Moms need their sleep!

You’ve all probably heard that research says the average person needs between 7 and 9 hours of nightly sleep for optimal health functioning, right?

But did you also know that for women between the ages of 30 and 60, we are actually on average only getting 6 hours and 41 minutes each night?! This is all according to the National Sleep Foundation, who says that anything less than six hours a night for this same age range is “not recommended” (see the NSF’s matrix for sleep guidelines across all ages).

Other research by the American Academy of Neurology actually says too that sleep quantity and quality is on average less for women with children than those without any kids (Ahhh, what glorious sleep-filled days those were…), and also that our sleep is generally poorer than that of men overall due to a number of female physiological and psychological factors. Statistically a woman’s quantity and quality of sleep is even more reduced (by as much as 50%!!!) with each additional child that lives in the home! (See this collaborative CBS and HealthDay segment for more statistics and facts about how “Moms are Much More Sleep Deprived”).

So what does all this mean for us moms?

​1. Sleep and Mental Health – Well for one, there is no shortage of research indicating a clearly high correlation between poor sleep and depression and anxiety. There are also a myriad of other studies that show how sleep problems can actually give rise to other psychiatric disorders as well. So moms, unfortunately, are already at a higher risk for mental health issues given the inherently high rate of diminished sleep for our population, and I can anecdotally add that the worse sleep becomes for me, the more depressed, irritable and prone to want to punch a few walls I become too (thankfully, the latter hasn’t happened yet).

​2. Mom Brain – Another factor to consider is the impact of poor sleep on our cognition and general functioning. According again to the National Sleep Foundation, our brains need adequate sleep to organize all the cognitive input received over the course of our day and file it away in our long-term memory bank, where it can be more efficiently stored and retrieved. Also our bodies need rest for similarly restorative functions like tissue repair, cellular growth, and hormonal processing. Thus when moms are not getting a healthy amount of shut-eye, we are at an increased risk for problems like impaired memory, slower mental processing (hello “Mom Brain!”), and even more accidents due to slowed reaction times (according to WebMD). I can attest for this last one too with the time I found myself at my nearby urgent care needing a quick after-hours stitch-up following an exhausted mishap with a piece of kitchen Pyrex.

3. Mom’s sleep affects family too! – It’s not just us moms who feel the effects of the sleep we get (or don’t), our family’s health is also systemically impacted. Consider the mental acuity we would all probably need to really dig into that 8th grade algebra homework help, the patience it would take to not absolutely lose your s#@t when you walk in on the horrifying toddler/make-up covered bathroom scene (see photo inset for a little cringe-worthy laugh, courtesy of my rock star mom friend Amy McHugh), OR the utter restraint required to not put the crib through the wall when you’re up for the third time in the night, all but violently willing your wailing baby back to sleep (okay, that was actually me). ​

​Basically how we as moms respond to the demands of our families all heavily hinges on the amount of physical energy and emotional resources we have available to us at the time. And the balance of these resources moreover highly relies on the amount of equity we have saved up in our sleep banks at the time of each and every transaction. Thus to be able to give our families everything that they need from us, we really should start first by trying to give ourselves the invaluable commodity of sleep that’s required to do it all effectively.

​So how can we moms do a better job of getting this needed rest and helping our families and selves all live the healthiest lives possible? There are a few tips that I have repeatedly found across multiple sources over time, as well as strategies I’ve tried myself and learned actually work for me.

1. Establish a bedtime ritual – Much like babies and children need the structure and consistency of routines, us moms can benefit from a series of ritualized activities just before bed that cue our brains that it’s time to hit the hay. A warm bath, a mug of hot decaf tea (that’s my favorite), a little reading, or just changing into PJ’s, washing up and climbing into cozy covers. Whatever you do, if it’s at the generally same time and in the same order each night, eventually our brains become conditioned to the routine and what it means, thereby priming our readiness for optimal slumber.

2. Limit things that are harmful to sleep before heading to bed – This means cutting off caffeine (preferably much earlier in the day!), limiting hard-to-digest foods, and bottling the booze back up for a little while before turning out the lights. (I know most sources actually say no alcohol if you want to sleep better, but I tend to see it from a harm-reductionist view because, who are we kidding, I am/we are not giving up the Cab).

Also, try to power down all TV/screen time at least a little while before bed, or at the very least put digital devices in “night shift” mode, since the light effects send mixed messages about the time of day to our brain and can extend the time it takes for it to begin its own power-down process.

3. A quiet activity to settle the body AND mind – Not only does a quiet activity like reading, journaling, stretching, deep-breathing/meditation, or a little night-time yoga help settle our bodies and cue our minds that its time to turn inward – It can also help settle your mood and calm residual tensions from the day that are likely to crop up as soon as you close your eyes. I admit I’m not the greatest about this one, but I know it’s true as I’ve found the best and fastest way for me to fall and stay asleep is usually after a little reading. Even if it’s just for a few minutes or certain number of pages (my goal is usually 10 pages, 10 minutes, or when my eyelids begin to feel like sandbags – whichever comes first) – the practice of a quiet activity like this just before bed can definitely help to mentally unwind and gear up for better zzz’s (especially when you incorporate it as part of a nightly ritual – see #1!).

At the end of the day (OK, pun intended), even if we as women and moms are not getting sleep as good as that of our male counterparts, perhaps we can find solace in the fact that we’re still rocking this whole life thing, and maybe even doing it a little better than said men (who in their sublime slumber sometimes incite that same needed restraint to keep from being shoved off the bed). According to at least one study, women tend to perform better at certain tasks than men do on less sleep, which if nothing else should boost our confidence and affirm all our inner rock star awesomeness  knowing we can be great at a lot of things, even if we are collectively a bunch of sleep deprived mothers.

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