Sunday, September 12, 2010

To Sleep, Perchance to Dream

I recently read an article that stated that Americans spent more time sleeping this past year than in previous years. The author cited an average of 8.25 hours of sleep per night. I don't know about you, but I don't know any parents of young children who get 8 hours of sleep.

In fact, many of us are chronically sleep deprived. Sleep deprivation and I are well-acquainted. Whether it's stress-induced insomnia, pregnancy-related insomnia, newborn waking, or preschool night terrors. You name it - been there, done that. So, I know tired.

On the one hand, it's almost impressive how well we can function on little sleep. However, research also tells us that sleep deprivation is related to decreased cognitive functioning, decreased immune functioning, decreased concentration, lower mood, and decreased reaction time. In fact, driving while sleep deprived has been shown to be as bad as driving while drunk, which most of us would never do.

As Moms, our own sleep is often pretty far down on the list of priorities. Especially when our evenings are filled with kid bedtime routines and preparing for the next day. It's difficult to get sufficient sleep when "we time" and "me time," if they exist at all, begin at 10pm. But, being sleep deprived often turns us into irritable, emotionally sensitive, error-prone individuals who are not always fun to be around.

8 hours is often cited as a good average number of hours of sleep. However, some people have always needed more than 8 hours to function well and feel basically rested while others thrive on less. If you listen to your body, you know what's NOT enough and you probably have a good sense of how much sleep you actually need.

Here are some things that I like to keep in mind when it comes to sleep. You might notice that some of these ideas are straight out of Baby Sleep 101 (some ideas never really get old).
  • Consistency. Go to bed at the same time and get up at the same time every day. Schedule an adequate number of hours and teach your body when to get ready for sleep.
  • Pre-bed Routine. It's important to develop a routine that tells your body and mind that it's time to wind down. This creates a buffer between the stresses of life and the peace of sleep. Take 15-30 minutes to meditate, take a bath, or read something light or comforting.
  • Exercise. Regular exercise helps to re-set your circadian rhythm, increases energy, and makes you more sleepy at the right time.
  • Write Down Your To-Do List Before the Pre-Bed Routine. Get organized and get as much out of your head as possible before you wind down.
  • Limit Bed to Sleep and Sex. Do not watch tv, study, or do work in bed. Bed should not be associated with anything stressful or activating.
  • Avoid Alcohol. Although some people use alcohol to help them fall asleep, alcohol actually disrupts the sleep cycle. Essentially, you spend less time in the various stages of sleep than you need and you do not get fully rested.
  • Decrease Caffeine. Caffeine's stimulant effects, especialy after noon, can worsen an already disrupted sleep schedule, making it even more difficult to fall asleep. Also, too much caffeine in the earlier daytime hours has been associated with frequent night waking.
  • Don't Just Lie There. If you're in bed awake for more than 30 minutes, get up and do something boring. You want to find something minimally engaging to make you feel sleepy and ready to nod off.
Getting more sleep is a means of self-care. It involves recharging your physical and emotional batteries, allowing you to take better care of yourself and to interact better with those around you. You deserve to be rested and to face each day feeling as focused and emotionally grounded as possible. Your family will appreciate it as well.

*Revised version of 7/9/2010 post on