New Year’s Sleep Resolution: Sleep Like a Baby

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New Year’s sleep resolution… Are you in?

The best thing about this “resolution” is that you don’t have to do ANYTHING! …Just sleep.

While Nourishing Hope is about healthy food and nutrition that nourishes our children (and nourishes hope for a healthy future for your family), I think it is essential this year to talk about nourishing PARENTS too.

That’s why I want to share my New Year’s Sleep Resolution with you, which involves going to bed EARLY, and give you some of the reasons why getting enough sleep is so important (to both children and adults). To be healthy individuals, functioning adults, and good parents, getting enough sleep is crucial. Though most parents have actually been sleep deprived for years.

All too frequently, (often due to necessity) parents do not have time to take care of themselves as much as they’d like or need.  However, parents must stay healthy and energetic so we can fully care of our children. And kids with special needs require even more time and energy.  For many years, I’ve spoken and written about nourishing our bodies for good health and healing. Today, I’m compelled to write about sleep, as sleep is crucial to our overall health as much as healthy eating is.

My resolution (still in place through week two of 2015) is going to sleep early. Not only does getting to bed earlier lead to more sleep in general (and better health), there is evidence that the quality of sleep improves with an early bedtime too.

I’ve always been a “night owl.” I have a tendency to stay up a bit too late in the evenings (10:30 or 11:30), not every day – but several days each week. I enjoy being the only one awake and having some personal “alone time.” But doing this causes my bedtime to vary by a couple hours from day to day.

While I enjoy having this “free time,” it is bad for my adrenals, and yours. Our adrenals manage the stress we experience, as well our circadian rhythm (body’s time clock). When our sleep/wake cycle varies daily, our adrenals become overworked and pushed to the limit. Being consistent, not only with the number of hours of sleep, but with the time we go to sleep and wake, is tremendously helpful for allowing our adrenals to get maximum rest and rejuvenation.

Additionally, sleep is very important to mental health. In a study by James E. Gangwisch, et. al, adolescents with parental set bedtimes of midnight or later were 24% more likely to suffer from depression and 20% more likely to have suicidal ideation than adolescents with parental set bedtimes of 10:00 PM or earlier. The researchers concluded, “The results from this study provide new evidence to strengthen the argument that short sleep duration could play a role in the etiology of depression.” Sleep more, be happier.

Ideally, bedtime should be about 3 hours after the sun goes down. From the book, Lights Out, authors Wiley and Formby state that from an NIH mouse study, “It takes 6 hours of prolactin production, in the dark, minimum, to maintain immune function (T cell and beneficial killer cell production). It takes 3.5 hours of melatonin secretion before prolactin begins to be released. It has to be dark with enough serotonin to secrete melatonin.” The implication here is that if someone goes to bed too late, they will have missed crucial hours of darkness that are essential for good sleep and immune function (time they cannot make up at dawn).

In the summer, 3 hours after sunset (10:30 pm or later) is a fairly easy bedtime for most people. But in wintertime, 3 hours after sunset can be as early as 7:30pm (to about 8:00/8:30 pm). Hmm…who goes to bed then?

My 2015 Sleep Resolution stemmed from a recent illuminating yet “eye-closing” experience. Our daughter Ruby typically falls sleep at 7:30 or 8:00pm. Over the holidays, while putting her to bed on several occasions – my husband and I accidentally fell asleep! I was a bit surprised; I didn’t know I could even fall asleep that early. We regained awareness around 11pm, giggling at what happened and still wearing our jeans. But you know what, after that we intentionally went to bed at the same time as Ruby on a few other occasions. We loved it, and felt great in the morning!

So we decided to make it a resolution for the New Year – to go to sleep at our daughter’s bedtime (or close to it), every day for one month! Some days we go to bed with her – other times, if she’s in bed earlier, we might stay up a bit longer. Some of you have children that go to bed at 7 pm, so this second strategy might work better for you.

Specifically, we’ve set a goal of going to bed in the 8 o’clock range. Sometimes it’s 8:00, but other days it’s 8:55. The exact time is not so important, but the point is to make it an early bedtime (whatever early is for you, and with enough time to get 8 hours of sleep during total darkness). For us, we chose a time that was “ridiculously” early so we were more likely to radically change our pattern and be successful.

We have given ourselves permission to skip the dishes, or cleaning, or even working out on occasion, if need be. Of course, things like exercise are also essential for us to be healthy and have proper sleep – point is do what it takes in the short-term and work toward making it sustainable. Let’s face it, getting to bed that early means that we really might have to give up something else while we find a way to reprioritize or reschedule.

For myself, I’m enjoying sleeping as many hours as possible. For my husband, he prefers to wake up early (still after 8 or 9 hours of sleep) and get some work done before everyone else wakes up. Each person will have different health needs and objectives, and different sleep patterns.

It’s working great! For the first time in a long time, I feel rested and ready to get out of bed in the morning.

Our goal for this month is to see what more sleep can do, particularly consistent sleep that’s early to bed.

If you find you have trouble falling asleep, try some bedtime hygiene strategies. Have a routine. Do something relaxing before bed. Avoid TV, computer and electronic screens before bedtime, instead read a paperback book if you’d like. Remove electronic equipment from your room that can emit EMFs, such as clocks and cell phones. Avoid caffeine (even in the morning). Make sure your room is very dark. There are many good books on the subject for much more information.

If you have a child with special needs that doesn’t sleep well, this sleep resolution may be challenging.  If your child does not sleep well, you are a single parent, or your spouse is out of town during the week, you may need to modify things.  However, I encourage you to try and find some way to try to get some extra sleep.  Maybe you can switch off with your partner, one of you watching your child while the other gets to bed early, or maybe for a weekend grandparents or a friend can watch your child and you can get some extra sleep, or try a daytime nap while your child is in school.

Regardless of the exact circumstances of your sleep resolution, the goal is to see what extra sleep will do for you, your health, your energy level, and your mood/outlook.

Feel free to share your favorite strategies and experience.

Who’s with me?!

Hi, I’m Julie Matthews, a Certified Nutrition Consultant, Author, and Published Researcher. I teach parents and practitioners that children with autism, ADHD, and related disorders can improve and heal, and that there’s hope for their children. Then I educate and empower them to make strategic dietary changes that positively affect children’s health, which in turn helps their learning and behavior. With 17 years of experience and my unique range of knowledge, from nutrition research and clinical experience to cooking in the kitchen for my own family, I’ve created a much-needed community for parents and practitioners looking to help children with autism live happy, healthy lives. Join us.

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One response to “New Year’s Sleep Resolution: Sleep Like a Baby”

  1. Lisa Louis says:

    Great idea to share, Julie. So many of us have been suffering from sleep deprivation for so many years, and as you write here, sleep is as important as the nutrition aspect of our lives. This is a good nudge for me to get more sleep, and to nudge my husband to get more sleep as well, so we can feel better and be happier as we take care of our autistic son, who has sleep issues of his own. Thanks for a good new year reminder!

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