I can't remember the last time I had a decent night's sleep. In fact, I'm not sure what the word "sleep" even means anymore. Between motherhood and work, marriage and everything involved within our family unit, it's almost impossible to de-clutter my mind around the time I'd like to go to bed, and I know I'm not alone. So, please, can we finally start taking sleep deprivation seriously? Because while the "sleep while you can" jokes and the constant puns about moms never sleeping an adequate amount are seemingly never-ending, actual women are actually suffering. In my opinion, it's time for the jokes to end.
According to the American Sleep Association, sleep deprivation disorder affects 50 to 70 million adults in the United Sates. According to the same report, drowsy driving is the cause of an estimated 1,550 vehicular fatalities and 40,000 nonfatal vehicular injuries every year. While there are 80 different kinds of sleep disorders, according to the Cleveland Clinic, insomnia is among the most common. A reported 3-5 percent of individuals struggling with obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and frequent mental distress attribute short sleep as an underlying cause, and a reported 100,000 deaths occur every year in hospitals in the United States as a result of medical errors and sleep deprivation. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), sleep disorders are more prevelant among people of color, people who are unmarried, and people who are unemployed.
Doesn't really sound like a joke, now does it?
For me, and as someone who suffers from an number of mental illnesses, sleep is a coveted necessity I rarely, if ever, am afforded. And even if I find the time to lay my weary head down and rest, I find it difficult— if not impossible — to quiet my mind long enough to log in eight, or even six, consecutive hours of sleep. Turns out, I'm not alone in that regard either. According to The Sleep Foundation's inaugural Sleep Health Index, 35 percent of people describe their sleep quality as poor or only fair. Additionally, those same individuals also report poor health, and more stress, than the 30 percent of people who describe their sleep as excellent or of very good quality. The same study found that women suffer from insomnia more than men, and even when women sleep their quality of rest is lower than men's. The gender sleep gap between men and women indicate that women are sleeping less, and worse, than previously thought. Sadly, I am proof.
We need to discuss ways to improve sleep deprivation in new moms — like mandatory paid family leave and improved maternity leave policies, affordable child care and better postpartum health care — and care about parents long after their children are pushed into the world.
When you suffer from various mental health conditions like I do — specifically depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and post-traumatic dress disorder (PTSD) — it's hard to know where the mental disorders stop and the sleep issues start. As a busy mom of two, with multiple jobs and responsibilities, I can't tell my life to "slow down" or "wait" or "give me a break." As a result of my seemingly non-stop lifestyle, my brain doesn't seem to know when it's time to slow down and rest, either. As a result, I suffer... but often in silence. I mean, who isn't tired, right? Ask any adult if they're tired and the answer will undoubtably be a resounding yes. Coupled with the idea that all moms are "supposed" to be tired, lest you ignore your children or don't care as much as the exhausted moms trying to do it all, and before I know it sleep deprivation is more a punch line than it is a serious issue.
As mothers of all shapes, sizes, responsibilities, and life stories, we need to talk about why we're so tired. We need to make our sleep deprivation real for those who think it's "just a normal part of parenthood." We need to discuss ways to improve sleep deprivation in new moms — like mandatory paid family leave and improved maternity leave policies, affordable child care and better postpartum health care — and care about parents long after their children are pushed into the world.
Dr. Alex Dimitriu, M.D., Psychiatrist, sleep expert, and founder of Menlo Park Psychiatry and Sleep Medicine Center, tells Romper via email that "sleep is essential is recovering from the stresses and work of the day." So if, like me, you're unable to obtain a quality night of sleep, you end up in an endless cycle of declining mental health and exhaustion you can't seem to crawl out of. In fact, Dr. Dimitriu adds that it's crucial to find a way to get the sleep you need so your brain can "organize and process information, store memories, and check and maintain its wiring."
Dr. Dimitriu also says that there are red flags to look out for when it comes to the quality of your sleep, or lack thereof, too. "Waking up feeling tired and unrestored, daytime drowsiness, complaints from a spouse or partner about one’s excessive snoring, gasping for breath when awakening, inability to fall asleep even when tired, and having an underlying medical condition like chronic pain, anxiety or asthma that disrupts sleep or makes sleeping difficult," all are all signs your sleep isn't adequate, he says. There are also "softer" flags, too. According to Dr. Dimitriu, additional signs of inadequate sleep are "irritability, often either a state of exhaustion, alternating with adrenaline and anxiety, depression manifested as a lack of joy or loss of interest, which sometimes does not improve with medications, low energy despite a desire to do things, impaired concentration, and short term memory problems which can look like ADHD, or Alzheimer's for some, heavy use or dependence on caffeine, 'burnout,' and weight gain."
After all, my mental, physical, and emotional health matter, too.
There are ways to cope with sleep deprivation, to be sure, especially when it interferes with your parenting, your marriage, your work, or your overall health and wellness. While speaking to your doctor should always be step number one, so you both can rule out any potential underlying causes, "unplugging" before bed, setting a regular bedtime, and practicing relaxation techniques can all help improve the quality of your sleep.
When it comes to dealing with my own sleep issues, I must admit that I've tried it all. Some things help, some don't, but I am proud to say that I am continuing to treat my sleep deprivation as a serious issue, and not a joke all new moms should just "get used to." After all, my mental, physical, and emotional health matter, too.