In today’s post, I would like to discuss the importance of getting good quality sleep. It will come as no surprise to you that I have had a personal battle with sleep over the past few years. And I know that many of you will have been in the same boat. Having children is a sure fire way to ensure that the duration and quality of sleep that you are able to get is severely limited.
Nothing and nobody can prepare you for the shock that comes when that little person accompanies you home from the hospital. Sure people tell you how hard it will be, but until you’ve experienced it yourself it really is quite impossible to image the effects that lack of sleep can have on practically every aspect of your life.
I suppose it is very similar for insomniacs, if not worse. Luckily I’ve never suffered from insomnia and I hope that I never will. At least when your sleepless nights are down to a new baby, you know the reason for it and your maternal or paternal instincts kick in and it all somehow feels worth it. But insomnia must be a nightmare.
Thankfully my sleepless nights are all but over now. My girls are currently three and five so we’re starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. They might wake up once a night, usually just before we go to bed, but now it’s simply a matter of soothing them back to sleep for a few minutes.
There was a time though when they would wake up maybe eight times a night so our sleep was severely broken. And I can tell you now it was not fun at all. I knew it was affecting me at the time and I felt awful pretty much every day, but it wasn’t until I started getting a good night’s sleep that the full magnitude of the situation hit me. I can honestly say, hand on heart, that I don’t quite know how I survived that period and managed to function as a normal human being.
When I look back at photographs of myself from that time it really is obvious how badly I was suffering. I rarely wore makeup, I had massive eye bags, my hair was an overgrown mess, I looked pale and quite sickly.
But it wasn’t just how I looked that was affected. I really struggled with time management and was often late to things, much to the annoyance of friends and family. I was really cranky and my poor husband bore the brunt of this. And I also put on weight. I was too tired to exercise and often too tired to worry about what I was eating, often reaching for unhealthy sugary snacks to give me that much-needed boost.
When I finally did begin sleeping well again, it felt like all of a sudden a dense fog had lifted and I could see and think clearly again. There really is no other way to describe it. I felt like I had been existing in this haze for an interminable period of time. And the moment the kids started sleeping through, everything improved. I honestly felt like a phoenix rising up out of the ashes, as dramatic as that sounds. I felt like I was a new woman.
I had finally found the energy to start taking care of myself again. I was a nicer person to be around and far more positive. I felt like I was finally in the right mindset to sort out my diet and start eating healthily to lose the baby weight I had put on when I stopped breastfeeding. I basically felt like the old me again and it felt really good. I also realised that a lack of sleep had been causing me a great deal of anxiety. I worried about everything and it was really stressful. I often woke up feeling physically sick with exhaustion. And the lack of sleep had really affected my memory.
But these things don’t just happen to people who have babies or to insomniacs. A lack of sleep can affect everyone. If you’re not getting enough good quality sleep you will build up a sleep deficit. For example, losing two hours of sleep per night will add up to 14hrs of sleep debt over a week. If this happens over a long period of time, the consequences can be quite serious.
A lack of good quality sleep can lead to excessive daytime sleepiness, tiredness and lethargy, morning headaches, poor memory and difficulty focusing, anxiety and depression, chronic health problems such as obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease, an increased risk of accidents, relationship problems, and a lack of sex drive.
So it’s really important to ensure that you get good quality sleep wherever possible. Apparently, to restore your sleep balance, you need at least two nights in a row of unrestricted good quality sleep. So what steps can we take to help improve the quality of sleep that we get?
Set Your Body Clock
Firstly, try to set your body clock by going to bed at the same time each night and getting up at the same time each day. Keep your daytime routine the same even if you’re tired, and if you do feel like you need to catch up on sleep, it’s better to go to bed earlier and still get up at the same time. Also try getting out into the daylight as soon as possible once you have woken up.
Establish a Bedtime Routine
Secondly, establish a bedtime routine that will help you sleep. Avoid caffeine or alcohol before bed and stay off your devices. Allow time to wind down before bed by taking a bath, reading a book or listening to music. We’ve recently discovered a phone app for kids called Moshi Twilight which plays enchanting and melodic sleep stories to help your kids fall asleep quickly. They always fall asleep by the end of the stories and I also find it really relaxing. In fact, when I’m away for business, I listen to the stories to help get me off to sleep. I highly recommend this app.
Create a Comfortable Environment
Thirdly, create a comfortable sleep environment. It is very important to make sure that your bedroom is conducive to getting good quality sleep. Ensure that the room is dark enough and cool enough. We recently had an issue with our boiler which was leaking so we had to turn it off for a few days while we waited for new parts to arrive. What we noticed was that we all slept a hell of a lot better with no heating on. The weather has been quite nice so it wasn’t cold but we realised that we need to turn our thermostat down at night in order to improve our sleep.
Another lesson that I learnt during the time I was having trouble getting good quality sleep was the importance of your bed, mattress and bedding. You can’t possibly have a good night’s sleep if you are uncomfortable. You need a good, supportive bed, a comfortable mattress, and good quality bedding that helps to regulate your temperature and feels soft against your skin.
Before I had kids, I was quite happy buying cheap bedding, but now life experience has taught me that when you spend so much time in bed each day, investing in the best possible bed, mattress, and bedding that you can afford really is an investment in yourself.
For further tips and advice on unlocking the secrets of a good night’s sleep, I highly recommend a book called Happiness by Design by Victoria Harrison. You can see my review here. There is a whole chapter about achieving good quality sleep.