By STEPHANIE PRICE
Oh, excuse me.
Warning: Read at your own risk. This column might make you sleepy.
No, not because it’s boring. Me, boring?! Sheesh. No, because I’ve been thinking a lot lately about SLEEPING.
For about week, I missed it — sleeping. Three babies came in the middle of the night — as, yes, they so often do — and I had about three nights of eight where I only slept a couple hours each early morning after a birth.
The first day after an essentially sleepless night is not so terrible. Not only are my reserves adequate enough for one night of little sleep, but it also helps that I’m on an emotional (hormonal) high from seeing a new baby born.
But then the next night happens. Even that is not so awful right away, though I begin to feel “fuzzy” and “heavy” and notice a scratchy throat, a potential sign of oncoming sickness — you know, that “run-down” feeling?
Then, mercifully, I am graced with a night or two I catch up on sleep, pulling a solid eight hours, but just as I’m feeling pretty normal again, the third baby picks 1 a.m. for its birth. And of course I love being there for the sweet occasion.
As I slip into bed at dawn for the couple hours’ nap I’ll get, I smile as I think of the mom and her strength, the little squishy baby, the nurse I liked so well, maybe the dad and his tears of joy.
Then I crash.
NO DOUBT YOU’VE heard wide and varied opinions and advice about sleep? I have. Naps are good; naps are bad. Long naps are best; no, short “power” naps are. We need six hours’ sleep; no, more like nine. You should sleep on your back; nope, your belly. You should play soft music; you should have no electronics in your bedroom. Children should sleep with you; no, they shouldn’t. You can try taking Melatonin, stuffing pillows around you or wearing a blackout mask. On and on.
My guess is SLEEP is like anything else: You learn some facts — carefully considering the sources — and you find what works best for you.
So, for facts.
According to the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), sleep is a required behavioral state for humans — required like eating or waste removal — and one we do about one-third of our lives. Rats, notes the NIH, will die in two weeks to three weeks if they are sleep-deprived.
A slew of health- and safety-related issues are tied to sleep or lack thereof. The NIH says 100,000 automobile accidents per year are associated with drivers falling asleep at the wheel. We also know sleep problems can exacerbate, if not help cause, problems like obesity, reproductive struggles and mental illness.
Sleeping includes rest, for sure, but sleep is a very ACTIVE time for a body. Growth hormone and prolactin — related to making milk for your babies, nursing mothers — work well while you sleep, just to mention a couple of nocturnal hormones.
Ever looked at a child and asked, “What?! Did you grow overnight?” The answer is yes.
And your brain is far from blacked out while you sleep. It is busy. Vivid dreams make that evident. I told my husband that I might as well be taking in a drive-in movie — my brain is that active.
Likely you know sleep includes stages through which you alternate and cycle through the night? In a typical seven- to eight-hour night of sleep, most of us will cycle through the stages about four times.
There’s the “rapid eye movement” or REM cycle, and the “non-” version of such (NREM), basically. You sleep “hardest” during the NREM cycles and are more likely to have vital signs and responses, like being sexually aroused, say, that mimic your awake times during REM sleep. Ever noticed it’s harder to wake up sometimes than others? NREM sleep is “deeper” — that’s why.
SO, FOR ADVICE ABAOUT SLEEP. That’s easy: Do it. Sleep! Often. Sleep as long as you can, which I think is safe to say to most Americans. With our go-go-go lives, we are far more likely to suffer from lack of sleep than from getting too much. This is especially true for children. According to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), school-aged children (ages 5-10) need 10 to 11 hours of sleep per night. According to a 2004 NSF study, less than 40 percent actually get it.
That’s benefit number 14,227 of homeschooling, by the way: My children get all the sleep they need, and, I’m convinced, are highly productive because of it.
And how about you — the likely adult reading this? Well, the NSF says there’s no “magic” number of hours per night we adults need to sleep but that, in general, it should be somewhere between seven hours and nine hours. Do you get that much? Consistently? I try to.
Clearly, my work poses a challenge to that, but I have learned a few ways to help get by.
One, I’ve found there’s no substitute for sleep. Strong coffee can help me power through any given event — like driving home — but in the end, I have to sleep.
Two, your overall health and fitness quality make a huge difference. When I weigh less, am eating better and have been physically active, those sleepless nights are not nearly as difficult to tolerate as when I’m fat and sedentary.
Three, resting — with or without actual sleeping — is always useful. I tell my pregnant and post-partum clients this, for sure. Even if you don’t sleep, at least lay down for a bit. Women even fall asleep in labor — for two minutes at a time — and it does them wonders in the end.
Oh, excuse me.
This column might make you sleepy …
Goshen News columnist Stephanie Price is a wife, mother, teacher, childbirth educator, doula, midwife’s assistant and student nurse pursuing a minor in complementary health. Contact her at email@example.com, 269-641-7249 or on Facebook at the page “Whole Family Column by Steph Price.”