More and more moms are saying they aren't getting anywhere near enough ZZZs, and it's wrecking their health, their careers, even their marriages. We found out what's really keeping them wide awake at all hours, and what women can do to get some much-needed shut-eye.
PROBLEM: Schedules + Stress = No Sleep
Often moms can't get enough sleep because their crazed schedules (are there benefits to stress?) don't allow it. "I constantly get up in the middle of the night to do things I can't get done during 'normal' hours," says Melissa Gaskins, 32, who often cleans and pays the bills during the wee hours. Faced with the options of getting an extra hour in bed or having a picture-perfect home or career, many choose the latter, says Gary Zammit, Ph.D., director of Clinilabs Sleep Disorders Institute at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital in New York. But you can cram a life into a crazy schedule.
SOLUTION: Avoid doing things in bed that cause stress, advises Meir Kryger, M.D., a sleep specialist at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg. "Bringing work projects to bed or completing tax forms there allows the mind to associate the bed with stress, and that can keep you awake even when you're not doing those tasks." Other busy women also do this to relieve stress throughout the day.
If you have trouble falling asleep because you're too wired to relax, take time to declutter your mind while you savor a relaxing bedtime snack. Joyce A. Walsleben, Ph.D., director of the Sleep Disorders Center at New York University School of Medicine and author of A Woman's Guide to Sleep, suggests starting a "worry book." Write down what's nagging you, whether that's your child's grades or your unpaid bills. Then jot down the steps toward solutions, like "Call my child's teacher" or "Balance my checkbook." Getting these worries and to-dos down on paper will allow you to get them out of your mind and relax already.
Related: Secrets of Super-Healthy People
PROBLEM: Co-Sleeping with Kids
Children are often the culprits behind a mom's insomnia. Why? Because they demand that their mothers be present when they fall asleep. "Moms get stuck lying in bed with their child, thinking it's the fastest way to get him to sleep," explains Zammit. "After a while, they often nod off." Few moms who conk out at 9pm stay asleep until morning. Some wake up at three, having gotten a full night's sleep; others get up after a two-hour "nap" and stay up till dawn.
SOLUTION: One of the most popular techniques for getting kids to go to sleep on their own (and stay that way all night) is "Ferberizing," developed by Richard Ferber, M.D., of Children's Hospital in Boston. Parents respond to a child who cries out at night to make sure he's okay, but then immediately leave the room rather than pick him up, rock him, feed him or do anything that may convince him that his tactics will get attention. If the child continues crying, they check again in 10, then 15, then 20 minutes. On subsequent nights, they extend the interval by five minutes a night, waiting 15, 20, then 25 minutes. Most infants will start sleeping through the night in one to two weeks' time, says Jodi A. Mindell, Ph.D., professor of psychology at Saint Joseph's University in Philadelphia and author of Sleeping Through the Night. Offering older kids small rewards (such as a family game of Pictionary or extra TV time) in return for their staying in their own beds will also encourage them to fall asleep on their own.
Related: 7 Causes of Fatigue
PROBLEM: The New Night Owls
Countless women say they actually enjoy being up during the wee hours, because it's the only personal time they can manage during the week. Kate Miller, 27, confesses that nights are the only time she can turn down the "life noise" and do what she wants without feeling guilty. "At 3am I can't run errands and can't return phone calls," she says. Freed of responsibilities, Miller browses eBay or tracks down old friends on Classmates.com. "I can do anything I want or nothing at all and not feel bad about it," she says.
But even if you like being up at night, not sleeping will take its toll. "It's part of our human condition to want some downtime," says Zammit. "But compromising on sleep isn't the right way to get it. It will only make you tired and miserable in the long run."
SOLUTION: The only way these women will wean themselves off nightly "me" time, says Zammit, is to find time during the day to do things they enjoy. Hiring a baby-sitter once a week not in the budget? Try swapping baby-sitting duties with friends or sign up for Mothers Morning Out programs, which offer affordable child care to give parents some free time (contact your local community center for a program in your area). Or buy yourself some "me time" by helping the kids learn how to play by themselves.
Related: 7 Secrets of Low-Stress Families
Risks of Not Relaxing
No matter how much moms may enjoy their time to themselves at night, the toll sleeplessness takes on their days isn't worth it. According to the NSF, women with sleep problems report a 30 to 50 percent drop in their enjoyment of daytime activities. And about a quarter say their sleep problem undermines their performance on the job and their ability to care for their families. Some mom insomniacs find themselves so tired during the day that they can't do their jobs at all. Need more energy? Do this!
Relationships can also suffer: Bad sleeping habits interfere with your relationship with your spouse. "Modern couples, especially those who both work office jobs, don't get enough bonding time as it is," says Zammit. Add insomnia to the equation, and couples can go weeks without having a decent conversation (which could be a impetus for an affair). Lack of sleep can also undermine marriages by depleting women's libidos, to the point where they can hardly remember the last time they wanted to use the bed for anything but sleep. (Try our handy dandy sex or sleep flow chart!)
What's more, in 10 years' time, the effects of not getting enough sleep can be deadly. Says researcher Najib Ayas, M.D., "Adequate sleep should not be considered a luxury, but an important component of a healthy lifestyle."
Related: 8 Reasons to Slow Down
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Reprinted with permission of Hearst Communications, Inc.