Sleep, Weight Management and My Top Tips to Help Busy Parents Get More Shut-eye
Before I begin, I'm not professing to be some kind of children's sleep expert. I'm a nutrition lifestyle coach who very much believes that sleep has a huge impact on our ability to maintain a healthy weight, stay sane and prevent long term health problems. I also happen to have two children of my own, so I've been there, still there, and got the t-shirt, so to speak.
Sleep optimisation is a key element of my coaching. According to the Sleep Foundation, adults aged between 26 and 64 need between 7 and 9 hours sleep each night. But, as all parents know, parenting and sleep don't always go hand-in-hand. So what can we do? I guess the best we can do is muddle through and work with what we've got, accepting that there are going to be times when our sleep is shambolic (cue sick bug), and (whispers) other times when sleep is acceptable (don't want to overdo it!).
sleep deprivation & Body Composition
An often overlooked and underestimated factor in healthy weight management is sleep. This is because our appetite is regulated largely by two hormones, leptin and grehlin. At a simplistic level, leptin controls your hunger levels throughout the day and grehlin induces stronger hunger pangs at mealtimes. When our sleep is restricted, leptin secretion is supressed and grehlin is more regular and greater in amount, resulting in a greater amount of hunger throughout the day. Doom.
To compound the issue, sleep deprivation impacts our cognition and can result in us being more impulsive and lacking in overall self-control thus making poor decisions.
When you combine the two elements above, it suddenly makes sense as to why fridge raiding, inhaling cakes and chocolate bars become so normal when we have newborns and how, if sustained it may result in weight gain.
HEALTH & PERFORMANCE
Sleep is also important for growth, repair and restoration of the body. This is worth noting if you or your children are gym-goers or play sports as lack of sleep may not only hinder progress but potentially result in injury.
Health-wise, some studies suggest that sleep deprivation may result in systemic inflammation which is associated with insulin resistance, cardiovascular disease and osteoperosis.
It goes without saying that when we are sleep deprived we struggle to focus, think straight and are susceptible, especially as parents to being irritable and sometimes losing our shit when at home. This is probably the main reason, at this point in time, that I at least try and stay consistent with my sleep as much as possible, because without it, parenting is a much harder slog.
Some simple, practical tips
Early to bed
An obvious one but, even that extra 30 minutes can make all the difference. Yes, it eats into your sofa time, but who doesn't fall asleep in front of the television anyway? You may as well go to bed and not have to wake up with a bad neck and sore throat from snoring.
I know, I know, children are unpredictable. But if you can try and get both the children and yourself into a regular bedtime routine, you will help everyone. Put them to bed at a time that allows you some time for yourself, that evening down time to enjoy your dinner, read, zone out, have a bath, or maybe even chat to your partner (!!) so that you are relaxed and primed, ready for bed.
Most parents have a bedtime routine and consistent bedtime for the kids. If you can implement something similar for yourself, the benefits will start to pay off. Bubble bath and bedtime stories anyone?!
In the morning, try and get outside and expose yourself to natural light to reset your circadian rhythm. Going for a daily morning walk with the buggy or walking the children to school is great for everyone's health too.
The last thing you may feel like doing when you're exhausted is exercising, but doing so has a positive impact on sleep. Even if you can't get to the gym or exercise class, a brisk walk with the buggy, a lunchtime walk or a runaround in the park with the children are all acheiveable within the realms of parenting.
Swap gadgets for reading a book
Since having children and no longer commuting I have have found that my reading of books other than work-related has taken a nose-dive. Working on reducing screen time is a continued effort, to be honest, but I'm trying my best to reduce my exposure to blue light (which can impair the natural sleep process) by turning my phone to night-mode, going to bed earlier (there's no television in our bedroom) and having a read instead. The problem I find is that reading sends me to sleep so I have to start again the next day, so no real progress actually finishing them.
Caffeine & Alcohol
Trust me, I know exactly how it feels to have to peel oneself out of bed, neck that first coffee to get you even in the mood about going about the day and still have that feeling of "I need intravenous caffeine to get me through the day".
This isn't a nag to stop drinking caffeine, but a reminder to be a bit concious about how much you do drink. I generally advise clients to stop the caffeine after 2pm to allow residual caffeine to wear off and ensure that you can easily nod off in the evening (if the kids haven't climbed into your bed and have their feet in your ear, anyway!).
Although some people feel more relaxed for having a tipple, the quality of your sleep can be impacted if large amounts are consumed, so being aware of one glass of wine turning to two, or even the bottle is a consideration worth noting.
Limit water before bed
This may not seem like an obvious one but go easy on the water in the hours before bed so that you don't have to get up for a pee in the middle of the night.
Parenting is frantic. The brain is on the go non-stop. If you are one of those people who struggles to sleep because your mind is racing, invest 10 minutes in writing your thoughts down in a journal, some possible solutions and actions to address them the next day. Trust me, it works. In addition, taking and extra few minutes to jot down what you have acheived and are grateful for that day also does wonders for calming the mind and making peace before the end of the day.
Zen, comfy and dark bedroom
A busy, hot and airless bedroom can create restlessness. Create an environment that is conducive to good sleep in both yours and the children(s) bedroom(s) by keeping them cool, tidy and dark (preferably black out blinds) as well as investing in a good matress and clean bedding. I also love a product called Deep Sleep Pillow Spract by ThisWorks which makes my pillow smell dreamy.
This is a controversial, hugely divisive subject that usually gets an eyeroll, mainly from older generations: "you're making a rod for your own back doing that" sound familiar? Some parents make this decision before their children are born and others don't have a choice. If you have a baby who has you up and down multiple times a night and the only way that anyone gets a half decent night's sleep is by co-sleeping, then I say 'go for it'. I reiterate, I'm not an expert, but I have one who's always slept through in her own bed and another who is the complete opposite, so we've adopted different tactics for different children. Just muddling through.
Writing this, I am sorry to say that I don't do this. I know many people who take turns in having a lie in at the weekend to get an extra precious hour or two's sleep. Again, apologies to my husband, Peter, and thanks for letting me lie in on Sunday's.
Send the kids for a sleepover at the grandparents
My children are now four and six and we're really lucky that they both love to go camping with and stay at their grandparents houses. Not only do we get a lie-in but we also have a chance to go out and spend some quality time together without being interrupted. Writing this has reminded me that it does get easier in terms of sleep as the children get older.
Just kidding....who the f*** gets a day time nap with kids??!! If you do, you are very very lucky!
If you need help addressing your lifestyle, including sleep, why not get in touch with me for group or one-to-one coaching?