Sleep: Why You Need It, Why You Lost It, and How to Get It Back


Now, to get you to believe it. 

First, let me explain my credentials:
  1. I am a physician. In other words,  I have had countless sleepless nights during my two decades of schooling. Now years after graduation, it is my crotchety employees and heartbreakingly ill patients that keep me up at night. 
  2. I am a mother of three. As such, I have spent countless sleepless nights rocking colicky babies, cleaning up vomited chocolate milk shakes (by the way, when your little one reports that their tummy hurts, milkshakes in general, are a bad choice) and cramming Christmas presents into various obscure nooks around the house. By the way, these gifts will undoubtedly be forgotten until Easter when you find them while searching for a place to hide eggs. 

Now that I have established my experience as a non-sleeper, let me share some of my medical expertise. 

First, after several nights of sleep deprivation, one exhibits signs of impairment not unlike that of being under the influence of alcohol. Our reflexes are slower AND cognitive skills evaporate. The simplest of tasks seems like solving Pythagorean’s theorem. Metabolisms become sluggish and moods plummet. 

One Monday evening in my bleary eyed exhaustion, I barked, “stir the pot of poop so that I can wipe your sister’s rice.” Meeting my eldest daughter’s blank stare, I realized the ridiculousness of that statement. With that realization, I literally sat on the floor and cried.  I then proceeded to console myself with a pint of Breyer’s Mint Chocolate Chip right from the container. 

Nothing is worse than being sleep deprived AND being busy. Sleep deprived multitasking is a figurative train wreck in the making. 

Admittedly,  I am busy and all too often, sleep deprived.  A few weeks ago,  I was horrified to find that I was roaming around the house in search of the cell phone I was talking on.  It seems that I am incapable of even looking for my cell phone without simultaneously trying to schedule my kids dentist appointments. 

So, the need for sleep clarified, how do we get it back?

First, allow enough time to sleep. Staying up late and getting up early does in fact lengthen your day. However, brain fog from sleep deprivation rapidly overwhelms that benefit. 

Second, be consistent. You are disciplined about brushing, flossing, getting your mammogram, and exercising (ok maybe not the exercising part).  Apply that same discipline to your sleep hygiene.

Tips for Better Sleep Hygiene
  1. Keep bedtimes and wake times the same seven days a week. 
  2. Keep your bedroom comfortably cool and dark. 
  3. Avoid late night exercise, caffeine and alcohol. While you may actually fall asleep faster after a few glasses of wine, your sleep will most likely be disrupted. 
  4. Keep the TV off in your bedroom. Subconscious imagery (good and bad) can really interrupt your sleep. 

If despite all of the above, you are still unable to sleep effectively, consider a sleep aid. Naturally occurring melatonin and valerian root can be gentle sleep enhancers. Over the counter Benadryl is also effective and safe for short term use. 

Lastly, don’t be shy about asking for and taking a prescription sleep aid. The sleeping pills of today are far different than the pills of years past. 
Some prescription medications used appropriately, can really help restore your body’s natural rhythms. In short, after getting several good nights sleep your body learns to sleep again on it’s own.  Those medications  soon become unnecessary. 

While everyone worries about becoming “addicted” to sleeping pills,  the wording is unfortunate. You may in fact “need” the pills to sleep adequately but to become physically addicted is virtually impossible. Medications like Ambien or Lunesta can be life changing to chronically sleep deprived patient. 

As a physician I believe that the benefits of consistent good sleep far outweighs the negatives of using a sleep aid. 

Now, imagine the damage a multi-tasking, highly organized, ridiculously efficient Wonder-Mom can do on a solid seven hours? 
Christine Meyer, MD

Christine Meyer, MD is a Board Certified Internal Medicine Physician and Chester County Mom of three amazing kids. I love to blog about my practice of medicine and living of life..

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