As we enter March, which brings National Sleep Awareness Week, most people reading this blog are likely now, or were in the past, acutely aware of the effects of sleep deprivation.
I remember when I first became a parent, I knew who had been in my shoes before because they always asked, “How is she sleeping?” It’s that one small statement that means “I totally understand” in terms of parenting. As we recently welcomed our second baby into our family and with the effects of sleep deprivation still fresh, I invite you to take a look at sleep health with me — from sleep deprivation to getting a better night’s rest, and the importance of it all for you and your little ones.
Sleep health is often overlooked. The National Institute of Health recommends adults get between 7 and 8 hours of sleep/night to continue good health, but an overwhelming amount of adults report getting less than 6 hours/night. This number has increased dramatically since 1985, before the mass production of electronic devices.
Benefits of sleep
During sleep, many different processes occur in the body, both physically and mentally. The brain stimulates itself with images gathered during the day, which enhances learning, memory and coordination. Cerebrospinal fluid is pumped and cleaned more efficiently during rest. The heart literally takes a load-off by slowing its rate and dropping blood pressure. Thanks to an increased production of growth hormone, muscles and joints are rebuilt during rest. And lastly, breathing rate slows and becomes very regular during sleep. So it’s no wonder that without quality sleep or enough of it, it’s hard to feel your best both physically and mentally.
Pitfalls of sleep deprivation
While the benefits of sleep are abundant, both physically and mentally, the consequences of sleep deprivation are too. An inability to focus, stress, muscle pain, and general feelings of lethargy are common. Sleep deprivation can extend the time required to recover from illnesses and increase the likelihood of being involved in an occupational or automobile accident.
Getting more sleep
Let’s face it. From cramming for that exam in college to waking to a new baby, most of us just accept that sleep is something we can’t control. But the good news is there are steps you can take to make sure you’re getting more rest when you can, even when you’re in the new parent trenches.
For starters, take note of how much sleep you are currently getting and identify reasons why that number isn’t at the 7 – 8 hour mark. While we can’t control a new baby’s sleep schedule before they are old enough to sleep train (and even some who have sleep trained and regressed), there are lots of other impediments to sleep that we can control:
- Manage and adjust priorities, so that sleep can become a top priority.
- Take a look at caffeine intake and try to cut it out by early afternoon. The effects of caffeine can last up to 6 hours post-consumption.
- Look at your bedtime surroundings; limit distractions and technology in the bedroom. Technology is definitely a thief of sleep and a break from electronics as part of the bedtime routine can reap rewards.
- Exercise, no matter what time of the day, can increase quality sleep.
- And while we often focus on schedules for our children, it’s helpful for adults to stick to a rather consistent sleep schedule as well. It teaches our bodies when to rest and thus can help one to more quickly fall into quality sleep.
So if you entered March roaring from sleep deprivation like a lion, I hope you’ll take the time this month to make some changes so that you’ll be out like a sleeping lamb before it’s over.
– Melissa Rettmann, M.S., PA-C, has a background in pediatrics and allergy. She is the mother of a toddler and a newborn and volunteers with the Parenting Program.