Parenting is a never-ending process that begins the day we conceive. It is from that day that our parenting instincts take over. Endless preparations, constant worry about doing things "just right", over-all feelings of restlessness and the ever persistent need to be on guard often leave our sleep patterns suffering.
If you've found yourself sacrificing much needed sleep in order to accomplish some of the more pertinent duties of parenting, then you may in fact be doing yourself --and your whole family -- an injustice. That's because you risk more than a groggy feeling when you are sleep deprived.
Sleep for Your Health
Adults who notoriously get too little sleep (defined as six hours or less) are at a much greater risk for certain health problems including weight gain, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Studies have also indicated that chronic sleeplessness can contribute to the onset of osteoporosis or a reduction in bone marrow density.
Ongoing sleep deprivation can have even more serious health risks, though. Mounting research suggests that people who get less than six hours of sleep on average are almost 50 percent more likely to develop colon cancer and have a reduced ability to fight it. This means that those of us who regularly receive too little sleep are more likely to die prematurely -- 47 percent more likely, to be exact.
Sleep for Your Happiness
It may come as no surprise that a lack of sleep tends to make people more grumpy (in fact, this is the primary way I can determine if one of my children is in need of a nap), but sleep deprivation does more than that.
According to Psychology Today, people who are sleep deprived are more likely to experience anger, hostility and resentment due to over activity of the amygdala, or the part of the brain responsible for negative emotions. In addition, a lack of sleep impaires the brain's ability to regulate the amygdala which means that, not only are you more likely to be angry when you're overly sleepy, but you are also less able to control said anger.
Sleep deprivation also inhibits our ability to think positively -- we become less friendly and compassionate towards everyone (including ourselves) which makes it more difficult to feel pride or the satisfaction of accomplishment. This may be the reason so many of us feel unmotivated when we are tired; even the biggest accomplishments mean significantly less to us when we're sleepy.
Sleep for Your Safety
Our reaction time is significantly reduced when we are too sleepy. This can result in devastating consequences such as the nuclear meltdown at Three Mile Island in 1979 or the Exxon oil spill in 1989. Though most of us do not risk disasters within the same scale, our lack of sleep could become a major safety hazard, no less, especially when we have young children to tend to.
An estimated 60 percent of drivers admit to having driven while feeling groggy over the last year, and almost one-third have actually fallen asleep at the wheel, according to the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School. Though the numbers are hard to pinpoint exactly, it is believed that sleep deprivation is responsible for as many as 8,000 deaths annually. So, if you plan on driving anywhere tomorrow, make sure you get sufficient sleep tonight. The safety of everyone on the road with you depends on it.
It's becoming more and more clear how vital sleep is to a functioning society. When too many people feel pressured to get everything done, sleep often gets pushed aside. But sleep is our body's chance to mend itself from a long day of work, and without it, our bodies cannot fully recover from the damage done. So put your to-do list down for the night and tuck yourself into bed -- your whole world will be so much better when you do.