I’m a bit of a sleep snob. During normal circumstances, I go to bed between 8:30 and 9:30 every night. I wake up at the same time every day without an alarm clock. If I don’t get at least eight hours of sleep, I don’t feel like myself. With a newborn, my sleep schedule is off and I know that I’ll be at risk for postpartum insomnia in a few months. It’s all part of the Mom Gig, which means I need to make it a bigger priority for my self-care.
We all know that we need to sleep, but do you know there are some serious consequences to not getting enough shut-eye? Lack of sleep can contribute to accidents, diabetes, heart disease, depression, anxiety, a decreased sex drive, weight gain, forgetfulness, and death. Sleeping improves our ability to critically think, learn, and repair tissues in our bodies. It is vital for optimal health and wellbeing.
So why does it have to be so difficult to get any? There may be a reason behind your sleep deprivation.
You don’t have a sleep schedule. Our bodies crave routine. Trust me, I’m a mom of a toddler. A little variation from her sleep routine leaves her cranky and sleeping like crap. Adults are not that much different! When we go to bed at essentially the same time each night, we train our brains to know when it’s time to fall asleep. Not only does this help us to fall asleep faster, but it improves our happiness and cardiovascular health (1). This goes for your wake time too!
TIP: Pick your wake time, count back eight hours, and go to bed at that time every night if you can. This can be very individualized, so remember to find what’s best for you.
You’re a woman. Estrogen and progesterone levels affect sleep, which means women are more likely to have sleep issues than men. During menstruation, these hormones are lower, making it more difficult to fall asleep. If you have a condition like polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), your progesterone levels are likely low, aggravating any sleep issues. Pregnancy, postpartum, and menopause also pose issues for women as hormones are drastically fluctuating (2).
TIP: Go to bed earlier if you need to and avoid caffeine. If you are pregnant or postpartum, it may be helpful to take a magnesium supplement (I like magnesium glycinate) and incorporate some relaxation exercises in your bedtime routine. If you are in menopause, talk to your provider about estrogen replacement.
Your hormones are out of whack. It’s those damn hormones again! Normally, cortisol, the stress hormone, is lower as you sleep and rises in the morning as you wake up. When you are stressed from overexercising, overeating, or life stuff, your cortisol levels remain chronically high. A diet high in simple carbohydrates cause your blood sugar and insulin levels to rise and crash, causing even more cortisol disruption (Hartwig & Hartwig, 2012). The higher your cortisol is, the more difficult it will be to sleep. This will in turn cause even more hormone disruption, which can affect hunger and satiety cues, cause weight gain, and contribute to inflammation.
TIP: Get your cortisol levels checked. While you’re at it, check out your blood sugar and consider making some dietary changes. An elimination diet, such as the Whole30 can help you get back on track.
You have poor sleep hygiene. You’re on your phone right up until the lights go out (guilty). You have a TV in the bedroom. Your room is too warm. You’re over-caffeinated. You don’t get outside and expose yourself to natural light. You drink too much before bed. You don’t exercise. You don’t have a bedtime routine. Do any of these sound like you? These are all factors that can influence your sleep.
TIP: Focus on ONE of these habits at a time. Start winding down an hour before bed, put away your phone, turn off the TV, and have an activity that signals your brain it’s time to sleep, like reading a boring book or a podcast. Consider breaking up with caffeine, or at least stop consuming it after 2pm. Get outside for a walk at lunchtime- you get the two-for-one activity and sunlight requirement (good for your immune system, too). You can take baby steps to improving your sleep quality!
You have a sleep disorder. When all else fails, you may actually have a condition that affects your sleep or sleep quality, like sleep apnea. Approximately 70 million Americans suffer from sleep disorders (3).
TIP: Please talk with your provider if you suspect you have a sleep disorder. Keep a sleep diary from two weeks to bring with you to your appointment.
You have a newborn baby. Have you recently given birth? Does your baby need to be fed every 1-4 hours? Does she not understand the difference between night and day and takes an hour to put back to sleep? Does he cry a few times or more every night? You may have a newborn baby. Symptoms include hearing phantom crying, anxiety, and being angry at your husband and his useless nipples.
TIP: In all seriousness, you’re not alone! But, it can and will get better. I know a lot of moms who say they haven’t slept in years, but it is possible to sleep well most nights of the week…eventually. Foster good sleep habits in your baby now and you can reap the benefits of better nights in the future. Find what works for you and your baby! (I really love Taking Cara Babies!)
If you are having trouble sleeping, I truly encourage you to take some steps to make sleep a priority. Pick one area in which you can make some change. Once you’ve mastered it, pick a new one. Try to make some lifestyle changes that do not include a medical sleep aid first. If you think you might have a medical condition that affects sleep, talk to your provider about getting a diagnosis. Good luck and happy sleeping!
Hartwig, D. & Hartwig, M. (2012). It Starts With Food. Victory Belt Publishing Inc, Las Vegas.