Your mission, if you choose to accept, is to get better, more healthful, more restorative sleep.
I re-learned a hard lesson last week, and it was terribly, painfully ironic because I was writing about sleep.
I have this great new schedule where I have more daytime work hours. My husband quit his job to work at home, with me, in large part so that I could get appropriate sleep and be healthier (health isn’t all about the kitchen, which I forget sometimes!!!). I had been doing better overall, as well as I could with a needy nursing-addicted infant, but last week my schedule didn’t have nearly enough writing time in it.
I was doing a lot more posting to fit in all the topics I wanted on the healthy sleep series, and they were quite research heavy posts (meaning time-consuming). I “found” more hours to write by kicking in an old habit – staying up way too late.
I’ve been trying to clock my hours more to figure out how much time I really spend on various parts of my job, and it was a little shocking to see 180 minutes, 3 full hours, spent writing one post…that was nowhere near finished. That time, which started around 10:30 or 11 p.m., was apparently mostly spent either gazing at the screen “deep in thought,” i.e. in a sleepy haze, or actually hanging my head and snoozing at the computer.
How dumb is that?
I seriously make the worst decisions when I’m tired, not the least of which is continuing to stay up, to try to push through and get something done instead of waving the white flag, wrapping it around me like a sheet, and letting my head hit the pillow where it really belongs anyway.
My whole family paid for it all week long with my patience low, temper high, and ability to deal with the normal problems of family life nearly non-existent.
Sound familiar to anyone?
There are plenty of visible and invisible ramifications to being sleep-deprived, which is a true state of life for many of us young parents these days.
What happens when you’re low on sleep?
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- Attention span suffers – we feel pulled by every golden trinket that catches our eye!
- Reaction time stinks – in studies, people running on too little sleep perform about as well as those over the legal limit for alcohol, about 50% worse than when they are well-rested. (Including those on simply less than 6 hours per night, not just docs who are up for 30 hours on shift…)
- Cognition is killed – in fact, higher level brain function is the first to get foggy on low sleep. Your energy goes into keeping your body awake and you don’t have enough gas in the tank left for quality decision-making, keeping your emotions in check, social control, and even sticking to your moral guns.
- Your memory gets messed up – in fact, during sleep, our brains process everything from our day and decide what to remember more long-term and what to forget. And forgetting is just as important as remembering so you don’t clutter up your brain with needless information. (That’s why dreams can be so weird, because your brain is literally at work processing your memories!)
- You could get fat (or stay that way)! Sleep deprivation kills your weight goals in two ways – negatively impacting your body’s insulin regulation (and a few other physiological processes) and causing you to make poor choices about “the munchies” when you’re up too late at night, including forgetting how much you’ve eaten. (This podcast at Underground Wellness is truly a great listen!)
- You could get sick (or sicker) – diabetes, obesity, hormonal imbalances and even cancer are higher among shift workers, and it’s thought that sleep and circadian rhythms play a role.
As frightening as the individual and familial consequences of lack of sleep are, the societal problems are there too, almost as much as drunk driving or texting while driving:
It’s easy to avoid texting or drinking and driving, but it’s actually pretty difficult to avoid drowsy driving when you’re sleep deprived all the time (raises hand). You can’t get “un-sleepy” very well once you’re already there.
The only solution is to get enough sleep moving forward, right?
It’s Not Only About Hours in Bed!
Sure, you have read that adults need about 8 hours of sleep.
But the same number isn’t true for everyone.
Some people need more like nine hours, some only seven. It’s rare that anyone needs less than six hours for truly optimal functioning, so if you feel like “six is enough for me!” you are either mistaken or special.
In the end, obviously, being in bed, lying down, quiet and trying to sleep is the first and most important weapon in the battle against sleep deprivation. But there are a lot of other elements that deserve to be in your bedtime arsenal because there are reasons beyond “I didn’t get enough sleep” that make people feel tired.
You also need to have quality sleep, sleep that is both deep enough and at the right time of night.
Dan Pardi, a sleep expert who has traveled the podcast circuit with Underground Wellness, Dr. Mercola, Chris Kresser, and Greatist, says there are THREE factors to pinpointing restorative sleep:
- Duration— How long you sleep
- Timing – if your sleep is at a consistent time, and if it’s at the optimal time of day
- Intensity – are you hitting the deep pockets of sleep your body needs to heal and restore function for the next day, or is your sleep disrupted, even without you knowing it or fully waking up?
I’ve shared before on the optimal time of day to sleep (it has to do with your liver!), and it’s pretty commonly accepted that if you can go to bed and get up at the same time each day, your rhythm is better.
But what kinds of things interrupt our deepest, healing sleep (other than the obvious children waking up their poor, haggard parents)?
- snoring spouse
- bedroom too warm
- eating the wrong foods/drink before bed (or all the time, for example heartburn)
- blue light after dark
- pressure from the mattress on our skin (causes us to wake up just a little to roll over so our circulation isn’t cut off)
Sources: 1 (link removed), 2, 3
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It’s All About Circadian
Your Circadian rhythm is your body’s 24-hour cycle of growth, rest, wakefulness, etc. It’s largely determined by the amount of light that hits your eyes, and when it’s off, your sleep gets off. When your sleep gets off, your rhythm gets off.
Why is Mr. Circadian important to you?
It’s a vicious cycle, isn’t it?
But there is a culprit you can work with without having to go to bed at the moment the sun goes down (which would be pretty hard in northern climates like Michigan where most office workers are driving home in complete darkness in December).
Blue light suppresses melatonin and shifts circadian rhythms twice as much as green light. So how do we avoid blue light at night?
- The new energy-efficient CFL lightbulbs = blue light.
- Cell phones, TVs, computer screens = blue light.
This is why many recommend not watching TV right before bed. Is that definitely going to give you insomnia, an obvious sleep problem? Nope.
But there’s a darn good chance it will impact your total restfulness during the night without you even feeling it at the time. You feel it in other hidden ways though, via your alertness the next day, your ability to lose weight, and even your sugar cravings, especially if they kick in with more vengeance later at night (raises hand…again).
Why do You Toss and Turn?
It’s rare that someone is in the same position all night long, comfortably. The pressure your body exerts on your mattress and it on you can be enough to cut off your circulation (it doesn’t take much), and your natural defense mechanism is to fidget, change position, roll over. You don’t even have to wake up all the way to do it, so you may not realize that you are tossing and turning.
The importance of having a great mattress can’t be understated here, because the quality of your sleep is so related to your mental and emotional functioning all day long. It’s not even all about not being sleepy, but about giving your whole body, brain included, a chance to rest and heal during the nighttime hours.
But We Still Don’t Get Enough Hours in Bed
Ok, so it’s not ALL about hours in bed, but no matter how deep and restorative your sleep, you still do need to get enough of it.
And we’re not.
Americans are getting about 20% less sleep now than the average adult in the 1960s. That’s significant! We tend to get used to how sleep deprivation feels on a daily basis because we don’t know any different.
Here’s a thought nugget for you to ponder: How many kids are diagnosed with ADHD simply because they’re not spending enough time in bed (or aren’t getting quality sleep when they are in bed)?
Fixing the Problem: Simple Steps you Can Take NOW to Get Better Sleep
Can you catch up on sleep once you’re behind, or “bank” sleep for another day if you know you’ll have a busy week?
Commonly people have been taught that you can’t, but I did some research into that question last summer and learned some fascinating facts!
You CAN in fact catch up on sleep and even bank sleep, and an earlier bedtime may make an even bigger impact on your health than more total time in bed. Read about all that plus my permanent, sleep-deprived state right HERE.
But just like the problem isn’t only caused by your amount of time in bed, the solution doesn’t lie in an equation either. Here are some super simple things you can do to increase the quality of your sleep and health of your circadian rhythm:
- Get outside just 30 minutes a day. Just half an hour of outdoor sunlight hitting your eyes (don’t wear sunglasses!) creates an “anchor effect” for your circadian rhythm, reducing the negative impact of light at night.
- Dim the lights as the sun goes down.
- Avoid blue light at night. I’m using a free app called f.lux to remove the blue light from my monitors after sundown in my timezone. A bunch of my crunchy friends swear by blue light blocking glasses – I need to get these from Amazon, which aren’t plastic and are super well-made!
- Don’t use a bright alarm clock. Even a little light can mess with your hormones enough to cause cycle imbalances in women with minor fertility issues.
- Go dark – use blackout shades or a sleep mask. Your eyelids aren’t enough to block out light in your room.
Now I know all about sleep, how important it is, how lack of it makes me feel (grrrrrrr!) and what to do about it.
Now if someone could only help me feel assured that I could actually get up at 5:30 or 6 a.m. to get my work done – and maybe get Gabe to sleep longer than a few hours at a crack while they’re at it – life would be grand.
We’re a work in progress here at the Kimball house. How about you?
Click to Read the Whole Healthy Sleep Series:
Read all the How to Get Healthy Sleep series posts HERE.
Images from GraphicStock; used with permission.
Need More Baby Steps?
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That’s why we took the best 10 rookie “Monday Missions” that used to post once a week and got them all spruced up to send to your inbox – once a week on Mondays, so you can learn to be a kitchen steward one baby step at a time, in a doable sequence.
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15 thoughts on “Monday Mission: The Secret to Healing Sleep”
I’m a f.lux user too! 😀 Love that little program…
That said, we ultimately decided that that was just putting a band-aid on the problem, and our own solution was to go artificial-lights free — candles only after dark, no screens (even filtered), no light bulbs. It’s extreme, I know, but we love it, and can’t imagine going back.
Wow, Naomi, big change! Did you notice a difference in your sleep/health? 🙂 Katie
Big changes, Katie — both in quality of sleep, and in various areas of health and wellbeing. 🙂
There have been lots of beneficial side-effects, too… more time spent with family without screen distractions, more time for reading / crafting / putzing about in ways modern life tends to deprive us of, an almost funny renewed appreciation for nuances of light and dark, making friends with our local beekeepers (for candles), and on and on.
I realize it’s not for everyone, and I won’t preach, honest, but it really wasn’t that hard once we got through the first week of figuring out new routines, and didn’t take leaving suburbia to do it, either.
That’s cool, Naomi….I can see us having trouble with going in and out of the bathroom for bedtime routine being a bit of a pain…what an interesting concept!!
I love your blog and appreciate all the time and effort you put into your research! In fact, I so trust your thoroughness that after your positive review of the IntelliBed mattress I was finally ready to bite the bullet and replace our old, toxin-laden mattress. I’ve known it wasn’t good for some time, but had been unsure what the best replacement would be. When I called the IntelliBed company I was impressed with their helpfulness and with the answers their sleep wellness expert had for my questions. My intention was to discuss with my husband and then order before the end of March, using your discount code. But in the meantime, before I could order, you posted having some concerns about IntelliBed. I’m wondering if you can share what those concerns are or at least what the timeframe will be for when you can share? I’m sooo ready for a good night’s sleep!
Thank you also, btw, for the emphasis you place on your Christian faith in your blog! That is another reason I return so faithfully to read your posts!
You’re paying close attention! The intelliBED ended up having one component in their fire blocker that sort of snuck under the radar, even theirs. The company is looking for a new source – it may not truly be much of a problem, but it wasn’t “non-toxic as advertised” so I held up on a few things with them. We’ll tell the whole story together once the resolution is determined, but if you’d like to know more, feel free to email me at kitchenstew at gmail.com and I’ll pass on more exact info. Thanks! Katie
I’m in almost the same situation as Darla!
I emailed you requesting more info., and I thought I’d comment here to get your attention quicker. 🙂
Thank you! Seriously. Thank you for all of your research and hard work.
Thanks so much, Katie. This one topic is my downfall. I’m incessantly curious about nutrition, health & wellness, food as medicine, etc. And as a homeschooling mom, nights are my only chance to have time alone. But I know something has to give…
Anyway, I’m writing to ask if you have researched any “healthy” mattresses other than intelliBED. I have recently read a couple of rave reviews of Essentia, which makes organic memory foam mattresses made of natural-latex-foam. Just wondering what your opinion is of all the best organic mattresses out there (similar to your sunscreen posts), because you are my go-to website/blog for all things health & research related. (This mom is truly grateful for all the research you do!)
Blessings in Christ this Lent and Easter!
I saw a bit about Essentia and didn’t look deeply into what their “healthy” foam is really made of to be honest, but it looked interesting. Natural latex foam, as long as you’re not allergic, should be a great option. I wish I could test a dozen like I did with the sunscreens! Not quite as easy to do though. 🙂
Good luck on your search (and getting more sleep)!
What an amazingly researched and we’ll written article on sleep! I have a serious sleep problem which comes and goes through out my life. Nothing natural or even unnatural seems to make a difference when my body doesn’t want to sleep. It just refuses to turn off despite trying everything. Any tips?
Thanks Jennie! Pretty much everything I know about sleep will be in this series, so this post, the one linked to from last summer in this post, and possibly the intelliBED review coming up next week will have some ideas for you. Kaie
In today’s post you implicated your “needy nursing-addicted infant” in your sleep loss and writing delays. How warmly I do empathize with your predicament, because I nursed for a long time, a long time ago.
The demands of nursing, especially when baby doesn’t feel well, can demolish a mother’s efforts to get the simplest thing done. How admirable you truly are in somehow managing to do big things whilst caring for your family so conscientiously. You contribute a lot to your readers, probably thousands of them. And if your production schedule slipped, well, be proud of that! You aren’t short-changing investors or the government or an employer! Your wise, loving nurture of your baby and your other dear children and your whole menage, while maintaining your own health, these pursuits are inextricable from the “product” your blog so generously delivers.
Please, show your readers that a mother never should have to apologize for judiciously honoring priorities. It is quite well and fine to slow up on the provision of free services to strangers when one’s own health and her family’s legitimate needs require attention. You can help make this old world safe for mothers and babies by asserting this principle. You are entitled to back off, put things aright again, and come back when you are good and ready. That is a very good story to recount in the blog.
And with those thoughts in mind, please reconsider use of the dreadful word, “addicted”, in relation to your nursing baby’s needs and appetites. The baby is innocent!
Thanks Harriet – definitely a perk of working at home! I’ve always jokingly referred to my babies as nursing addicts, just because they love it so much. My husband feels bad that they don’t want him for the first 12 mos!
This was right on the money! I was diagnosed with a severe sleep disorder several years ago (which had actually been UNdiagnosed for decades, I believe), and I also suffer with all of those problems. It’s hard for people to understand because it’s rather a hidden issue! Plus, being in bed 10 hours a night to get at least some rest is not conducive to getting everything done during the day that I’d like to! 🙁