I love sleep. I just don’t get much of it.
After I became pregnant, I couldn’t sleep soundly. I would lie awake for most of the night, feeling peaceful, but not sleeping. My doctor said it was called vigilant sleeping and it was my body preparing to deal with a newborn infant.
When our son was born, reflux kept him (and us) up much of the night. Then as he outgrew that, we co-slept and nursed all night. I could just never get comfortable.
When I finally weaned him, around two years old, he started to sleep through the night. Then we got pregnant with our second, and it all started over. It’s been four and a half years since I’ve had a good stretch of sleep.
Just what am I – and countless other parents – missing out on?
The National Sleep Foundation tells us what happens when we sleep:
We alternate REM (rapid eye movement) and NREM (non-rapid eye movement) sleep throughout the night.
- In the NREM stage, which is about 75% of a total night’s sleep, you experience your deepest and most restorative sleep. The blood supply to your muscles increases, energy is restored, tissue growth and repair occurs, and essential hormones are released. This usually occurs in the first part of the night.
- The other 25% of the night, the REM stage, provides energy to your brain and body, supports daytime performance, and toward morning, as the amount of REM sleep increases, recent memories may be consolidated in the brain.
Among other things, sleep helps us thrive by contributing to a healthy immune system, and can also balance our appetites by helping to regulate levels of the hormones ghrelin and leptin, which play a role in our feelings of hunger and fullness. So when we’re sleep deprived, we may feel the need to eat more, which can lead to weight gain.
What happens when you don’t sleep?
“If sleep is cut short, the body doesn’t have time to complete all of the phases needed for muscle repair, memory consolidation and release of hormones regulating growth and appetite. Then we wake up less prepared to concentrate, make decisions, or engage fully in work, school and social activities.”
The American Psychological Association tells us that as we first experience sleep deprivation, we’ll become irritable, moody and disinhibited. As you go longer and longer without the sleep you need, you may start to experience apathy, slowed speech and flattened emotional responses, impaired memory and an inability to be novel or multitask.
As a person gets to the point of falling asleep, he or she will fall into micro sleeps (5-10 seconds) that cause lapses in attention, nod off while doing an activity like driving or reading and then finally experience hypnagogic hallucinations, the beginning of REM sleep.
Sleepiness also takes a toll on effective decision making. According to the Department of Transportation (DOT), one to four percent of all highway crashes are due to sleepiness, especially in rural areas, and four percent of these crashes are fatal.
Well, I guess we can all agree that sleep is important and now you know why. Are you among the sleep-deprived parents group these days, or have you graduated onto a good full night’s sleep now?