Saturday, February 17, 2007

Dr. Goodnight--Or How I Learned to Love the Baby and Start Sleeping

We Americans, by and large, do not get enough asleep. How many of us have dragged ourselves out of bed and out the door, fueled by too much caffeine and too little sleep? I, for one, can recall plenty of Monday mornings when my body went into shock at being forced out of bed at what seemed an ungodly hour for a human being to be upright. Now, I must admit, it wasn't that I was waking *that* early. No, my morning stupor was brought on by a weekend of staying up--and sleeping in--much later than my usual weekday schedule. Saturdays and Sundays I felt fine, but by Monday my radical sleep schedule departure had caught up with me.

Fast-forward to today: I'm a parent of a 10 month-old, which usually begs the question: How are you sleeping? In short, well. I usually get up once or twice each night to nurse my daughter. In that sense, my sleep is more "disturbed" than it was in my pre-baby days. But when I look at my sleep hygiene overall, I sleep much better than I used to. Raising my daughter has taught me the importance of good sleep hygiene and its effects on health and disposition. If she's not dressed in jammies and in bed by 8:00, I can expect to deal with a tired and cranky baby the next day. Well, my little apple didn't fall that far from this tree. If I'm not nestled snug in my bed by 10:30, Momzilla emerges from the covers come morning.

Parents of little ones often receive loads of advice about how to improve their child's sleep and--by extension--their own. Less common are the questions about how parenthood has improved (yes, improved!) one's sleep. This is not to say that sleep problems can and do exist for many parents; sleep is a serious issue. I am, however, interested in this notion that parents can be taught lessons about good sleep hygiene by studying children's sleep. Some questions for parents of young children might include: What has your child taught you about the importance of good sleep hygiene? Since becoming parents, which lifestyle changes could serve to improve your sleep practices? What cues do family members give to express fatigue, and who recognizes them? Are there bedtime rituals that have been effective for child/ren that could also be effective for their parents? Recall a morning when you awoke refreshed: what happened during the previous day and night that made that good morning possible? Questions such as these can lead to a discussion of a family's good sleep habits--not just their sleep deficits. Increasing a parent's positive thoughts about sleep and decreasing anxiety over not sleeping well may indeed be the first step toward improving sleep hygiene.

Here's to a glass of warm milk, a good book, some comfy pj's, and a really terrific night's sleep!

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