Rest for the Weary

Make the Most of Your Zzz's

Of course, it's nighttime sleep that's the great refresher. Without enough of it, we're prone to colds and other infections, high blood pressure, and mood disorders, says Allison Siebern, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist at the Stanford University Sleep Medicine Center. Fortunately, we're able to recover from sleep deprivation without needing to make up every lost hour.

The bad news is that we're also hardwired with a primitive arousal system that can interrupt our sleep when we have offspring to protect. This is partly why it can be devilishly hard to fall back to sleep after those offspring call out from their room at 3 a.m. for a glass of water.

Deficit-Reduction Plan
Turn your alarm clock to face the wall so that you'll stop keeping track of the sleep you're losing. And try this strategy: First, get as comfortable as you can. Then, to quiet your mind, try breathing in deeply for a count of 4, holding for a count of 7, and exhaling for a count of 8, Dr. Siebern says. "Do that for a few minutes, then focus on your breathing without trying to change it." You'll slow down your heart rate and breathing, which should help you rest and be in a relaxed state while you wait to drift back off. If you're finding that wee-hour broadcasts from the baby monitor wake you, adjust the volume so that you'll hear it only when the baby actually needs you -- not when she's just rustling around in dreamland.

For insomnia that persists beyond a few weeks and affects how you function by day, consider a very short course (four to six one-hour sessions) of cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBTi) with a certified behavioral sleep medicine specialist. You'll learn to change habits and attitudes that can interfere with sleep, including the notion that we all need eight hours of shut-eye. We don't, and it's common for insomniacs to underestimate the amount of sleep they're getting. A good counselor can help you put your sleep numbers in perspective, which is one of CBTi's surprisingly effective strategies for easing insomnia. Find a specialist at sleepcenters.org.

With both sleep deprivation and daytime rest deficits, it helps to keep a long view. By 9 months, most babies sleep through the night. And the Gallup research finds a big jump in moms' R&R once their youngest child is 5.

"Five. Okay," sighs Lisante, now on constant alert as one of her 4-year-olds steamrolls his way through an aggressive stage. She perseveres with the benefit of hindsight. After all, she's been there, done that, and staggered to the other side of the rest-deficit divide when her older daughter was the twins' age. "I'm waiting for that."

Originally published in the March 2012 issue of Parents magazine.

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