Tuesday, June 11, 2013

9:42 PM
Sweet, but not Sustainable
I have never thought about sleep, or the lack thereof, more intensely than I have over the last five years. It started with the big-bellied, restless nights of pregnancy and has continued relentlessly since then in the form of midnight wakings and sunrise risings. I almost always have iridescent blue moons under my eyes and deeper wrinkles than I would like as a result of premature, child-rearing induced aging. To be sure, there are a lot of laugh lines in there too, but there is no way around it - I am exhausted and I look the part.

Some of it is self-induced lack of sleep, to be sure. I could maybe go to sleep an hour earlier some nights if I eliminated exercise or writing or hanging out, but I actually doubt it because for everything that I do, there is something else I have currently given up that I would likely end up pursuing instead (reading, learning guitar, teaching yoga, paying bills). The fact is, sometimes the days are too short for our ambitions.

But so are the nights. 

Over the last several months a few articles have caught my eye related to the impacts of too little sleep. It is well known that sleep deprivation is a form of torture, and can impair your cognitive thinking and reaction time more than drinking alcohol. That is not, however, what interested me - it was the broader implications of sleep deprivation on our overall health, and how counter-productive not getting enough sleep can be if you are actually trying to be fit and healthy.

The first was an article that detailed the impacts that lack of sleep can have on weight gain, specifically that losing just a few hours of sleep a few nights in a row can lead to almost immediate weight gain (i.e., about 2 pounds a week!). This is staggering, although not surprising based on my own experience of midnight snacking and poor food choices when I work late.

A second was an article that, while specifically discussing the cause-and-effect relationship between sleep quality and exercise levels in older women, resonated with me insofar as that there have been many frustrating days where, even if I have the time to have a quality workout, I am so exhausted that I can't make it happen. 

A third was an article that lead directly from the question: What's more important: getting enough sleep or fitting in an early-morning or late-night workout? The answer:cleaning up your diet and getting seven to eight hours of quality sleep are both essential, and perhaps more important than working out.  

The Mayo Sleep Disorders Clinic is a wealth of information regarding how to manage sleep issues. While they don't tell you how to get your 22-month old to sleep through the night consistently, they do offer the following suggestions for improving sleep patterns:

No. 1: Stick to a sleep schedule
Go to bed and get up at the same time every day, even on weekends, holidays and days off. Being consistent reinforces your body's sleep-wake cycle and helps promote better sleep at night. There's a caveat, though. If you don't fall asleep within about 15 minutes, get up and do something relaxing. Go back to bed when you're tired. If you agonize over falling asleep, you might find it even tougher to nod off.

No. 2: Pay attention to what you eat and drink
Don't go to bed either hungry or stuffed. Your discomfort might keep you up. Also limit how much you drink before bed, to prevent disruptive middle-of-the-night trips to the toilet.
Nicotine, caffeine and alcohol deserve caution, too. The stimulating effects of nicotine and caffeine — which take hours to wear off — can wreak havoc with quality sleep. And even though alcohol might make you feel sleepy at first, it can disrupt sleep later in the night.

No. 3: Create a bedtime ritual
Do the same things each night to tell your body it's time to wind down. This might include taking a warm bath or shower, reading a book, or listening to soothing music — preferably with the lights dimmed. Relaxing activities can promote better sleep by easing the transition between wakefulness and drowsiness.
Be wary of using the TV or other electronic devices as part of your bedtime ritual. Some research suggests that screen time or other media use before bedtime interferes with sleep.

No. 4: Get comfortable
Create a room that's ideal for sleeping. Often, this means cool, dark and quiet. Consider using room-darkening shades, earplugs, a fan or other devices to create an environment that suits your needs.
Your mattress and pillow can contribute to better sleep, too. Since the features of good bedding are subjective, choose what feels most comfortable to you. If you share your bed, make sure there's enough room for two. If you have children or pets, set limits on how often they sleep with you — or insist on separate sleeping quarters.

No. 5: Limit daytime naps
Long daytime naps can interfere with nighttime sleep — especially if you're struggling with insomnia or poor sleep quality at night. If you choose to nap during the day, limit yourself to about 10 to 30 minutes and make it during the midafternoon.
If you work nights, you'll need to make an exception to the rules about daytime sleeping. In this case, keep your window coverings closed so that sunlight — which adjusts your internal clock — doesn't interrupt your daytime sleep.

No. 6: Include physical activity in your daily routine
Regular physical activity can promote better sleep, helping you to fall asleep faster and to enjoy deeper sleep. Timing is important, though. If you exercise too close to bedtime, you might be too energized to fall asleep. If this seems to be an issue for you, exercise earlier in the day.

No. 7: Manage stress
When you have too much to do — and too much to think about — your sleep is likely to suffer. To help restore peace to your life, consider healthy ways to manage stress. Start with the basics, such as getting organized, setting priorities and delegating tasks. Give yourself permission to take a break when you need one. Share a good laugh with an old friend. Before bed, jot down what's on your mind and then set it aside for tomorrow.

Also, for all you data geeks out there, there are a number of gadgets and apps you can use to track your sleep.

All this writing about sleep has made me tired. It is almost 10 PM and I still have to finish my workout, shower and get into bed (hopefully) before 10:30 PM. Like most nights, it probably won't happen, but hopefully the lights will actually be out 11 PM. Sleep tight!

Please contact me at mommytasker@gmail.com, MommyTasker.com, or connect with me on Facebook. 

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