The Real Cost of Those Sleepless Nights

Zion National Park (photo by Yvonne Condes)

Get a group of moms with young children together and the conversation will eventually turn to the subject of sleep; who’s getting it, how are you getting it, and when will I get it. It’s expected that parents won’t get sleep when their kids are young, but I was surprised how little the moms with kids past kindergarten are sleeping.

One friend recently showed us her sleep chart that was logged on her Fitbit, a bracelet that measures your steps taken, calories burned, and the amount of minutes asleep. It also measures the hours awake. She had almost as many hours awake as asleep, logging only 4 hours of actual sleep with wakefulness interspersed.

I don’t know how she can function, but according to the New York Times, she’s not alone. According to the National Sleep Foundation, “Between 50 and 70 million people in the United States suffer from some form of chronic sleep disorder.”

Lack of sleep can cause irritability, memory loss, and slowed reaction time. I know this happens because I haven’t been sleeping well lately, and it has made for a rough couple of weeks. But what was really scary from the article was that chronic lack of sleep could have a lasting negative impact on your health.

The article talks about a series of sleep studies published in the journal, Science. The studies showed that your brain doesn’t work as efficiently on little sleep because, to unscientifically put it, all of the clutter hasn’t been flushed out. Lack of sleep could possibly lead to a greater susceptibility to Alzheimer’s.

Adults need 7 to 9 hours of sleep, according to the National Sleep Foundation. I know a handful of people who get that much sleep, and I have to say that you can tell. I have a friend who manages to get 9 hours of sleep a night. She looks rested, she’s calm, she’s pleasant, and she doesn’t have the telling bags under her eyes that I have when I don’t get at least 6 hours of sleep. Plus, a recent study from Duke University showed that women need more sleep than men. When they don’t get enough over time it could lead to greater risk of heart disease, depression, and psychological problems. The heart disease risk makes sense to me. When I’m up late and not sleeping, I’m also not making good decisions. I’m more likely to reach for a cookie, cheese and crackers, coffee, or even a glass of wine late at night when I’m up late working. Then the next morning, I’m not interested in getting exercise because I’m too tired. Those bad choices add up over time.

So we realize that we need more sleep. But how can we possibly get it? Women need more sleep because they do more multitasking and are using more of their brain than men. Most of the mothers I know are trying to do more than is humanly possible in the short window that is the waking hours. It’s not like life is going to get any easier. Or there will be less responsibility. I find that as my kids get older, the amount of stress and hours that I have motherly responsibilities are increasing.

So how can we get more sleep when there’s so much that needs to be done? The National Sleep Foundation has these recommendations for women. I’m going to try to follow a few of them myself (especially number five).

  1. Take a warm bath or shower A warm body can lead to a sleepy body.
  2. Don’t drink alcohol, caffeine, or smoke any cigarettes before going to bed – They could keep you up.
  3. Don’t eat a big meal before bed Be kind to your belly. Indigestion can keep you awake.
  4. Keep your bedroom quiet and dark— A quiet and dark environment can help to get a better night’s sleep.
  5. Relax before bed It doesn’t say this, but I think what they meant by “relax” is to have sex (alone or with someone) before going to bed. What it did say was that deep breathing can help to calm anxiety at bedtime leading to a better night’s sleep.
  6. Get into a routine Try to go to sleep and wake up at the same time every night.

Whether it’s napping during the day or actually getting a full 8 hours of sleep, I hope we can all start taking the time to get the sleep we need.


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