How does sleep deprivation during all seasons of a woman’s life affect your health? “Catastrophic sleep loss epidemic” is how sleep researcher Dr. Matthew Walker (U of C Berkley) describes sleep challenges. The factors contributing to sleep loss are: the electrification of our homes, the electronic connectedness of our lives, the porous membrane between our home and work lives, loneliness/depression, the prevalence of alcohol and caffeine and hormonal changes. He has confirmed through research and clinical studies that lack of sleep contributes to cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, poor mental health and obesity. We also stigmatize sleep by associating a long, restorative sleep or nap with laziness or shame.
Eight hours is still our healthy goal. But how do we get there?
Make it non-negotiable. Plan your day around sleep. Exercise must be before dinner, preferably before lunch. Light stretching or restorative yoga are good options for your evening. Reduce the size of your evening meal so that digestion is a breeze…make lunch your hearty meal! Eliminate sugar. Completely. Avoid alcohol at dinner but if you’re so inclined, enjoy it with food and strictly keep it to 5 oz. (that’s ½ c. + 1 T.)! Daytime naps should be restricted to 20 minutes maximum and be completed before 1 pm. Go to bed at the same time every night, setting your blanketed alarm for the same time every morning. Be consistent to the point of being rigid! Set a second alarm for 2 hours before your dedicated bedtime. When it rings, turn off ALL blue light emitters in your home, from your smartphone to your ipad/ereader to your laptop/TV screens.
Think of all the quieting activities that you provided for your babies in order to make sure that they (and you, the exhausted new parent) slept. Downtraining. Calming. Enjoy a warm bath or shower (unless that’s your morning wake-up call!). Savour a light protein snack (boiled egg, small piece of cheese, strip of chicken breast….no carbohydrate) to hold you through that pancreas/energy dip in the wee hours of the morning. Your bladder shouldn’t awaken you at night unless you’re over 60, then only one trip to the loo is acceptable. It is effective to reduce your fluid intake after dinner to give your bladder an opportunity to learn to behave. If you enjoy a warm drink before bed, make it chamomile tea or warm milk…..nothing with alcohol. Alcohol is pure sugar and guaranteed to keep you from falling asleep and/or to awaken you in a few hours.
Do a “brain dump”….write down all your concerns, lists and plans and leave it in the kitchen. Tomorrow will be soon enough to tackle it all and as Mom said, “It will all look better in the morning.”
Your bedroom should be a “sleep cove”….a dark and comfortable room with light restricting curtains, cool, comfortable temperature, your body kept warm (cozy quilts or blankets) and comfortable (clean, fresh sheets that invite you to sleep). A light spray of lavender has been proven as a sleep promoter. And your bedroom is not for reading, lounging, chatting, talking on the phone…..your bedroom is for sleep and intimacy. Nothing else! Your own sleep- promoting, dedicated space.
It takes time to retrain your sleep patterns. Be patient, firm and compassionate with yourself. Making sleep a priority now is an important part of your own self care and health promotion. Look forward to bedtime, enjoy the restoration that sleep brings and awake with energy for today!