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These days there are a million things keeping us from hitting the pillow at a reasonable hour and getting the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep. We find ourselves laying in bed getting lost in the black hole of Instagram and before we know it more than an hour has gone by. Or we are kept up with our minds racing thinking about everything on our growing to-do list.
Studies show 75% of us deal with some kind of sleep difficulty at least a few nights per week.
Friday night, we got back from our babymoon in Iceland at 10pm. YES it was unbelievable and totally worth it, but after a full day of traveling and a few time zone changes, waking up for work at 7am on Saturday was painful. Needless to say, I am definitely on the struggle bus.
Sleep deprivation can cause a ton of problems not only for our bodies, but also for our minds.
Here are just a few:
While we are sleeping, our brains process information that we learned during the day during a process called ‘memory consolidation’. During sleep, we form new neural connections and also clear out junk that we don’t have to remember anymore. Think of it as housekeeping for the brain! Studies show that people who sleep after learning something new do better when tested on that topic later than people who don’t get any shut-eye.
We all know that when we haven’t gotten enough sleep we are more irritable, moody, impatient, and have a harder time concentrating. When I am sleepy, I am quicker to snap at my hubby or assume the worst instead of giving people the benefit of the doubt. I also have trouble focusing, and as a doctor, this means paying less attention to my patients which is a big no-no!
Packing on the Pounds
Sleep deprivation affects the way we process and store carbohydrates and can change hormones that influence our appetite. Two hormones that help govern appetite are Leptin and Ghrelin. Leptin is secreted by fat cells and tells the brain that the body is storing enough fat. This helps produce a feeling of fullness. Ghrelin, on the other hand, is secreted by the digestive system when your tummy is empty. This tells your brain to make you hungry. When we are running low on sleep the amount of Leptin in the body decreases and Ghrelin increases making us want to raid the fridge!
When we are sleepy we are also more likely to want to veg out on the couch watching a Netflix marathon and eating ice cream than to hit up the gym. This sleep induced lack of motivation also thwarts any weight loss efforts. People who sleep less than 6 hours a night are 30% more likely to become obese.
You are much more likely to make mistakes when you have skimped on sleep. People are more likely to get in car wrecks, forget to pick up their kids from a play date, or trip over an uneven sidewalk after a sleepless night. Some major disasters such as the Exxon Valdez oil spill and the 1986 nuclear meltdown at Chernobyl have occurred in part due to sleep deprivation.
We are just as likely to get in a car accident when we are sleep deprived as when we are driving buzzed or drunk. (!) Being awake for 18 hours is comparable to a blood alcohol level of .05 and if you have been awake for 24 hours it’s like a blood alcohol level of .10!
For reference, .08 is considered drunk!
Talk about terrifying.
Sleep and Sickness
Lack of sleep can contribute to high blood pressure, diabetes, depression, increased stress hormones such as cortisol, and even cause an irregular heartbeat! We are more susceptible to all types of infections when we are sleep deprived because our immune systems aren’t functioning at full capacity.
Sleep in Pregnancy
Adequate sleep during pregnancy is even more important as your body is not only working hard to repair itself, but it is growing a little human!
In the first trimester, progesterone, which is a hormone necessary to maintain your pregnancy, zaps you of energy. Your body is using all of its extra resources to grow your little one. Some days, you will feel as tired as if you just ran a marathon or are coming down with the flu.
You might be waking up a few times during the night because you have to pee or find yourself unable to fall asleep due to ‘morning sickness’, which can strike at any time. Swollen sensitive breasts and twinges of pain from your growing uterus can suddenly wake you up from a peaceful slumber.
More than half of women in the first trimester take a nap during the work week and 60% take a nap on the weekends – so allow yourself a little snooze session. No matter how you look at it, the first trimester is going to be tiring. Cut yourself some slack and listen to your body when it tells you to slow down.
The second trimester is known as the ‘honeymoon period’. Oooooh la la! Your sleep won’t be entirely perfect, but you will feel less of an effect of progesterone and hopefully your nausea has improved. But now you may have some sleep issues due to heartburn, leg cramps or vivid dreams. Now is a good time to establish a relaxing bedtime routine, start meditating, get used to sleeping on your left side (which helps improve circulation to both you and your baby), and maybe move that TV out of the bedroom.
This honeymoon period won’t last forever! By the end of pregnancy, 2/3 of women report waking up 5 or more times per night! Yeah, you read that right – five! Your belly is growing to epic proportions making it harder to get cozy at night. You might be awakened by back pain, restless legs, or find yourself getting up to pee because your little one is pushing on your bladder.
It is more important than ever to get enough sleep during the third trimester. Not only do you have to rest up to prepare for your little one, but studies show that women who sleep 6 or less hours per night have longer labors and are 4.5 times more likely to have C-sections!
No bueno if you ask me!
Sooooo what can we do to make sure we are getting the best sleep possible???
Sleep Tips for Mamas-to-Be
- Keep Saltines nearby to combat nausea.
- Try not to drink too many fluids after 6pm to help keep you from running to the bathroom all night – but make sure you are hydrating really well during the day!
- Nap when you can (best between 2-4pm so it isn’t too close to bedtime).
- Try to eat your last meal 4 hours before bed and limit fried, spicy, and acidic foods to reduce heartburn.
- Avoid carbonated drinks, which can contribute to leg cramps.
- Sleep on your left side to reduce stress on your lower back and increase circulation.
- Invest in a Snoogle to help you get cozy! See my previous post on 10 Tips for Surviving the First Trimester for more info on this.
- Add some turkey, milk or bananas to your diet. These foods are rich in the amino acid tryptophan and can aid in sleep.
- Relax with some meditation or prenatal yoga. Try the Headspace or Expectful apps for a little meditation guidance!
- Eat foods rich in iron and folate to cut down on restless legs. You can find these in fortified grains and leafy greens. And make sure you are getting your prenatal vitamin in!
- Don’t let your pets sleep in bed with you. I am such a sucker for this, but when our little Shih-Poo Rufus sleeps in our bed I don’t sleep well at all. I wake up with my legs cramped from being stuck in one position and drenched in sweat because he is a little furnace. Then in the morning, Sinto, our 85lb goofball Labradoodle, wakes Rufus up early and wants to play or Rufus wakes up because he wants to eat! It’s chaos either way!
- Keep your bedroom between 60 and 67 degrees.
- Make your room as dark as possible. That means getting rid of any electronics (even the little power light on your TV can affect your sleep!) and investing in black out blinds if you have a lot of light coming in from outside.
- Only use your bed for sleep and sex. No homework or blogging!
- If you are having trouble falling asleep, get up and go relax in another room for a little while.
- Avoid electronics at least an hour before bed – the light from your iPhone or laptop is activating to the brain and makes it harder to fall asleep. Read an old school paperback book or do a little meditation instead.
- Your room should be quiet but not SO quiet that you can hear a pin drop. I personally have a hard time sleeping without the noise from our overhead fan. You can also consider a white noise machine – I registered for the Dohm white noise machine for the baby’s room!
- Get some exercise in – the National Sleep Foundation’s 2013 Sleep in America study showed that regular, vigorous exercisers get the best sleep! That being said, exercise earlier in the day because working out too close to bedtime can leave your engine revving and keep you awake.
Sleep Tips for New Moms
- Take naps when the baby is napping, though try not to nap too late at night. The laundry and the dishes can wait, I promise!
- Keep your sleep schedule as ‘regular’ as possible, even on the weekends. I know, I know – with a newborn how is this possible?
- Split night-time feedings with your partner. If you are breastfeeding and you and your baby have gotten the hang of nursing and your milk supply is well established, it is okay to have your partner use a bottle for a couple of feeds a day.
- Sleep close to the baby. (But not WITH the baby in bed with you!) Keep a bassinet in your room. This cuts down on the risk of SIDS and keeps you from running all over the house in the middle of the night. Read the American Academy of Pediatrics Safe Sleep Recommendations here.
- If you have to use a light before bed consider installing a red lightbulb. Red wavelengths are most conducive to sleep and do not affect melatonin. You can also install these to use for nighttime feedings.
- If you are breastfeeding, you will get the added boost of the hormone prolactin, which promotes sleepiness – finally a positive from all of these hormones!
- Try to get as much natural sunlight as you can during the day and turn off all unnecessary light two hours before bedtime. This allows your body to maintain its natural sleep rhythms.
- Use separate blankets in a shared bed. We recently experienced this in Iceland and apparently it is a thing in many Scandinavian countries. It is LIFE CHANGING. Two duvets mean no blanket stealing, smelly toots stay under his blanket, and there is less disruption when one of you is getting up to check on the baby.
If you are having significant sleep issues please speak with your doctor about it. Though I am a doctor, I am not your doctor and cannot replace them!