Simple Steps to Better Sleep

Misbah Akhtar

Ask any Mum what she wants more of and she’s likely to say “time.” Errands need running, mouths need feeding, housework awaits. And don’t forget homework, carpools, extracurricular activities and careers. Most mothers sacrifice sleep, but that’s one of the worst things you can skimp on.

“Sleep deprivation can lead to so many problems, the first being difficulty thinking clearly, making decisions and moodiness,” said Amy Korn-Reavis, a registered polysomnography technologist in Apopka, Florida. “All of these are symptoms that many busy mothers possess. They just may not realize that a good night’s sleep will help to remedy the problem.”

Sleep deficiencies contribute to weight gain, high blood pressure, poor work performance and an increased risk for accidents, injury and death. Sleep difficulty affected 75% of the population several nights or more per week, according to a Harvard Health Publications report published in January 2006. In 2011, a “New York Times” article claimed the nightly sleep time of the average American adult dropped from more than eight hours to six and a half hours between 1960 and 2010.


The situation may be even worse for mothers. A study published in the “Journal of Community Health” in July 2011 investigated the sleep habits of 395,407 adults. The likelihood of frequent poor sleep increased with the number of children in the household.

Circumventing these challenges often boils down to one thing — time management. Using your time efficiently allows time for restful sleep and minimizes stress, which fuels insomnia. Sufficient sleep improves daytime energy and mental sharpness, making it easier to get more done in less time. Sounds like a win-win, right? Experts agree the benefits are worth the effort.

Swapping To-Do Lists for Schedules

Before you can better manage your time, you must assess your responsibilities. For many women, that involves making a list of things to do. But a list so long it rolls out like Santa’s scroll makes it easy to fixate on unfinished tasks, particularly while lying in bed … awake. And with no plan, these thoughts can haunt you, increase frustration and disrupt sleep.

An organized schedule is a better option, says Elizabeth Scott, a Los Angeles-based stress-management writer, wellness coach and author of “8 Keys to Stress Management.”

“A written schedule allows people to see where their time goes and to plan around important things like sleep,” Scott said. “If there is not enough time in the schedule for eight hours of sleep and the other activities they need to take care of, it becomes easier to reprioritize and cut out commitments that are not absolutely necessary.”

If you prefer pen and paper, jot your schedule on your calendar or planner. Otherwise, use the digital calendar apps on your phone or computer. Group calendar functions on smartphones can keep the entire family updated, says Scott. The important thing isn’t how you record your schedule, but that you do.

“When people know where their time goes and know that they DO have enough time for everything they have committed to, there is less rushing, less stress,” Scott added.

Keeping Sleep Routines

“Routine” and “parenting” can seem like a foolish pairing when your children are rapidly growing and changing. But the more established your bedtime routine becomes, the better off your whole family is likely to be.

“Mothers need to take that little bit of time to create a bedtime ritual for themselves, just like they have one for their children,” said Korn-Reavis. “It does not have to be long, but it needs to be something they can repeat daily at the same time right before bed.”

Most adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep each night, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Count backwards from your wake time, then add a bit of time for relaxing activities. Korn-Reavis recommends stretching for a few minutes, meditating or practising slow breathing before you wash up and turn in.

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“By repeating this type of routine every night, you tell your mind it is time to relax and get ready to sleep,” Korn-Reavis said.

Maintaining a solid morning routine is equally important — time and sleep-wise.

“If I get a lousy night’s sleep but let myself sleep in, I’m just going to perpetuate that cycle,” said Fafani Weinzierl, an education specialist in school psychology and a busy mom in Madison, Wisconsin. “I’ve found if I get up every morning at the same time, no matter how rough the night was, I can get to sleep then at night about the same time.”

Learning to Say ‘No’ and Delegate

Researchers in Portugal spent two years working with 870 people on a study about perfectionism and sleep difficulties. The study published in “World Journal of Biological Psychiatry” in March 2010 found that participants who exhibited the most perfectionism — holding themselves up to particularly high standards — were significantly more likely to experience insomnia than non-perfectionists

Even apparent “super Mums” are human. Lowering your expectations to focus on what matters most and allowing yourself to let go of less-important tasks can go a long way for minimizing stress and sleeplessness.

“Mums often find themselves saying yes to please others,” Scott said. “But when we are over-scheduled and overwhelmed, we end up letting down those who matter most — our families and ourselves. Remember that every time you say yes to something, you are effectively saying no to something else.”

Contemplating what you most want to say yes to, Scott says, can make saying no to other tasks easier. And when your responsibilities start feeling like weights on your back, don’t be afraid to ask for and accept help from others.

“I believe women have a perpetual problem with asking for help,” Weinzierl said. “We simply can’t get it all done in a day, yet we wouldn’t want to admit that so we just add hours to our work time by skimping on sleep.”

When you feel overwhelmed, Weinzierl suggests stepping back and looking at your entire day’s schedule. Certain tasks can probably wait until the weekend or fall in someone else’s capable lap.

“Friend and family support is extremely important,” Weinzierl said. “But we women need to make sure we let others know what they can do to help us.”

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