Sleep. Such a simple word. Unfortunately, if you're a working mom, that word might not have much meaning for you these days. Odds are that you're getting not only less sleep but lesser quality sleep than your better half. This lack of rest at night has effects that spill over to the day, making it tough to fulfill your personal and business responsibilities. The resulting stress makes it even harder to sleep, ultimately trapping you in a never-ending cycle.
Is This a Portrait of You?
Women's traditional role as caregivers means they never get to clock out on the job. Days are spent tending to the kids, handling housework and running a list of errands that never seems to shrink. When their spouses return home, leaving their 9-to-5 job at the office, they get to kick back in the recliner, remote control in hand. After all, they've been toiling away for eight hours and need some down time. So the women continue to tend to the kids, handle... well, you get the idea.
It seemed there might be a breakthrough when the concept of stay-at-home dad came into being. Some couples made the decision for the woman to become the financial support of the family while the man remained at home to handle the domestic duties. Finally, it appeared there might be some equity. However, even in these households the traditional gender roles eventually assert themselves. Whether by instinct or by necessity, many women still end up assuming most of the domestic duties in addition to their already full workday.
In some cases, sleep deprivation is actually self-inflicted. After a hectic day juggling responsibilities, nighttime hours can be a busy mom's "me time" when she can read, knit or indulge in any of the relaxing pastimes that have no place in her workday. For some the workday doesn't end at 6, but you must stop to attend to your family. After the kids are in bed, it's time to get back to work.
Regardless of whether this lack of shut-eye is voluntary or not, as time goes on it negatively impacts you mentally, physically and emotionally. In the short run you may find yourself getting snappy and irritable with your family and friends. You'll also find your energy running low and jobs may be taking you longer to complete than usual. Long-term results can include memory and cognitive impairment as well as increased chances of accidents due to sleepiness. Constant, unrelieved sleep deprivation can ultimately lead to serious health conditions such as high blood pressure and depression.
Tips to Get the Best Sleep Ever
If you find yourself running on this hamster wheel of sleeplessness, you don't have to resign yourself to it. There are tips you can use that require only a little planning, without over-the-counter sleep aids. Your primary goal should be improving your quality of sleep. When you're getting truly refreshing rest, your system can recharge on fewer hours of sleep. Use the suggestions in this list to find the one (or ones) that work for you.
1. Just how comfortable is your bed?
You may be so tired by the time you drop onto it that you haven't given much thought to the question. It's hard to relax if your mattress is lumpy or your sheets are scratchy and threadbare. A quality bed is a necessity, not a luxury. If yours has seen better days, invest in one that suits your preferences. Don't stop there, though. Use the same criteria for pillows, sheets, comforters and any other accessories that will improve your sleep.
2. Be careful about what you eat and drink during evening hours.
Late-night snacking can cause spikes in your blood sugar resulting in restless sleep. Alcohol may sound great in theory since it often induces sleepiness. However, once it fully metabolizes you'll find yourself wide awake. You probably already know to restrict afternoon and evening caffeine.
3. One of the most common causes of sleeplessness is a mind that won't shut off.
If you find yourself rehashing the day's events or pressing problems in an endless loop, try some strategies to help your brain enter relaxation mode. If you find yourself constantly worrying, visualize a solution to the problem. It's okay if you don't know how you would achieve that solution. In fact, it may not even be a realistic one. But by filling your thoughts with this solution, you diffuse the tension and anxiety associated with the problem. Then your mind can be lulled into sleep.
4. Set a bedtime and waking schedule and do your best to stick to it. You've probably heard this one before, and that's because it works. Our bodies operate on rhythms. When you vary your schedule it throws your system off, making it difficult to take advantage of your natural sleep times. Many people relax their sleep schedules on the weekends. Have you noticed how hard it can be to get going on Monday morning? These Monday morning blues is partly due to a jet lag effect you get from varying your sleep too much even for those two to three nights. Do you really want to put yourself through that every week?
5. If you wake up in the night and really, truly can't get back to sleep, then don't try.
Yes, this sounds counterintuitive. But how often have you had the experience of tossing and turning, trying to will yourself back to sleep even though your eyes are wide open? The restlessness and frustration work to activate your mind even further. An active mind doesn't sleep. Resist the urge to "get work done." Your only goal is to fall back asleep, not be productive while you are awake.
In this case the best solution is to do some light reading or listen to relaxing music. Choose something that's interesting enough to keep your attention, but not so intense that it will crank up our gears to full speed. Your body will let you know when it's time to try to sleep again.
The more you know about sleep and your own individual patterns, the better equipped you are to deal with sleep interruptions and learn to wake fully refreshed after a night of quality sleep.
To your best health,
Tracey Marks, MD
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