Moms, You Need More Sleep!

January 23, 2018

Sleep Advice From a Preventive-care Doctor

As a preventive-care doctor, my job is to help people stay, look, and feel their best, and I can tell you that one the best ways to do this is to get more quality sleep. Unfortunately, our society seems to discourage this, with adults, but especially women, bombarded by constant messages from their peers, workplaces, and especially social media to do more, be more, work harder, rest less, and go, go, go!

Mothers, I think, are especially vulnerable to this pressure. Whether you work or stay at home with the kids, many of you say you feel like you’re always playing catch-up. Unfortunately, this means you have to make sacrifices. As moms, we know all about sacrifices, but we need to make a better distinction about what we should and shouldn’t be giving up. And sleep is one of those things that is absolutely essential for your mental and physical well-being. It’s true that sometimes you can’t help but avoid functioning on less sleep (and these are often directly related to our small children waking us up throughout the night or our high-schoolers staying out past their curfews). But there are plenty of reasons why it’s critical that you make getting enough sleep (seven to nine hours each night!) a priority.

You’re a better mom: Cranky, tired, and irritable—nope, I’m not talking about your toddler or your teenager. I’m talking about you, mom! While you make think operating on just a few hours of shuteye is an unavoidable side effect of motherhood, the truth is you need your rest now more than ever. As a preventive-care doctor, I know all too well that when you don’t get enough sleep, your threshold for dealing with difficult situations and people with patience, compassion, and grace drops dramatically. And that’s not the worst of it. Your judgment is affected, your reaction time is slowed, and you become more clumsy and forgetful. The chronically sleep-deprived often think they’re “just fine,” when in reality they’ve just grown accustomed to these mental and physical deficits.

You’re a better employee: As with the importance of work life balance, all those issues that affect you at home also affect you in the workplace. You work slower, make more mistakes, and lose track of important dates, assignments, and meetings. You won’t be as pleasant to be around, and you might even get passed over for a promotion. You’re also more likely to dive into those cupcakes your coworker brought in or the candy on the receptionist’s desk, because you’ll have less willpower to resist them.

You’re healthier: When you get enough sleep, you have more willpower and stamina to avoid junk food and hit the gym regularly. Sleep’s protective and regenerative qualities mean your body is better able to fight off illnesses and repair itself during rest. In fact ask any preventive-care doctor, hundreds of serious diseases and conditions are linked to or made worse by chronic lack of sleep, ranging from diabetes and flu to heart attack and cancer.

Make It Happen

Want a more involved, present, mindful, pleasant and high-functioning mother and human being? Just get more sleep, say preventive-care doctors and sleep experts. But it’s easier said than done, and it will absolutely require sacrifices—it’s just that sleep won’t be one of them. So, how can you make it happen?

Turn off your devices: Many a mom admits that late-night TV watching or social-media surfing keeps them up late when they should be fast asleep. It’s hard to step away, though, when it’s your only “me time” and when you know that going to sleep means the next day will be here, with all its demands, when you next open your eyes. Getting time to yourself is important, to be sure, so don’t simply try to skip it entirely. Instead, be more mindful of how you use that time. If you’re looking forward to watching your favorite show or scrolling through Facebook, go ahead and do it, but set a time limit (a reminder on your phone may help) and be strict about following through.

Let it go: As with television and the internet, many moms find that the only time to get things done around the house is after the kids are in bed. I get it, trust me! But you need to set a time limit on this, too. For example, you might give yourself 15 minutes to clean the kitchen and 15 more to make lunches and ready outfits and backpacks for the next day. Once that timer goes off, get yourself completely ready for bed before you move on to your “me time” activity. This will keep you from staying up later than you should simply because you want to delay having to drag your tired self to the bathroom to get through your bedtime routine.

Give yourself permission to care for YOU: Let go of what you think society expects of you and turn your focus inward toward becoming a healthier person and a better mom and employee. Then accept that getting more sleep is one of the best things you can do for yourself and your family, and do whatever you have to in order to make it happen. Just as you set a strict bedtime for your kids, you should set a bedtime for yourself, too, and be mindful about sticking to it. If social media leaves you feeling stressed out about all you’re not accomplishing while you’re asleep, step away from it for a while to get some perspective. Remember, what you see on social media is NOT real life!

Stay the Course

There are many times when work, life, or kids will prevent you from getting the sleep you need. Accept it and do what you can to avoid it. But no matter how many times you fall off the regular sleep wagon, make a commitment to getting back on, as many times as it takes. You’ll be happier, healthier, more productive, and better able to handle whatever curveballs life (and your family!) throws your way.

My role as a preventive-care doctor means that I’m always doling out advice on how to stay well. Follow me on social media, look out for me on TV, and check out the rest of my blog for more tips on living your best and healthiest life!