When I was a kid, I could sleep anywhere. On sofas. In cars. On planes. In sleeping bags. Anywhere.
These days? Not. So. Much.
Since my first child was born 15 years ago, I’ve fallen hundreds of hours behind on sleep. Seriously. It’s ridiculous. Sometimes, I can’t fall asleep. Other times, I fall asleep, but awaken a few hours later and can’t doze back off.
My brain buzzes with what I need to do the next day and the day, week and month after that. It tries to solve my problems, my kids’ problems, my husband’s problems, my friends’ problems… even the problems of random people I don’t know personally. I check the time. It’s been an hour. Two. Three. Four.
Finally, I fall back asleep and an hour later, it’s time to wake up. For a night or two, I can rally. By the third day, though, I’m running on coffee, adrenaline and frequently, a low-grade headache.
May is Better Sleep Month, so I thought I’d take a peek at the latest research and what other moms from our City Mom Collective network have to say about it. Turns out, I’m definitely not alone. Experts say up to a third of adults don’t get enough sleep. And guess what? Women report poorer quality and more disrupted sleep across various life stages than men. Not surprising, right?
It doesn’t make biological sense that a human wouldn’t be able to sleep. Bodies need sleep to function. While a night of insomnia is unlikely to cause major problems, chronic sleep deprivation can do damage to your body and brain, according to experts at the Cleveland Clinic. That includes raising your risk for:
- Depression and other mood disorders.
- Cognitive impairment and dementia.
- Poor balance and coordination.
- Weakened immune system.
- Impaired glucose tolerance and Type 2 diabetes.
- Overweight and obesity.
- High blood pressure, cardiac events and stroke.
Study after study indicates that sleep quality and quantity are critical to mental and emotional well-being.
During sleep, the mind and body restore themselves, including repairing and rejuvenating cells, consolidating memories, processing emotions, and cleansing toxins from the brain. Quality sleep helps regulate emotions and improve cognitive skills like learning and attention, according to the National Sleep Foundation.
In other words, sleep is as important to the human body as food and water.
What Can We Do?
So we know sleep quality is important. How can we make it happen?
There are lots of great tools out there – comfortable mattresses, sleep-tracking apps, light dimmers, cool pillows, darkening shades, sleep apnea machines, supplements, meditation/wind-down apps, eye pillows, ear plugs, medications and more.
Other tips I have found in my research include eating dinner a bit earlier, drinking less alcohol, getting exercise each day, staying away from screens for the hour leading up to bedtime, and sleeping in a cool, dark room.
A friend’s therapist told him to get out of bed if he couldn’t sleep – that staying in bed when we wasn’t sleeping was programming his body to not sleep in bed. That makes sense, but gosh is it tough to crawl out of a cozy bed at 1 am, when the rest of my family is sleeping.
My own doctor recently suggested I try cognitive behavior therapy. Apparently, CBT helps you determine which thoughts and behaviors cause sleep problems or make them worse. Then, you learn how to replace these thoughts and behaviors with habits that support sound sleep.
Can’t hurt to try, right? I’ll be making an appointment soon.