Family Health Guide
Seven restful resolutions ensure parents have the energy they need.
If your New Year’s resolutions call for doing more during the day (exercise, volunteer, cook from scratch, join a playgroup), you can’t afford to toss and turn at night. Trying to do more, more, more with less rest will only lead to disaster: low energy, sugar cravings, short temper, and exhaustion. Sound sleep is crucial for both your physical and psychological health. Adopt these restful resolutions to ensure you have the energy you need make your other good intentions come true.
Follow a routine. Rituals are as important for adults as they are for children. Keep a consistent bedtime and develop a soothing wind-down routine. Doing household chores or decorating four-dozen cupcakes for the class party is no way to calm down before bed. Don’t work right up to lights out. Make time for a cup of herbal tea or warm milk, snuggling with your partner or reading a good book.
Unplug electronics. Many people watch television or use the computer in the hour before bedtime, but this is no way to tune out. Recent studies by Ohio State University researchers suggest that exposure to blue light at night can throw off your body clock and can cause weight gain and depression. If you must use the computer in the evening, install the free f.luxTM app at www.stereopsis.com/flux/ to reduce the brightness of your screen.
Warm up. Temperature follows a circadian rhythm. Before sleep onset, the body’s temperature drops. You can mimic this natural occurrence by taking a warm bath or shower 90 minutes before bed, according to sleep scientists Patricia Murphy and Scott Campbell. When you get out, your body temperature will drop, and you’ll drop off, too.
Silence distractions. If sounds from the dishwasher downstairs (or your night owl neighbors) are keeping you from peaceful slumber, mask them with white noise. Visit www.simplynoise.com to play or download white noise tracks or listen to rain or wave sounds to soothe yourself to sleep. Don’t worry, you’ll still hear the kids if they call out in the night. Mom ears are practically bionic.
Curtail caffeine. Avoid coffee, tea, and chocolate late in the day so you don’t feel a jolt of energy at bedtime. Even if you get a lot done, you’ll pay for it tomorrow. If you are under the weather, beware over-the-counter cough and cold remedies: some contain stimulants that can keep you awake. Herbal tea and honey are good for your cold and for your sleep.
Move it. Exercise combats stress and enhances sleep. Twenty to 30 minutes of moderate aerobic activity will help you fall asleep faster, spend more time in deep sleep, and awaken less often. Late afternoon exercise can help you through the after-school energy slump but the National Sleep Foundation recommends finishing your workout at least 3 hours before bedtime. Otherwise, the post-workout buzz may keep you up.
Quit clock watching. If you must have a clock near the bed, turn it away from you or put it in a drawer, counsels Janet Kinosian, author of “The Well-Rested Woman.” When you have difficulty sleeping, watching time tick by will make you anxious about how little time you have left for sleep and how tired you’ll feel tomorrow. If you worry you won’t get up on time, put a loud alarm across the room. You’ll bounce out of bed when it rings.
If your kids don’t yet sleep through the night, parenting may be the ultimate 24/7 shift work. The intense workload and unpredictable stresses cause you to develop poor sleep habits that persist long after 2 a.m. feedings are hazy memories of the past. Commit to practicing a few restful resolutions this year. The boost to your energy and outlook will be well-worth the effort.
Heidi Smith Luedtke is a psychologist and mom who feels indescribable joy when both kids (and the dog) sleep through the night. You can read her blog on parenting as a leadership experience at www.LeadingMama.com.