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Anxiety, Diet, Fitness, Health, Mental Health, New & Expecting Moms, Parenting, Postpartum Depression, Self-care, Sleep Diary

SCIENCE SAYS: 3 WAYS TO IMPROVE THE QUALITY OF SLEEP FOR PARENTS

Evidence-based ways to improve sleep

We all know quality sleep for parents is the holy grail. Always looking for how to get it and how best to preserve it. 

There is a list of ways science says we can improve the quality of our sleep as parents. One of which is something like try and sleep and wake at consistent times. Obviously, not all ways are possible or conducive to the life parents live as a result of having children around.

Having children can often mean night wakes due to illness, developmental leaps (e.g., walking, talking, etc), anxiety, nightmares, physical setting issues (too cold, too hot, too noisy),  

Compromised sleep in motherhood
Compromised sleep in motherhood

So as a parent, there are lots of factors that get in the way of the number of hours we can sleep, which leads us to look at the quality of sleep. But, as parents, we also need to look at quality enhancing sleep tips that work for the life of a busy parent.

Let’s cover the basics though so we all start off on the same footing. 

This mini guide will cover the following questions: 

  • Why is sleep so important? 
    • Physiologically
    • Emotionally 
  • What does research say about sleep and mental health?
  • Quality and quantity: How much sleep do we require, but why is quality so important?
  • 4 ways to improve quality of sleep for parents?

WHY QUALITY SLEEP IS IMPORTANT 

We all know sleep is important, but why exactly? Most of us know it’s because of course we then feel better rested to do things we need to do during the day. 

Yes, but why? 

Well, it’s a fairly complex process, but here is a very quick and easy way to understand the importance of sleep to your brain and body functioning. 

Restoration. Sleep provides the glymphatic system in your brain to get rid of metabolic waste and restore itself. Studies show that waking hours are not as good at helping to rid the body of toxins as sleep is. Research shows that there might be a link between too much accumulation of waste products and neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s.

Evidence-based ways to improve sleep
Evidence-based ways to improve sleep

Metabolism. There is scientific evidence that suggests getting less or an insufficient quality of sleep can lead to less optimal fat burning conditions, loss of muscle and lead to insulin insensitivity. The latter is correlated to an increased risk of developing heart disease and diabetes. 

Memory. Lack of sleep or poor quality of sleep is known to disrupt memory consolidation. This means poor quality or an insufficient amount of sleep also impacts our ability to form concrete memories (i.e., facts) and emotional memories.  

WHAT RESEARCH SAYS ABOUT QUALITY SLEEP AND MENTAL HEALTH 

Of course we know our physical health is very much connected to our mental health and vice-versa. So we really need to focus on all aspects of our health and look at it holistically. We also need to assess outside factors that contribute to poor overall wellbeing such as stress, which I will discuss in a bit more depth shortly.

But to what extent exactly is good quality sleep and enough sleep is an essential part of mental health and wellbeing? 

Poor sleep is linked to a whole host of mental health challenges such as Postpartum Depression (PPD), Postpartum Anxiety (PPA), Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and Postpartum Anger, to name a few.  

QUALITY & QUANTITY OF SLEEP

According to sleep experts sleep differs from person to person. This means that the total number of required sleeping hours depends. Most of us, however, require anywhere from 7-9 hours a night. 

The quantity really does matter. Although as a parent, particular a parent of young kids, we know sleep sometimes isn’t easy to come by. 

But, looking at ways to improve the quality of your sleep can make a huge difference to your overall wellbeing.  

The quality of your sleep is determined by a process called the sleep-wake cycle.

Two aspects of the sleep-wake cycle include the slow wave sleep (or deep sleep) and a process called Rapid Eye Movement sleep (REM). 

In order to obtain good quality sleep for the time we do get to sleep, means that we should focus our interventions for parents on these two areas. Without both deep sleep and REM, your body effectively deteriorates over time. As we discussed earlier when we become sleep deprived it lowers immunity and increases the risk of contracting viruses, diabetes, heart disease, mental illness, weight gain and death.

As you will see below, there are foods for instance that decrease the time you spend in REM sleep. This is why you may wake up feeling tired and unrested even though certain things in our diet may feel relaxing. 

So let’s get to it, take a look at these 3 tips to get your sleep back on track!

3 WAYS TO IMPROVE QUALITY OF SLEEP FOR PARENTS

1. Diet: Avoid the consumption of alcohol and caffeine. 

Your overall diet matters in terms of how easy it is to fall asleep and the quality of sleep you experience. That means that we should avoid eating too much and too close to the time we sleep. Our bodies need time to process and digest the food we eat. 

Avoiding caffeine in the afternoons can be a quick win in improving the quality of sleep you experience. For others, the total removal of caffeine works better. However, with kids that’s not always an option!

Alcohol on the other hand isn’t as clear. We often think a cheeky glass of wine will help put us to bed. But, and this is a huge, but alcohol actually reduces the quality of sleep AND can delay the REM cycle. The outcome is that we may fall asleep perhaps faster, however we may not feel rested in the morning. 

2. Exercise: Include exercise as part of your normal routine. 

Countless studies link exercise to better overall health and wellbeing. A recent systematic review (Dolezall et al, 2017) of the sleep literature assessing found that exercise improved sleep quality or duration, specifically with middle-aged or elderly adults. 

Just be careful with this one, as doing exercise too close to bedtime can increase stimulation, rather than help with wind down. 

3. Stress: Manage your wellbeing and stress levels.

It probably doesn’t come as a shock to you that in order to improve sleep and sleep quality is to manage our stress levels. Worries can inhibit sleep and it can affect the type of sleep we experience. 

There are a great deal of studies that show the positive effects of meditation on stress management, along with many other health and mental health concerns. Meditation is also correlated with better quality of sleep. Get your FREE Meditation Guide here.

Similarly, the practice of yoga is linked to better health outcomes. According to Shaunneka Hewitt, a Yin Yoga practitioner, practicing gentle yoga positions before bed can lead to improved sleep and quality of sleep. 

There are also studies that link gratitude to better wellbeing from lowering anxiety, to reducing the risks of depression to lowering blood pressure. Robert Emmons, a professor of psychology at UC Davis, is a leading expert in understanding gratitude recommends that we start to ritualize what you are thankful for before bed by starting a gratitude journal.  

QUALITY OF SLEEP AND MEDICAL REASONS 

Sleep is so very important to our functioning and quality of life. Therefore, if you feel something isn’t right with how you’ve been sleeping it’s important that you consult your doctor. It’s also important that you visit your doctor to rule out any sleep disorders or mental health concerns. 

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Be good to yourself,

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