities in order to say yes to yourself and your loved ones.
4. If you have a baby or a toddler, try to set everything aside and sleep when they sleep.
5. Avoid caffeine in the afternoons and evenings.
6. Do not watch TV or use the computer an hour or two before bedtime. At the very least, eliminate the rousing blue-light by using settings on your tablet or phone or apps in order to feel less awake.
7. Sleep on a comfortable mattress. Be mindful of proper alignment and pressure points as you pick a mattress. The medical journal The Lancet recommends medium-firm mattresses for most adults.
8. Exercise or stay physically active during the day. Remember: much like sleep, exercise is your free fountain of youth.
9. Avoid alcohol in lieu of sleeping aid. While it will knock you out, the arousals produced by alcohol, if you drink more than 2 drinks, result in sweats, headaches, waking after 3 a.m., and restless dreaming.
10. Fall asleep in a dark, quiet, and cool room.
Restful nights are attainable—for your children, and for you!
Agnes Green is a researcher for the sleep science hub Tuck.com. She holds two masters degrees in the social sciences from the University of Chicago and Northwestern University. She sleeps most soundly after a kettlebell workout and on a medium-firm mattress in Portland, Oregon.
Photo Credit: Tuck