I’m getting about 5 hours a night. Some might think I’m lucky. I guess it’s all relative.
But it’s not enough for me. Really, it’s not. I desperately need more. At least another 2 hours’ a night more.
I’m talking about sleep, of course.
Sleep. The holy grail of new parents everywhere. And the thing that, now my daughters are five and seven and sleeping soundly for 11.5 hours each night, I should be getting my fair share of.
And yet I’m not.
But why not?
Is it because I’m anxious about something? Have something on my mind? Or am I ill?
No. None of the above. I’m just rubbish at going to bed at a decent time. I’m often still awake at 2am, on social media or watching the telly and simply not feeling tired.
I’ve been a night owl since I was a teen. I was always waiting until mum was asleep and then switching my little portable TV back on and watching until the early hours. But I’d still be up and ready to leave for school on time, and always did well at school so, after a time, my mum gave up nagging me to go to bed when she went to bed. She just called me the owl and accepted my body clock for what it was.
As I got older and started working in an office I tried to be in bed by midnight, though. Otherwise I did feel a little weary at work the following day. But going on maternity leave in 2008 and again in 2011, and being woken and feeding children every few hours during the night, I got used to not much/broken sleep. And after becoming self-employed and not being a slave to the daily commute and 8.30am work meetings, I slipped back into my old ways and I started going to bed later and later.
When I became editor of Mumsnet Barnet and Mumsnet Enfield and the girls were still small, evenings and nights were the only times I could work. No interruptions. And I grew to love this time. It was my ME time! And once work was finished for the night, rather than closing down and heading off for bed, I’d start watching another episode of the TV series du jour. Watching telly and not having children talk all the way through it. Bliss! Eating without having to stop and feed/change nappy/take to the loo. Wonderful! Drinking a cup of coffee while it was still warm. Amazing!
Then in April last year I started studying advanced social media marketing with Digital Mums. Aside from this most fabulous of courses totally changing my life for the better in so many ways (and deserving of a blog post all of its own) it also encouraged my late night goings on. By the time I’d put the girls to bed, prepared and eaten supper, made packed lunches for the following day and got the school uniform ready, it was 10pm or later before I sat down to get cracking on with writing user personas or scheduling Facebook posts and tweets for the week.
But I coped. In fact, I did more than cope. I felt fine, absolutely fine. At least I did until a few months ago. I really don’t know why, but things changed. I stopped feeling OK when I woke up. I mean, I functioned. I got out of bed OK; got the girls breakfasted and to school on time. But I just didn’t feel right. And, if I’m honest, I still don’t. And I think it’s about time I did my mind and body a favour and gave it the chance to SLEEP!
So, the decision to get more kip has been made. My body’s telling me I need to, so I will. But I know it’s going to be hard to change the habit of a lifetime and get to bed ‘early’ – which, I’ve decided, for me to start with is before midnight, although I’d like to aim for no later than 11pm in due course).
To help me make this important change I’ve made a list of all the reasons sleep is important to wellness. Just to keep me on the straight and narrow, in case I start slipping back into my late night ways. And I really do urge you to read it. Really, you must. This isn’t some vanity exercise. Personally I was rather shocked by some of the information I unearthed, and I think you will be, too.
So here goes – six reasons why it’s important to get enough sleep (note that many studies have defined ‘enough’ as eight hours per night) :
1. Sleep helps you live longer.
The Bodymetrix assessment performed by GPFIT London at the beginning of my #121toFitMum journey revealed how excessive percentage body fat increased my risk of developing one or more chronic health conditions. Numerous studies also reveal how a lack of sleep can also increase your risk. Rather scarily, one study found that women who got less than four hours’ sleep per night doubled their risk of dying from heart disease. Sleep deprivation can also lead to insulin resistance; and health professionals are now recommending sleep as a way of helping to treat and prevent diabetes. In short, many studies have shown that people who sleep less than seven hours a night do not live as long. For me, this is a real wake-up call (pardon the pun).
2. Sleep boosts your immune system.
Nowadays it’s widely acknowledged that sleep is necessary for your immune system to function normally. And some studies have found that your ability to fight, for example, flu is comprised when you’re not getting enough sleep.
3. Sleep helps keep you slim.
Studies show that if you want to lose weight, you need to get more sleep. Simple as that. If you get more sleep you’re more likely to snack less, consume less calories and burn more fat- one study showed that sleep deprived people burned 20% less fat than those who had a decent amount of shut eye!
4. More sleep improves your productivity at work.
Sleep helps your brain work properly, helping it prepare for the next day. Studies show that a sleep helps you remember information, pay attention, be more creative and make decisions, which in turn improves learning and performance.
5. Sleep improves your looks.
A lack of sleep causes a decrease in blood flow, collagen production and drier skin resulting in more fine line wrinkles and sagging skin. Puffy eyes with dark circles, brittle hair, a droopy mouth and a pale complexion are just a number of other side effects of sleep deprivation. They don’t call it beauty sleep for nothing!
6. Sleep allows you to hope, dream & give life meaning!
Check out this video by Robert Stickgold, Director of the Center for Sleep and Cognition at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. He talks about how sleep is essential for imprinting events into your long-term memory, and helping make sense of your life. In short, sleeping allows you to assimilate what happens to you in your daily life; and dreaming helps you make sense of it all. The end result is you’re able to see the meaning of life, for you.
Writing all this down has certainly confirmed what I already know – a severe lack of sleep is affecting me mentally, emotionally and physically; and I need to do something about it. Starting tonight. Really, my health and wellbeing are too important to me and my family to ignore the sleep research evidence.
So, how can I maximise my chances of achieving an earlier bedtime? After checking out the experts’ top tips, I promise myself that – from tonight – I will:
1. Only use my bed for sleeping, not for finishing off my social media scheduling, checking my Facebook messages or watching the latest episode of Casualty on BBC iPlayer.
2. Not drink alchohol, caffeine or scoff cheeky, late night snacks just before bedtime.
3. Set myself a regular sleep schedule and stick to it, even on the weekends when it might be tempting to have a lie-in and rely on the DH (Mumsnet speak for ‘Dear Husband’) to get up and fix the kids’ breakfast.
So, tonight’s the night. Wish me luck!
Until next week
PPS. To read the previous #121toFitMum blog post click here.