At a counseling conference my husband and I attended in October, one of the trainers made an interesting statement: “If one of my counselees comes in with general depression-like symptoms, one of my first questions is how much sleep they’re getting.” He shared that his personal policy is to tell them to get a minimum of 8 hours of sleep a night for 2 weeks straight, and then schedule another appointment with him. As an MD and biblical counselor, he recognizes the way that a lack of sleep affects our entire body, soul, and mind.
As a mom this is highly applicable to our lives. One of the things I’m convinced of as a mom is that my entire household suffers when *I* don’t get enough sleep, and/or when my children don’t get enough sleep.
A SOCIETY-WIDE PROBLEM
To be truthful, and I’m not “slamming” anyone, when I look around our society today, I’m concerned. Factors like:
- Smartphones, tablets, “phablets”
- Constant entertainment: movies on demand, commercials running in the shopping aisles, TVs in restaurants, fold-down screens in vehicles
- Video gaming at unprecedented levels
- Extreme levels of commitment to sports and extracurricular activities that keep families running from one thing to the next
- Two-income families with over-scheduled children
- A workaholic culture
keep us constantly busy. Physically and mentally, we are going-going-going, often late into the night. Then we wake up early and start it all over again. We don’t just NOT get sleep, but we actually actively avoid it by keeping our screens flashing in our faces well into the night when people used to be fast asleep. And I’m guilty too: too many nights lately have ended with me playing “one more game” of SpadesPlus.
Nearly everyone in America is suffering from a lack of sleep.
A recent study showed that only 18% of preschoolers studied were getting sufficient levels of sleep. Personally, I believe that begins with the development of poor sleep habits in infancy. But regardless of what you feel about infant sleep patterns, and your role in it, here’s what I want to say to you:
As a mom, it is your job to see to it that your children get adequate sleep.
One of the verses that is a blessing to me as I do this for my children (even amidst protests of “bedtime, already?” from older children) is this verse:
In vain you get up early and stay up late, working hard to have enough food– yes, He gives sleep to the one He loves. ~Psalm 127:2
Sleep is a loving GIFT we give to our children.
God gives us SLEEP as a gift of His love, and one important way that we can “love” our children is to insist that they be in bed, primed and ready for sleep at the appropriate times. Even if they are (literally) kicking and screaming, seeing to it that our children sleep well is an important part of motherhood.
One rarely-discussed is important for moms to realize:
A lack of sleep mimics many physical symptoms of illness.
This is an important thing to let sink in, for both your children, AND you. It’s why the MD/counselor makes it a pivotal part of his fact-finding with patients who come into his office.
Chronic sleep deprivation:
- contributes to greater depression and anxiety
- dumbs us down, giving a foggier, more forgetful, slower-working brain, making it more difficult to function well, and making it more difficult for children to learn
- increases risk of heart disease, heart attack, heart failure, high blood pressure, stroke, and diabetes
- kills the sex drive
- ages the skin
- contributes to weight gain & obesity
- increases relational problems (probably because of factors like poorer communication and togetherness)
- increases risk of death
- contributes to slowed fetal and childhood growth
- decreases the ability to focus on a task or conversation
- impairs judgment, increasing the likelihood of car accidents and occupational injuries
- more alarming effects listed here
Here’s a quick guide I created (based on WebMD guidelines) to give moms a sense of daily medically-recommended sleep levels at each stage:
To some of you, those numbers may seem extreme. But these are the medically-recommended levels of sleep for each age & stage.
WHEN THE CHILD “WON’T”/CAN’T SLEEP
I’ve heard moms say their kids “won’t sleep” but sleep studies teach us that sleep begets sleep (meaning, that a sleep-deprived person may not feel like sleeping, but once sleep begins happening, the body gets into a better rhythm and desires more, and better, sleep, getting into a better rhythm over time). So (speaking generally, not in regard to medical issues) the key is to get your child to sleep when they ought to sleep, and keep seeing to it.
Yes, I mean for night time, and yes, I mean for nap time. It’s what I’ve been doing for over 12 years now… seeing to it that my children sleep & even take naps when they don’t (on their own) want to choose that option. The data bears out: it makes for healthier, happier children, contributing to mental and physical growth. But my experience has also shown me that it makes a MASSIVE amount of difference in their ability to relate to the world.
Don’t you see that in your own life?
For me, the day after getting a poor night’s sleep, godliness and self-control seem farther out of reach. It is difficult to keep ugly things from spewing out of me. I struggle with my words, attitudes, and reactions. (And I’m a 35-year-old adult with the Holy Spirit inside of me, not a 3-year-old running and learning a mile a minute!) As a mom, I have the privilege of helping our children to have greater self-mastery, healthier bodies, and better attitudes, through this wonderful little gift of sleep.
Whatever you do for infant sleep cycles, at some point, you need to see to it that your children get regular, rich sleep, somewhere near the recommended levels on the chart above.
WHEN MOM “CAN’T” SLEEP
Maybe YOU’RE the one who feels unable to get enough sleep. Especially if you are a mom of little ones, you might think, “6-9 hours a DAY? But the baby still wakes up to nurse… but I have so much to do… but when will I…”
For you, I’ve got compassion & some articles you may want to check out:
- Battling Insomnia? Anxiety? Stress? Exhaustion?
- 10 Essential Self-Care Habits for Moms
- Avoiding Burnout: Intentionally Stewarding Ourselves
Not every season affords the greatest sleep ever, but we can care for ourselves and our family by ensuring excellent sleep whenever it’s possible.
IDEAS FOR GETTING MORE SLEEP:
- Postpartum: sleep when the baby sleeps (Yes, the house will be messier. That’s OK; you just had a baby.).
- Toddler/Preschooler phase: nap alongside that sweet little guy. Speak loving words, grab his chubby hand, say “night-night” and snuggle up for a good couple-hours’ nap.
- Trade off sleeping in on Saturday mornings — Let your husband sleep in late this Saturday, and you sleep in the next.
- Hit the sack early. Do it on purpose. Shut off the devices, shut off the lights, and go to bed.
- Take a hot bath with epsom salts to relax your muscles so you can get to sleep faster. You can even add lavender (this is the kind I buy) or other favorite scented oils to relax your senses.
- Make love to your husband. The hormonal release of oxytocin will help you go to sleep faster and sleep better.
- Use fans/white noise to mask household/street/neighborhood sounds. Less distractions= more sleep.
- Make sure your room is dark enough. Light can really inhibit sleep… so use room-darkening curtains if you need to (this can be a simple liner behind your decorative curtains), but keep your room nice and dark.
- Use earplugs. I am not sensitive to noise, but my husband is, and he swears by earplugs. Get some noise-blocking earplugs and cut out the distractions that threaten to intermittently wake you up.
- Lower the temperature and pile on the blankets as needed. Cooler temperatures lead to better, deeper sleep.
- Ask someone to help with the kids while you nap. Yes, I mean it. If you are in a chronically sleep-deprived place, ask for help. There is no shame in this. You will be tempted to use these 2-4 hours for something “productive” but when you aren’t getting enough sleep, a WONDERFUL NAP is the most productive thing you could do. This is one of the ways that the Body of Christ can bless & love one another, by meeting needs and offering support at difficult times.
- How do you go about getting enough sleep for your family?