By Dr. Amelia Bailey
Adults need a minimum of seven hours of sleep every night; but if you are like me, that is a far cry (no pun intended) from what most pregnant and new moms are getting. And we are in good company; almost two-thirds of Americans are sleep-deprived according to the National Sleep Foundation.
You’ve been there: it’s 10pm- you could either go to sleep or take these precious quiet moments to cross a few items off your To-Do list. The latter always wins; after all, you have to pack your hospital bag just in case you go into labor tonight. However, Harvard Medical School professors say that hitting the hay instead actually improves productivity the next day. So here are a few reasons to leave the dishes in the sink and go to bed!
Sleep-deprivation affects your ability to process thoughts. That does not come as a surprise to any new mom who is trying to multi-task but can’t remember why she walked from one room to another. In fact, after two weeks of getting six hours of sleep per night (sounds like a luxury, doesn’t it?), your mental ability is the same as someone who has been up for 24 hours straight or is legally drunk. These effects could be due to chronic disturbances of your body’s circadian rhythms, which set your biological sleep-wake cycles. No matter what causes them, the result is a loss of memory, which makes it very difficult to recall the side you fed your baby on last.
Also unsurprising is that lack of sleep decreases emotional well-being, which is already fragile when you are pregnant or wondering why your newborn is crying. One mechanism for this decrease is production of cortisol, the hormone involved in your body’s stress response. When you are tired, more cortisol is made, leading to production of other chemicals that make you feel “on-edge” and can even cause physical damage when they are in your body long-term. Therefore, you have less of an emotional reserve and even small problems feel overwhelming.
The most startling effects of chronic sleeplessness are physical. Many studies have shown an increased risk of diabetes, heart attacks, cancer, Alzheimer’s Disease, and even death due to lack of sleep. A Mayo Clinic report also showed a relationship among fatigue, overconsumption of food, and obesity. Other studies show that this may be linked to excess production of the “hunger hormone” ghrelin, which will definitely get in the way of losing the pregnancy weight. Also, pregnant women who slept fewer than six hours leading up to delivery had longer labors and higher rates of cesarean section! Further, your immune system is not able to function as well. People who do not get enough sleep are more likely to catch a cold, which is miserable during pregnancy and is the last thing you want to worry about transmitting during those sweet newborn snuggles.
There are so many reasons why we should get as much rest as we can, even when it seems impossible to do so. Perhaps the most compelling reason is the health of our children. Not only are you responsible for teaching them to prioritize sleep by setting a good example, but you are also a healthier parent when rested- physically and emotionally. We work very hard to get our precious babies here and even harder to keep them comfortable and happy after they arrive. Let’s also set them up for future success by giving them the gift of sleep. Sweet dreams, Mama.
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