Why I Made Sleep a Prioity

When I was in my early 20’s sleep was not a priority for me – I went by the philosophy of “I’ll sleep when I die” because I’d rather be out partying with my friends, or needed to stay up and study because I wasn’t going to waste precious sunning time with my head in a textbook.  It also just wasn’t “cool” to go to bed before midnight and as AIM away messages (pre Myspace and Facebook!) were the popular thing in college, the best messages went up after midnight.  That being said, I also always struggled with sleep.  I’d go through bouts of insomnia about once a month, sometimes taking 2-3 hours to fall asleep, if I could fall asleep at all.  And I couldn’t nap – forget it.  I experimented with sleeping pills to help me out, which always left me feeling groggy and gross the next day.  Then I found I could fall asleep easier with the TV on, which I did for years, but it didn’t keep me asleep and would just wake me up after falling asleep on most nights.  Reading was always a really great trick, but I didn’t always feel like reading.  Getting enough sleep wasn’t a huge priority for me so I didn’t think about it too much…until I had a baby.

After giving birth to my daughter, sleep became the most important thing on the planet.  I scoured baby blogs and new mom sites for all the information I could find on getting our baby to sleep longer stretches.  It was the first thing I asked other new moms and felt frustrated when moms in my mommy group were claiming their babies were sleeping 5-6 hours at night if not more.  The sleep deprivation when having a newborn is a known fact, but nobody knows what it’s really like until you experience the wrath of your baby stirring 45 minutes after you’ve finally closed your eyes and your husband snoring next to you. 

Being a behavior analyst kind of went out the window when my daughter was born and I assumed sleep was a behavior that I couldn’t control. (I really couldn’t in the beginning because I had to feed my daughter every 2 hours due to weight issues, which meant not even allowing her to get longer than a 2-hour stretch at night).  After doing some research it clicked that sleep is a behavior that I can control, not only for my daughter, but for myself, and so I did.  I took control and set up routines and my husband and I made a pact to allow some crying so that she could learn to sleep on her own.  Once she did, the world changed, and even though I was tired, it was no longer cloudy and I felt less teary, depressed, and generally happy again.

Then I went to work on myself.  All the research showed that going to bed and waking up at the same time was optimal because your body is used to the routine and won’t feel over- or under-tired at any point because every night was the same.  Let me tell you that this works wonders.  Of course I still will have a social life and go out on the weekends, but I can feel the huge difference it makes to change the natural schedule my body has become accustomed to.  For some people that may just be too rigid and scheduled, but for me it works and I feel good throughout the day.  I also stick to my nighttime routine, simple as dim lighting, washing my face, brushing my teeth, getting into pajamas, and some reading.  I no longer fall asleep with the TV on which my husband will tell you is a huge change.  Eliminating that blue light from the TV and cell phone before bed has done wonders, and it allows my brain to shut down and not think about work or someone’s post on Facebook. 

So how much sleep do we need then?  Here’s a handy chart from the National Sleep Foundation:

As an adult, 7-9 hours a night is optimal with 6 hours at the absolute minimum.  Sleep is one of those basic needs that every human has.  It controls your diet in the sense that if you don’t get enough sleep you crave food more often.  Lack of sleep can also cause disruption in insulin levels and makes physical changes to your fat cells.  Studies have shown that just one night of sleep deprivation is enough to impair activity in your frontal lobe, which controls your decision making skills.  Driving under sleep deprivation is just as dangerous as driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

I made the conscious decision to make sleep a priority for my overall health, just the same as some people do with changing their diet or exercise routine.  I avoid caffeine after 12pm and I know if I have dessert at night it will affect my sleep.  But taking control has allowed me to be more productive and happy throughout the day, as well as being present for my daughter.