By Guest Blogger Malia Jacobson
When my daughter was a year old, I experienced a sleep epiphany. After months of horrific night waking, she finally started clocking twelve solid hours each night. Meanwhile, I continued waking in the wee hours and fighting daytime fatigue at my full-time job. The delicious prize I’d looked forward to savoring—sweet, uninterrupted sleep—was still elusive.
It was 2007, and my interest (obsession may be a better word) with my daughter’s sleep had lead to a role as a moderator of an online sleep forum. From there, after clocking many research hours, I started helping other parents solve their children’s sleep problems. Later, I would go on to publish dozens of articles in national and regional magazines and answer parent questions as the resident sleep expert at ParentingSquad.com. And then finally author a book, “Ready, Set, Sleep: 50 Ways to Help Your Child Sleep, So You Can Sleep Too.”
But back to 2007… With loads of sleep information under my belt, I was able to help my daughter sleep well and coach other parents to do the same. But with my baby sleeping like a champ, I could no longer blame her for my own fatigue and insomnia. I was thrilled that she was sleeping well, but a smidge disappointed to lose my sleep scapegoat. After spending a long and draining year getting my daughter to sleep, confronting my own sleep troubles was the last thing I wanted to do.
As women, we deal with more than our fair share of sleep problems. We battle higher levels of insomnia and nighttime pain than men, and often field a greater share of nighttime parenting. And according to some experts, women actually require more sleep than men (about 20 minutes more per night, says sleep expert Jim Horne, author of Sleepfaring: A Journey Through The Science Of Sleep).
Like most women, I was fully aware of the benefits of getting enough sleep—after all, I was the one who set my daughter’s bedtime and worked hard to make sure she got the rest she needed. But I was all too willing to sacrifice my own slumber in the name of more productivity, time with my husband, or time to myself. When I experienced long bouts of insomnia, I put up with it, telling myself it would pass. I reasoned that everyone felt tired all the time. Feeling exhausted was my badge of honor; it meant I must be a great mom, right?
But my body told a different story. Without the sleep I needed, my health started to suffer. I caught shingles (“Usually people only get this when they’re really run-down,” my doctor noted in a warning tone) and developed hypothyroidism. A few months later, I nearly dozed off behind the wheel while my baby snoozed in her carseat, and the truth hit me like the tree that could have slammed through my windshield: I couldn’t ignore my sleep problems any longer.
My daughter needed a mom who was awake, alert, and happy. She needed me to be a safe driver. And my demanding job as a marketing director meant I needed to be at my best, or at least functioning, each and every day.
Though I’m a still a light sleeper and a night owl, I’m proud to say I sleep eight hours most nights. To get there, I had to lose some long-standing habits. Here are the six things I did to get my sleep habits on track:
1. No more late-night TV: Confronting my poor sleep habits meant I had to face the facts: I just couldn’t catch the 11 p.m. news or a late-night talk show and still feel good in the morning. I set a firm 10 p.m. lights-out time and aimed to be in bed about 30 minutes beforehand to read and unwind.
2. Hello, healthy boundaries: When I made my sleep a priority, I had to work out a fair division of labor with my husband to reduce the pile of chores waiting for me each evening. I also had to set limits with work—that meant shutting off my Blackberry after dinner. YES I DID. 🙂
3. Nix late-day caffeine: Over 65 percent of women rely on caffeine to make it through the day, and I was one of them. But half the caffeine in a beverage will still be in your system six hours later, so afternoon caffeine was off-limits for me. I’m a coffee lover, so I switched to decaf after lunch if I was still craving a cup.
4. Couch potato no more: Exercise promotes deep, restful sleep, and helps discharge the workday stress than can keep us awake at night. So I started squeezing in a 30-minute workout in the morning. I felt calmer and more alert all day long, and I was sleepier when it was time to turn in at night.
5. Get out of bed: When you can’t sleep, staying in bed and stewing over your lack of shut-eye can make insomnia worse. If sleep just isn’t happening, get out of bed. Read, take a bath, or do some calming yoga stretches until you feel tired enough to try again.
6. Know when to get help: Habitual night waking that goes on longer than a month can be a sign of psycho-physiological insomnia, a “learned” form of insomnia that rarely goes away on its own. I didn’t try to battle insomnia on my own, and you shouldn’t either if it progresses into something more severe. See a doctor if your sleep troubles last longer than a few weeks.
Remember, as busy women and moms, a good night’s sleep is absolutely your right. The good news is, healthy sleep can be taught and learned. I wish you all, a long, and restful night’s sleep.
Tell us, do YOU suffer from insomnia or sleep issues? What are you doing about it? Do you have any of your own sleep tips you can share with our suffering readers? Also feel free to share your sleep concerns with Malia. She might just help!
Malia Jacobson is a nationally published sleep journalist and expert and the creator behind TheWellRestedFamily.com, a new blog devoted to helping busy families sleep better. She is the resident sleep expert at ParentingSquad.com and the author of “Ready, Set, Sleep: 50 Ways to Help Your Child Sleep, So You Can Sleep Too.”