Sex Esteem

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Best Mother's Day Gift Ever: Sleep

Mom's Day can be the beginning of better sleep routines.

This Mother’s Day give Mom what she needs: more sleep. More than 60% of women get less than the seven to nine hours of sleep a night they need to function at their optimal level. With modern moms’ identities often encompassing partner, professional, and parent, mothers need sleep more than ever. 

I attended Ariana Huffington’s Third Metric Conference this year. She and Mika Brzezinski “woke” up in bed on a stage and Arianna joked about “sleeping your way to the top”, using the old fashioned saying as a pun to let women know that getting sleep is crucial to one’s personal and professional success.

Hogging the Covers: Sleeping with your Partner

One culprit of Mom’s sleep deprivation may be sharing her sleep space. Nearly everyone who’s shared a bed can tell a story about winning or losing the battle for blankets, trying to sleep while their partner snores, or playing defense while their restless sleeper spouse thrashes about. At times, one of you might be suffering from Sleep Apnea, a serious disorder that sometimes gets overlooked and can cause you to feel tired and causes your breathing to actually stop for a moment. If you snore or wake intermittently you should report it to your doctor. It may also be due to anxiety, depression or drinking too much alcohol.

Chronic sleep deprivation can impact the emotional and sexual well being of a relationship. Studies show people who regularly do not get enough sleep have more trouble regulating their emotions and interpreting emotional information. This means that the endearing albeit irritating habit of your spouse could trigger a heated argument if you are not getting enough sleep. It can also cause low desire which can leave a marriage hungry for intimacy and connection.

While it can sometimes be difficult, sharing a bed has benefits. While the research is still in its early stages, what we do know is that women in long term relationships sleep better and may experience some impressive health benefits from sharing a bed with their partner. Couples in my practice have found a deeper sense of security and intimacy from their healthy sleeping habits.

Professional Powerhouse

We’ve already established that sleep deprivation impacts emotional health in romantic and family relationships, but what does that mean to Mom as a working professional? Lack of sleep lowers cognitive flexibility—a person is less capable of switching between tasks and understanding multiple perspectives when they have a sleep debt.

 The women in my practice often forgo sleep to get that extra bit of work in, with the understanding that success at work will lead to greater happiness along the way. While professional success can be a source of pride, forgoing sleep can lower levels of happiness. To put in monetary terms, a 2012 study by Dr. Norbert Schwarz from University of Michigan found that an extra hour of sleep for the sleep deprived can do more for a person’s happiness than a $60,000 raise.

Motherhood

Being a mother, especially a mother of an infant or toddler, can be exhausting. Your sleep habits are no longer your own but rather dictated by that tiny human you want to nurture. All of the neural impacts of sleep deprivation from the previous sections apply to parenting as well. In these situations, quality sleep becomes key as the recommended 7 to 9 hours becomes nearly impossible.

 Take advantage of your child’s nap time by taking a nap as well. Leave the chores for later, and take a full 90 minute nap, the length of the standard REM cycle. You will wake up feeling more rested and alert than a shorter nap. And remember as a mother, you are a role model for your children; this includes your sleep habits. Modelling good sleeping behaviors can help your children adopt them as well.

Make a Commitment to Self-Care this Mother’s Day

Here are 11 ways you can increase your quality of sleep today.

1. Change your perception of sleep. We as a society have this notion that sleep is optional, that functioning with inadequate sleep is a badge of honor. Start to honor need for sleep by tracking your sleep habits in a two-week challenge by WNYC to get an extra hour of sleep.

2. Listen to your body. Everyone has a natural sleep schedule that balances sleep and wakefulness. Tailor your sleep habits to your natural sleep pattern. While a full night’s rest is ideal, it’s not always possible. Work with your circadian rhythms to wake up feeling refreshed. Sites like Sleepyti.me will help determine wake up times that leave you feeling like you got the sleep you needed.

3. Lose the stimulants. Yes, I am talking about coffee, energy drinks, and really anything with caffeine. While caffeine temporarily makes us feel more awake and alert, consumption can lead to insomnia, irritability, and disturbed sleep. Some of you are laughing at this seemingly absurd notion of living without coffee, even though you know the facts. That’s okay. For better sleep, keep your caffeine intake at a moderate level. That’s about 24 ounces of coffee or 250 milligrams of caffeine in any form. Since the caffeine affect lasts hours, even after you no longer feel energized, keep the caffeine regulated to your morning routine.

4. Build a good sleep environment. Your bedroom should be a sensual sleep sanctuary. Make the only activities you do in your bedroom sleep and sex. Create the best environment for sleep by keeping the room cool and dark; it should be a relaxing place without distractions like TVs. How you make it a sensual place is up to you.

5. Unplug. It can be tempting to browse the Internet and catch up on email when you’re waiting for that magic moment of sleep to come. The light from your devices can actually throw off your circadian rhythm and lower the quantity of your sleep. Make a commitment to charge your phones in another room other than your bedroom, it will help to keep you present in your bed.

6. Use guided imagery. This is the modern take on counting sheep. Most guided imagery exercises will help you visualize a relaxing and calming fantasy. Studies show guided imagery can be effective in reducing stress, depression, and anxiety, all components that contribute to poor sleep. There are some great guided imagery options on YouTube, just be sure to turn off your device’s screen.

7. Meditate. Research out of Harvard shows meditation can facilitate relaxation and ease anxiety while protecting against hypertensions and infertility. You don’t need to become a yogi to get these benefits. Short intentional mediation practices, 5 to 10 minutes a day, can be enough to support quality sleep.

8. Find a relaxing activity to do to prepare for bed, if mediation isn’t your cup of tea. For some people, this may be a literal cup of decaffeinated tea, a warm bath, or gentle stretching. For others, it may be reading. Try to avoid using electronic devices.

9. Journal. If you’re a person who just can’t shut your mind off before bed, try journaling before sleep. Whether you’re writing whatever thought pops into your mind or a deliberate list of things you’re thankful for, journaling can help you stop ruminating and ease anxiety you may have.

10. Orgasm. Whether it’s alone, with a partner, orgasms release oxytocin into the body. This chemical increases feelings of love and trust, allowing you to relax.  

11. Create a sleep routine. Use these tips to design a routine to prepare yourself for sleep. Like Pavlov's dog and the bell, consistent implementation of the routine will signal to your body that it is time for sleep, relaxing you and inducing drowsiness.

 

Sari Cooper, L.C.S.W., is a licensed couples and sex therapist and writer in New York City.

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