We enter into motherhood expecting that we won’t sleep, at least in the early days. We adjust, do our best, and sometimes we get so used to running on empty that even long after our children have settled into a sleep routine, we’re still surviving on insufficient sleep.
According to Terry Cralle, an RN, certified clinical sleep expert and the spokesperson for the Better Sleep Council, the myth of the supermom is pushing moms to prioritize all kinds of things over their own rest, and it’s hurting us.
“I would love to see moms be unapologetic for their needs for sleep. It’s a biological need and we’re much better parents when we’re well rested. There’s just no glory in being sleep deprived,” she tells Motherly.
Research suggests that women who have kids are more likely to be sleep deprived, but having kids does nothing to men’s sleeping patterns. Last year sleep researchers from Georgia Southern University released the results of a nationwide telephone survey of 5,805 men and women. They found that only 48% of mothers under 45 years old reported getting at least seven hours of sleep per night.
There is a gender sleep gap, and the myth of the supermom allows it to continue. Moms need sleep as much as dads do.
According to Dr. Carmel Harrington, author of The Complete Guide to a Good Night’s Sleep” and “The Sleep Diet,” couples often make the mistake of trying to sleep in sync, but moms need more or less sleep at different times in their lives and cycles.
“As we get closer to the end of our cycle, a lot of us suffer from PMT (premenstrual tension), feeling irritable, grumpy or emotional,” she told Vogue Australia, noting that those symptoms are the hallmarks of sleep deprivation.
“One of the things that we often don’t address is that fertile women require more sleep in the second half of their cycle,” Harrington explained.
Basically, you may need more or less sleep at different times of the month, so matching your partner’s bedtime isn’t as important as listening to your body.
According to Cralle, a lot of mothers shortchange their sleep in an effort to make more hours in the day, for work, for laundry, for self-care, but unfortunately, the clock is finite.
Insufficient sleep doesn’t give us more hours, it just makes us less productive in the time we do have.
“You’ll do better if you get the recommended amount of sleep every night, not just on the weekends,” Cralle tells Motherly. “If you consistently get sufficient amount of sleep you’re going to do more in fewer hours, you’re going to be more productive, and you’re going to be happier, you’re going to be healthier, and a whole lot of other things that are really life-changing.”
Chronic insufficient sleep is linked to obesity, diabetes, hypertension and heart disease. Lack of sleep is also linked to mood disorders and depression. The physical impacts of lack of sleep may rob us of future time with our children, and the emotional impacts can stop us from enjoying the present with our kids.
“We are irritable when we’re sleep deprived; we tend to get depressed when we’re sleep deprived,” Cralle tells Motherly.
She says that when mothers are getting the sleep they need, the whole family is healthier, physically and mentally, and that teaching our children the importance of sleep starts with getting enough ourselves.
“I think as adults we’ve disregarded it for a long time and it hasn’t really been a personal value, let alone a family value,” says Cralle.
There are times in motherhood where sufficient sleep just isn’t in the cards, and we shouldn’t feel guilty about that. When you have a crying baby or a sick toddler or a child who is fighting nightmares, sleep isn’t a priority.
But in the seasons of life when we can make it a priority, we should, but it isn’t always easy. It is so tempting to stay up late so we can have a couple hours of “me time,” but doing it every night can lead to chronic sleep deprivation.
In a perfect world, mothers wouldn’t have to choose between sleep and self-care, but sometimes we do. Try not to do it too much, and instead attempt to carve out some daytime time for you, even if it’s just a few minutes.
Cralle suggests putting down your phone long before getting into bed, and keeping electronics out of the bedroom, can help mamas (and the whole family) get more rest. Giving yourself a media curfew can give your brain a buffer between screen time and sleep time, and help you fall asleep faster.
If habits aren’t what’s keeping you up, but parenting responsibilities are, don’t be afraid to ask someoneâ€”a partner, a co-parent, a friend or family memberâ€”to take over childcare for awhile so you can get some rest.
We need seven to nine hours of sleep per night to be at our best. Don’t apologize if you can’t function on less than that. Moms do amazing things every day, but the truth is we don’t have superpowers. We’re only human, and we need to recharge.