Healthy MommySleep

Healthy Mommy: How To Sleep

In the six and a half years since becoming a mom, I have often suspected that sleep and motherhood are mutually exclusive conditions. But…does it have to be that way? 


In fact, it really shouldn’t be that way. All kinds of studies show the health dangers of insufficient and/or poor quality sleep. (a sampling of the consequences: obesity, heart disease, hypertension, depression…)

So, because I’m on a mission to boost the health of all you mothers out there, I’m here to help!

But…I’m not gonna lie to you: this one is not going to be easy.

Awakening babies, nighttime feedings, fevers, colds, vomiting, nightmares…it all conspires to interfere with a mom’s sleep. These are the things you can’t control. But there are other aspects of sleep that you can control. And this is where we direct a little attention.

To get the sleep you need for health and wellbeing (not to mention good humor and good looks!) you’re going to have to fight for it, ladies. And you’re going to need to get organized.

So how much sleep do I really need, anyway?

Multiple studies have shown that the optimal amount is 7-9 hours for adults. Where you fall, within this range (or even outside this range), is highly individual. If you’re in tune with your body at all, you probably already know how much you need to feel good. Most moms I know get nowhere near the amount they need.

Especially new moms, in baby’s first year. Man, this is a brutal stage of life, as far as sleep goes. But I will get to that. First, some general ideas on getting better sleep.

You need to start by figuring out what, exactly, is interfering with your sleep. Is it simply a baby waking you up? Or is it you–are you your own worst enemy, and delay bedtime because you’re up watching TV or hanging out on facebook (or doggedly working through your to-do list)?

How can I get more sleep?

Your personal sleep solutions will depend on your stage of motherhood, and the particulars of your sleep obstacles. Eliciting the help of a supportive partner is always a good idea. If you’re breastfeeding, start pumping, and get your partner to give a bottle now and then so you can catch up on your sleep debt.

Here’s another idea: go “on-call”. This is an idea I culled from my days as a medical resident. The idea is to have a rotating call schedule with your partner. It means you’ll have one crappy night–guaranteed–but then….one great night of solid, uninterrupted sleep. Also guaranteed. And this, my friends, is worth the crappy night. The mental peace of mind, knowing you can count on at least one solid night of sleep, every other night, is so amazing. If this isn’t a feasible plan for you, you could fashion your own variation of the “on-call” theme…do a part-call thing, where you split the night in half.

Okay, but what if you’re a breastfeeding mom, and your babe is not yet taking a bottle (or you just don’t want to go there, yet)? I’m afraid it’s got to be a grab sleep when you can approach. I don’t know any mother in this situation who manages to get a sufficient amount of sleep. Basically, you’ve got to beg, borrow and steal it: get someone to watch the baby while you power nap, for example. Grandmas are great, here.

So while we’re on that topic: what about napping? Well, advice on this is conflicting. Conventional wisdom tells us to avoid naps, so we don’t interfere with nighttime sleep. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine advises to “avoid taking naps if you can.” But recent research is turning things around, suggesting that napping might be okay, after all. Some studies have even connected regular naps with a longer life. Personally, I’ve never been a great napper–I always feel groggy and grumpy when I wake up. But many people feel differently.

If you’re a mom and napping is not a reality for you, and you’re not clocking a lot of hours at night, the very least you can do is make sure it’s good quality sleep you’re getting.

Sleep well

First, you don’t want to waste a lot of time trying to get to sleep. Read this for tips on achieving a good night’s sleep. 

Also, I’ve been reading studies lately on the effect of light in a bedroom. Looks like even tiny amounts of light can have adverse effects. So get blackout curtains or blinds, and remove any gadgets (computers, DVD players, phones…) that blink or emit little lights. Cover everything else up, if you can.

Okay, this post is getting long in the tooth…but I have more thoughts. I’m just going to have to do a future post. Watch this space!

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