Bleary-eyed at four in the morning, I woke up to the sound of a little boy, crying in his sleep. I stumbled out of my bed, fumbling for my bathrobe. On my way to his bedroom, I ran into multiple doorjambs, trying to be awake enough to care for him, but not too awake that I was up for the rest of the day. I nursed him back to sleep, put him in his crib and climbed into my bed for a few more hours of shut-eye. For months, my son woke up two, three, four, five times a night. Now, at a year old, he is still waking up once a night. Isn’t it funny that after a year of waking up multiple times in a night, that one wake up seems like heaven? I finally feel somewhat rested from what was an exhausting year. I’m hoping that maybe, just maybe, he will sleep through the night before he turns 12.
Sleep deprivation. I think we all have experienced some level of this in our lifetime, whether during finals week in college, a time of mourning or loss, a presentation or project at work with a looming deadline, the birth of a baby or adoption of a new little person. But sleep deprivation wreaks havoc on our bodies. Studies have shown that sleep does more than just impair judgment. Sleep deprivation slows our alertness and performance. We do not have the energy for peak performance. Our muscles also need recovery time, and lack of sleep does not give our bodies adequate time to heal and recover. Sleep deprivation also lowers the immune system, weakening it and making us more susceptible to illness. There is also a correlation with sleep loss and weight gain. Most people who have sleep loss find themselves under stress: whether physical, psychological, or emotional. When the body is under stress, it spikes a hormone called cortisol, which is related to weight gain. This is why a low-glycemic diet has been in health news, as it helps combat high levels of cortisol and help people lose weight.
I don’t know anyone who finds sleep deprivation fun. I know that when I am tired, I do not function well. It’s important to find ways to catch your zzz’s—even amidst a busy life. Here are some tips that I have found helpful when my sleep debt has been accruing.
1) Ask your doctor about your sleep debt to rule out any health issues. Of course, you don’t have to result to prescription medications right off the bat, but if you have not had a physical examination in some time, it could help rule out any ailments.
2) On nights when it is possible, go to bed earlier. I know it is hard, but if there are nights you can attempt to go to bed earlier, you can help catch up on some sleep. Yes, that means skipping Jay Leno, sorry!
3) Find time to create exercise in your life. Even moderate activity can help people sleep better at night.
4) As for parents with young children that wake up at night, see if a spouse can take a night shift. Maybe a spouse can feed the baby or rock him or her to sleep. If you stay at home, sleep when the baby sleeps. I had a misconception that this adage only works while the baby is little, but I say if the baby isn’t sleeping through the night, it still counts! If you do not stay at home, see if a friend can help you out with watching your kids one afternoon a weekend for you to refresh. If that person has kids, I’m sure she’d like that reciprocated.
5) Find ways to create sleep in your life. Sometimes, it is a matter of shifting priorities. How important is it that you reorganize your sock drawer instead of taking a nap?
Sarah Martin is a certified personal fitness trainer and owner of Smart Fitness, a local mobile training service and the mother of a 1-year-old son. She lives in Aptos, Calif., and trains all types of clients. For more information, visit smartfitnesssc.com or fitmamacita.com. Or, call 831.331.0646, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.