Sleep is the foundation of your wellness. Without the appropriate amount of solid sleep, you are not healthy. Appropriate meaning at least 7.5 hours. Any less, you’re kidding yourself.
“Sleep is for the weak”
When I was younger, I used to say and to some extent believe that “Sleep is for p***ies.” I prided myself on being able to function pretty well on 3-5 hours of sleep a night. I still went to work and school. I had a physical labor job as a farm worker and a mental labor job as a proofreader for a newspaper. I was getting As at college. Who needed sleep?
I was also, of course, a raging alcoholic who drank 10 cups of coffee a day and suffered from severe anxiety and moderate depression, sometimes unable to leave the house and always unable to stomach myself.
But what I was doing was working. And if there was a problem, sleep wasn’t it.
I always thought one day I would read something about psychology in one of my books and something in my head would click and I would be better.
Now I recognize that mental health has much more to do with physical health than I was ever willing to admit.
The Wrong Question
Parents of young children, and particularly infants, are always focused on the question: How do I get my kid to sleep? There’s an entire industry around getting babies to sleep at the right times or more often or in the right place.
From the No Cry Sleep Solution to the Extinction Method, parents are certain that if they can get their babies to sleep on a certain schedule, then their health will return. Their instincts are pointing them in the right direction but not at the right person.
Don’t worry about how to get your children to sleep. Worry about how to get enough sleep yourself, and the rest will follow.
Eight hours in bed does not mean eight hours of sleep and you know it.
When you want to make sure you accomplish something, you need to make time in your schedule. For sleep, you need to be realistic about how much you actually get in an hour. This waxes and wanes with different developmental stages, but you have a rough idea what that means.
If you have a child under 18 months old, you should be blocking off at least 10 hours to get 8 hours of sleep. This number can go up to 12 if there is a sleep regression, teething, night terrors, or if you’re dealing with two or three children.
The cost of not sleeping cannot be overstated. You’re more likely to get cancer. You’re more likely to get Alzheimer’s. To scream at your children, to lose your sex drive, to suffer from depression. You’re more likely to get into a car accident and to forget what you went into the fridge for. You’ll look older, you’ll gain weight.
You might think you’re losing time by dedicating 12 hours a day to sleeping, but you’re wrong. You’re gaining time. Each hour is much more effective.
Especially important is to get into bed early. Because of circadian rhythms, each hour you spend in bed before midnight is worth two after midnight.
If you aren’t sleeping, it is because you don’t prioritize it. You are capable of figuring out how much time you need to feel well-rested and be at your best. If you decide to prioritize other things over your sleep–watching TV, late night conversations–that is your choice, not your child’s fault.
If you are sleeping, so will your kid. While babies will still wake up, they’ll be put to sleep quickly. They won’t be woken up by you stumbling around the house.
Older children won’t be so intrigued by what is going on in the living room that they pretend to sleep but sneak up to the door to see what’s happening.
As the lights will be off since everyone is sleeping, the whole house will have improvements in their circadian rhythms.
Your sleep is your children’s sleep. You are giving them information about what to do at night and you are teaching them how to value sleep.
Making it Easier
Whether room sharing or bed sharing, co-sleeping is the biological norm for humans. Our babies expect to be with and near us at all time. Though it may be convenient, we are not only parents during the daytime. We are parents at night, too.
Baby and mama net more hours of solid rest when they co-sleep. While this sleep is lighter, cosleeping families report enjoying better sleep for the whole family.
I highly suggest safe co-sleeping, but whatever you choose to do, realize that your baby or child doesn’t have a sleep problem. You do.