Sleep deprivation often comes with the territory when you're a parent. Even though it's definitely tough to commit at least eight hours a night to sleep, you may want to start trying.
Busy parents usually have a long list of things to do, and sleeping is rarely one of them. While it's tough to carve out the time, you may want to seriously consider moving sleep to the top of your priority list.
How much is too little?
Most people generally shoot for six to seven hours of sleep a night and many function on much less! If you fall into this camp, you are officially sleep deprived.
"Sleep deprivation is defined as anything less than 8.5 hours of sleep each night," says Dr Shawn M Talbott, a nutritional biochemist, physiologist and author. If you fall under the 8.5 hour threshold, you could be exposing your body to unnecessary stress that can negatively impact your physical and emotional health.
A downward spiral
While scrimping on sleep every once in a while probably won't hurt, regular sleep deprivation can quickly spiral into an unhealthy habit.
Dr Talbott explains that "the body perceives the sleep loss as a 'stress,' which increases levels of stress hormones such as cortisol, which interferes with insulin function, which means blood sugar regulation is compromised, which leads to fluctuations in blood sugar levels, which lead to changes in appetite (most notable is a craving for sweets and junk food), which leads to abdominal weight gain (specifically abdominal fat, not in other areas of the body)."
Whew! The bottom line is, without enough sleep, you could be at risk for a variety of problems, including obesity and diabetes.
Find your rhythm
Although insufficient sleep causes stress, your body will learn to cope -- or at least convince you that it's coping. Don't be fooled.
"Without enough sleep, you are physically run-down, your immune system is compromised, you do not want to do anything, you get depressed and feel out of sorts," says Dr. Steve Rosenberg, a psychotherapist based in Pennsylvania. "This stress makes you suffer with a poor respiratory function and heart rate," Good habits are just as hard to break as bad habits.
So, setting yourself up for success means finding a steady sleep rhythm. Dr. Rosenberg recommends the following tips for establishing a healthy sleep habit:
- Get to bed the same time every night. You will train yourself to feel sleepy at that time each night.
- Just sleep and have sex in bed. No other activities.
- Drink warm milk or eat oatmeal before bed to calm you.
- Learn to clear your mind through meditation.
- All of this is a process, so stick to it!
More on sleep
- Energy for moms: Chronic Fatigue and sleep
- Monday Mom challenge: Get some sleep
- Why women have trouble sleeping and tips to sleep better