Sleep: Why is it so Hard?
Before I begin this blog, I have to throw two disclaimers out there:
#1) Anyone who knows me will probably have a few good chuckles while reading this post. This is because anyone who knows me at all knows that I am a far cry from having a handle on the area of “sleep” in my own life. But I figure that makes me an expert on struggling to get enough...right?
#2) If you are currently living with a newborn (or a child of any age, for that matter) who is currently not sleeping through the night, you may want to skip this post. The following content has no words of wisdom or advice for those who literally cannot obtain a full night's sleep no matter how hard they try. If you fall in this camp, I'll pray for you. Truly. Those days and nights can be oh-so long.
So now that I've covered my bases, let's talk about sleep. Oh, glorious sleep. This period of rest, which has been referred to by scientists and doctors as a “fundamental human need” is something we truly cannot live without it. For when God created the world, He of course did so in a very systematic and organized way. And on that very first day, He created light and He created darkness -- and there was a reason for that. The Bible says,
And there was evening and there was morning – the first day. Genesis 1:3
But yet I've struggled with following this pattern of evening and morning for the majority of my adult years. I'd like to blame my lack of adequate shuteye on motherhood, but that wouldn't be entirely true. The truth is, the bedtime battle of getting into bed (and in turn, getting out of bed) on time is one I've fought for most of my life. Through conversations with numerous friends and the reading of many articles on the topic, I have realized that I am not alone. In fact, the first full week of next month has been set aside as “Sleep Awareness Week” (03/02/16 – 03/09/16). You think it might be something other people fight, too?
So why is it such a struggle? How can going to bed and getting “good sleep” feel so good but yet be something I put off and cheat myself out of on a daily (or nightly) basis? These are the questions I've asked myself over the past several months as I began to sincerely evaluate my lack of decent sleep patterns. And here are the answers I've come up with (perhaps you can relate to some of them):
- The house is finally quiet and I can finally have my “me” time. This is HUGE for me. Living with a husband, four children under the age of 6, a dog and a couple dozen fish (ok, so the fish don't contribute to the chaos all that much but they do demand a few moments of attention now and then!), there's barely a minute of peace during the daylight hours. When the night falls and I can finally hear myself think, this is sometimes the first time I have truly sat down all day.
- My husband and I are finally alone. I think this one speaks for itself, but in all honesty the “after bedtime” hours are sometimes the only time we have to discuss adult topics, such as parenting, other relationships, money, or even just the nitty gritty of the plans for the upcoming weekend. My husband and I also find great pleasure in having certain TV shows we “binge” from Netflix or Hulu together (it's kind of like an “in home date” almost!) and it's so tempting to watch “just one more”...
- The later evening hours seem like the perfect opportunity to get stuff done. Somewhat relating to the above, it's nice to finally not have anyone else demanding my attention. My over-productive, Type A personality sees this as the perfect opportunity to make headway (or finish?) a project, whether it be something home-related, blog-related or even my latest knitting endeavor. Again, putting something down that I find so much pleasure in doing is tough.
- I lack the self-control to just go to bed. Plain and simple. I want to stay up, for whatever reason and I'm too short-sighted to see just how much that decision to not go to bed is going to affect me (and others) in the days that follow.
I used to think that indulging in my "night owl tendencies" was a sign of how driven and motivated I was. And while that may be partially true, the physical and mental effects of consistently receiving too little sleep far overshadow any benefits I may be experiencing from staying up late. Once again, I know that I am not alone in my thinking. An article which appeared early last year in Newsweek says:
Sleep is perceived to be the enemy of efficiency: inescapable wasted blocks of time that can't be converted into anything of broader use to society.
Yikes. Do we really think like that?
I think we've all heard or read lists on the importance of sleep in our lives and the many benefits getting a good night's sleep can bring to us as far as health and well-being are concerned. But in doing a bit more “on purpose” research for this post, I was surprised to learn a couple more which really struck a chord with me:
- Getting a good night's rest can actually assist in weight loss. There are multiple reasons for this but one of them is so simple: getting yourself to bed at a decent time eliminates late-night snacking when your metabolism is at it's lowest. Being well-rested all gives you better will-power and a clearer thought pattern when making decisions about what foods you put in your mouth the following day. Boosting fat loss and the burning of more calories also contribute to the weight loss factor of sleep. You can read further details about this in the article written by Women's Health magazine.
- Recent research has shown that sleep actually aids in the flushing of certain neurotoxins out of the body. One of these toxins is amyloid beta which is an amino acid that can eventually contribute to the development of Alzheimer's. Many other conditions which lead to the loss of brain cells are also a result of the build-up of damaged proteins in the brain – proteins which may indeed be discouraged when your head spends an adequate amount of time on the pillow. You can read more about some of this research in this article which appeared on BBC News back in 2013.
But I have a feeling you already knew that sleep was good for you. And you probably already know why you're not getting enough. Right? But besides identifying the problem, what else can you do to help fix it? In my recent heightened awareness of my need for sleep, I've put my mind to trying to follow a few seemingly-simple (but really tough!) guidelines:
- Committing to a bed- and wake-time. As difficult as it is, I've been making a conscious effort to keep the time I turn in and the time I roll out of bed as consistent as possible. As a part-time working mom, this is pretty tough since no two days during the week are exactly the same when it comes to schedule. But on the other hand, having 4 little “alarm clocks” in the house definitely keeps me from ever banking on being able to sleep in to make up for an extremely late night. When selecting a target time for hitting the pillow, I looked at what time would give me 8 hours of sleep but still allow me to set an alarm so that I could be awake and upright before I heard the pitter-patter of little feet. While it's oh-so tempting to lay under the covers until I no longer can due to the demands of my children, starting the day that way is not good for anyone involved.
- Refusing to start a project that I know I won't be able to finish or put down partially done. I know myself pretty well and if I'm being honest with myself, I know which projects are going to be too tempting to stop halfway through. So if it's already 9pm? I don't get involved. Instead I'll look ahead to the next week or two or even month (depending on the nature of the project) and figure out a block of time that would allow me to make headway on it but not interfere with my much-needed shuteye.
- Starting the “process” of going to bed early enough. I'll never stop being envious of my husband's ability to decide he's turning in and then successfully be sawing z's no more than 5 minutes later. But it's not that way for me. Getting myself between the sheets is an entire process that involves checking the locks on the doors, making sure the often-forgotten lights are turned off, making preparations for the next day, removing my make up, checking on the kids, and the list goes on. Therefore, if I'm aiming to be in bed by 10:30pm, I better not start moving in that direction at 10:25pm and expect to succeed.
- Refusing to use my phone while lying in bed. Having always been just a tad behind on technology (I only acquired a smart phone within the last year or so) and just a bit "anti-social networking", I never thought this would be a problem for me. But is it ever. Again, I don't fall asleep nearly as fast as my husband. So while I'm laying there awake, my mind comes alive with articles I'd like to look up, things I'd like to shop for or friends I'd like to check up on. After all, when is a better time than midnight to do some email inbox housekeeping? That answer is pretty much anytime. The same Newsweek article which I referenced earlier says, “Research shows that every time we check our email, Twitter feed or Facebook timeline and find a new piece of information, we get a shot of dopamine—a chemical our brains release to simulate pleasure.” When talking to a friend about this the other day, she said to me, “Why don't you just keep your phone in a different room if it's an issue?” Well, of course I had my reasons: My phone is my alarm clock. We don't own a home phone so what if there were an emergency and someone needed to get a hold of me? I use my phone as a flashlight if I have to find my way to the bathroom or one of the kids' rooms. Despite all of my excuses, I managed to figure a way around them. I purchased an old-fashioned alarm clock. I keep my phone in our bedroom but NOT in reach of the bed. And I uncovered one of my many trusty flashlights and keep it in my nightstand. Problem solved – my cell phone is no longer stealing my sleep. (And I'm also paying more attention to my husband! ;)
- Making a list of all of the reasons I need and want to get a good night's sleep. This list includes many of the things I've mentioned above but also some very simple truths, such as the fact that I have more patience with my kids when I'm well-rested, I feel better about myself, my skin looks healthier, I drink less coffee, and the list goes on and on. When I'm tempted to burn the midnight oil, I pull out this written list and remind myself just why it is so important not to.
As I stated above, I am definitely a work in progress. But progress is being made and I ask God daily to continue to help me fight this inner battle of mine. Do you share in this struggle at all? If so, tell me I'm not alone in the comments below. Have you found anything else that helps you stick to a sleep schedule? Tell me that, too – I need all of the help I can get! I'll be praying for you, too. And then I'm going to bed ;)