66 days to change: Sleep tight

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: I don’t get enough sleep. You too? Our little club isn’t quite


Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: I don’t get enough sleep.

You too? Our little club isn’t quite so little: according to several studies, Canadians are sleep deprived. In fact, it’s considered a global epidemic. Sixty percent of Canadians feel tired most of the time and get less than the recommended 7 to 9 hours of sleep. People who work full-time get less sleep; the longer your commute, the less sleep you’re getting; the higher your income, the less sleep you get. And here’s some groundbreaking news: the more kids you have, the less sleep you get.

How are you doing so far? Feel like taking a nap?

Allow me to be the harbinger of doom. Lack of sleep is blamed for a myriad of problems: chronic sleep deprivation can affect everything from your ability to lose weight to diabetes, heart conditions, hypertension and depression. Not getting enough sleep can also affect your immune system ‘ people who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to pick up a virus. 

I don’t get enough sleep and it sucks. I understand why they use sleep deprivation as a form of torture. I’ve been living in a comfortable, semi-detached Guatanamo Bay-style existence for the last five years. I am pretty sure I was a good sleeper before I had kids, but that was a long time ago. In the last half-decade I’ve gone for months at a time with either little, none or broken sleep and here’s what happens: you hit a wall, the wall pushes back, and you hit another wall. All of a sudden you look in the mirror and realize that yes, sleep deprivation catches up with you. I’m absolutely certain those wrinkles weren’t there a few years ago.

But, I have two young kids, and I am a ‘work-at-home’ mom: if I want to get any work done, I’m usually doing some of it after they go to bed. And, the fact of the matter remains that we are busier now than ever before. I have huge respect for people who leave their work at the office; one of my students told me she and her husband have a rule that work doesn’t come home with them. For many of us that is easier said than done: there are deadlines, and there are expectations that we will be ‘on’ even when we want to be ‘off.’

At what cost?

Here’s some good news: the 7 to 9 hour recommended ‘chunk of sleep’ might not be the be all and end all. In a great article in the NY Times, the concept of rethinking sleep is presented. The ‘tyranny of the eight-hour block reinforces a narrow conception of sleep and how we should approach it,’ writes David K. Randall, arguing that our bodies and brains might not be built for the one-third of our lives we should be spending in bed. And, ‘broken’ sleep might not be all that bad ‘ in fact, it might be what our bodies are destined to do.

It goes without saying you feel better when you’ve slept. So, for the next 66 days, my new challenge is to try and get seven hours sleep a night. It is going to be tough, but all the research points to similar tips.

‘ Exercise ‘ all studies show that exercise helps people sleep better.
‘ Implement a ‘regeneration hour’ when you turn off all media and let your body start to relax. Journaling or reading is fine ‘ but turn off phones, TVs, computers and I-pods, which are known to interfere with sleep.
‘ Do some yoga before bed. Gentle stretching has a calming effect.
‘ Go to bed and wake-up at roughly the same time ‘ don’t sleep in on the weekends longer than an extra hour. (Ha! That one is a bit of a joke in my household. Sleep in? What’s that? Two-year-olds have trains they want to play with, and they want YOU right beside them, wondering when the coffee maker is going to beep to signal it is ready)

There will be nights where it doesn’t happen. I’m not perfect. But I’m hoping in 66 days I can change my sleep routine, and be a little’less tired. How about you?

Follow me on Twitter @erinpp

Erin Phelan is a fitness trainer and mom of two. She’s a regular contributor to Best Health and will be blogging here every Tuesday and Friday for the next 66 days.