One common theme I hear just about every parent talk about is wanting more sleep. According to the American Sleep Association, 37% of adults between the ages of 20-39 report short sleep duration and 35.3% adults report less than 7 hours of sleep during a typical 24-hour period.
Raise your hand if that describes you
I raised my hand, did you? I know I do not get near enough sleep, usually because I try to stay up late to blog or spend time with my husband after the kids are in bed. Plus, my one year old son is teething right now and wakes up multiple times a night. He generally does well going back to sleep on his own if he wakes at night, but if he doesn’t feel well he wants Mom’s cuddles. The person who invented the phrase, “sleep like a baby,” probably never had a damn baby.
Why sleep is important
So why is sleep so important? Sleep is a vital life process for both our bodies and minds. Popular Science says that sleep “helps us repair and restore our organ systems including our muscles, immune systems, and various other hormones. And it plays a crucial role in memory, helping us retain what we learned at work or school for later use.”
Sleep deprivation can affect your mood, your concentration, daytime drowsiness, and fatigue. It can also have a negative impact on your health. Too little sleep can be the reason you may be packing on the pounds or even increase your risk of some diseases. The American Academy of Family Physicians recently reported new research findings from a study that connected the lack of sleep and circadian rhythm disruption to a higher risk of developing obesity and diabetes.
In the study, 21 healthy, non-obese adults spent more than five weeks setting an initial “optimal sleep” baseline under controlled laboratory conditions. Study objects then spent three weeks exposed to circadian disruption induced by imposing 28-hour fasting/feeding and sleep/wake cycles… in conjunction with sleep restriction of 6.5 hours in bed (the equivalent of 5.6 hours per 24-hour period)… Finally, participants underwent nine days of recovery sleep, with sable circadian re-entrainment.
The researchers found that glucose levels increased after exposure to the three-week sleep restriction/circadian disruption protocol compared to the same meal at baseline. In some cases, the postprandial glucose response reached pre-diabetic levels… At the same time the resting metabolic rate dropped an average 8% from baseline among study participants.
In other words, too little sleep can cause you to burn less calories and cause your body to create less insulin, which makes your blood glucose levels higher. Both of which could contribute to weight gain and increased likelihood of developing Type 2 diabetes.
I read another study featured in an article called “Insufficient Sleep, Diet, and Obesity” in Annals of Internal Medicine. For this study, subjects followed a calorie restricted diet and were sleep deprived. At the end of the study they felt hungrier overall, saw a decrease in muscular lean body mass, and didn’t lose as much body fat as test subjects who weren’t sleep deprived.
Personally, I try to get as much nighttime sleep as possible because I know how it adversely affects me. I have epilepsy and lack of sleep is one factor that can lower the seizure threshold and therefore make my brain more susceptible to having a seizure.
How can you sleep better?
While you may not be able to control how much sleep you get, you can make changes to get a better quality of sleep. Here are some tips to to try:
- Lower your bedroom temperature – many people sleep better at a temperature around 67 degrees Fahrenheit. I am always hot and my husband is always cold, so we have to compromise when it comes to temperature or how heavy the blankets are on the bed
- Increase air movement – Having a fan on in the room, even if not directly blowing air on you can increase bedtime comfort
- Lighting or lack of – Find the right amount of light that works for you. Use a dim nightlight, use black-out curtains to block out sunlight, or wear an eye mask
- Sound or lack of – White noise helps me sleep. My mother uses earplugs because my father watches TV at night at a high volume and he also snores loudly
- Aroma therapy – Using lavender essential oils or lotions can help your body relax
- Be comfortable – Ditch an old uncomfortable pillow, mattress, or pajamas. I use a body pillow between my knees and ankles so that my hips don’t get sore
- Be prepared – Keep a drink, tissues, lip balm, lotion, antacids, and other helpful items at your bedside. You will have what you need right away and it will eliminate having to get up out of bed
- Use a humidifier or diffuser – I recently bought a cool mist humidifier for use at my bedside because I have an issue with mouth and nasal dryness at night. I have slept much better since I began using it
- Lessen distractions – Don’t bring devices, electronics, TV, or children and pets into your bedroom when you are ready for sleep
- Relax before bed – Find a habitual routine that helps you relax, like turning down the lights, reading, stretching, drinking a cup of warm milk or caffeine-free tea
- Eliminate visual clutter – This is a big one for me. Sometimes my bedroom becomes a dumping ground for laundry or stuff that needs put away but can’t be done right away. The visual clutter increases my anxiety, which keeps me awake
- Take a warm bath – The warm water will help your body relax and fall asleep easier
- Find a sleep position that works for you – Put a pillow under your knees, sleep at an angle using a wedge pillow, or lay in a recliner if you need to
- See a doctor – If you believe you may have an issue with apnea, insomnia, frequent urination, restless legs, or other problems that may prevent you from getting your best sleep
- Clear your mind – I keep a notebook next to my bed because I always think of things I need to do, blog post ideas, or things I don’t want to forget. Instead of staying awake all night dwelling on them, I write it down
- Sleep in separate rooms if necessary – If your partner snores, has distractive limb movements, or other issues that keep you from sleeping or interrupt your sleep, experiment with sleeping separately to see if it would be a good idea for you
- Don’t co-sleep with children – This one is hard… snuggling in bed with me is the only way my son will sleep at 4:00 a.m., but I have found that my kids roll over a lot, feel hot, kick, and do all kinds of things that keep me awake
- Have enough room – A full size mattress may not be large enough; try a queen or king size for more room
- Less caffeine use – Don’t eat or drink foods containing caffeine late in the day, as this may contribute to problems trying to fall asleep at night
- Go pee – Visit the loo before bed. If you need to get up to use the restroom often, stop drinking at an earlier time in the evening
- Develop a sleep schedule and keep to it – Going to bed and waking at varying times can cause interruptions to your circadian rhythm
I hope you find this helpful
If you have a hard time falling asleep, staying asleep, or don’t have good sleep quality, try some of the suggestions listed above.
Drop me a line and tell me if any of these tips work for you, or if you have any additional tips that help you get a good sleep!
If bedtime is difficult for your kids, you may find some helpful suggestions in my recent post, How to Develop a Nightly Routine and Make Bedtime Easier.