When Moms Don’t Get Enough Sleep… And What They Can Do About It

If you send a text message to Jamie Maier after midnight, there’s a good chance she’ll respond right away. Maier, a family law attorney in Rockville, routinely stays up until 2:30 or 3 a.m. despite knowing she’s going to be woken up four short hours later by her five-year-old son and almost three-year-old daughter.

Maier, 34, can deal with waking up grumpy and surviving on coffee because staying up late is the only way she can squeeze some much needed “me-time” into her non-stop daily schedule. Between working during the day and taking care of her family in the evening, “I was truly catering to everyone else’s needs and not my own,” she says. “I used to be creative, I used to have hobbies and I wasn’t doing any of that anymore.”

After her husband goes to bed around 10 p.m., Maier indulges in “trash TV,” browses her favorite shopping websites or makes beaded bracelets for friends — her newest creative pursuit.

“Too many people, especially busy moms, think they can get used to getting less sleep than they need, but it doesn’t work that way,” says Terry Cralle, RN, a certified clinical sleep educator and co-author of “Sleeping Your Way to the Top” and “Snoozby and the Great Big Bedtime Battle.” “You don’t get used to it, and trying to do so only leads to any number of problems — some very serious.”

Consider this: A new Iowa State University study found that not getting enough sleep can make you feel angrier in frustrating situations — and just think about how many times a day you get frustrated with your spouse, kids or coworkers.

“Despite typical tendencies to get somewhat used to irritating conditions — an uncomfortable shirt or a barking dog — sleep-restricted individuals actually showed a trend toward increased anger and distress, essentially reversing their ability to adapt to frustrating conditions over time,” says study co-author Zlatan Krizan, a psychology professor at Iowa State.

Sleep deprivation also increases feelings of loneliness and leads to social withdrawal, according to recent research from Nature Communications. To add insult to injury, other people are less inclined to engage with tired individuals because they’re perceived as being lonely. It’s a vicious cycle!

Cralle warns that tired moms are also putting themselves and their families in jeopardy when they drive while sleep deprived. “Drowsy driving is just as dangerous as drunk driving,” she says. Studies have found that tiredness affects concentration, memory and decision-making in ways that are similar to drinking too much.

Despite the consequences of not getting enough sleep, many moms, like Maier, are still willing to sacrifice shut-eye in order to get things done around the house or catch up on some work. That’s a mistake, Cralle says.

“Although it seems counterintuitive at first glance, a sleep-deprived person who may have a few extra hours in the day is not getting more things done. They are getting less done and not doing it well,” she says. “That is because sleep deprivation affects our performance, our productivity, our decision making, our problem solving, our accuracy, our efficiency, our motivation — so many things that essentially backfire when we trade sleep hours for more waking hours.”

So how can busy moms start getting more sleep? Here are a few strategies you might want to try:

Set an alarm
It’s easy to lose track of time when you’re doing the laundry, cleaning the kitchen or simply zoning out in front of the TV. Cralle recommends setting an alarm on your phone at least 30 minutes before bedtime to remind you to start getting ready for bed.

Create a “pre-sleep ritual”
Bedtime routines aren’t just for kids, Cralle advises. Whether you take a warm bath, meditate, read, knit or do a jigsaw puzzle, incorporating some quiet “me-time” into your bedtime routine will help you relax — as long as your activity of choice doesn’t have a screen.

Have a media curfew
The blue light from electronics suppresses melatonin production, making it difficult to fall and stay asleep. Cralle recommends unplugging from your devices “at least one to two hours prior to bedtime.” Besides, binge-watching that new show on Netflix is time you could be catching up on zzzs.

Keep your bedroom clutter-free
It’s easy to neglect the master bedroom when there are so many other rooms at home to keep neat and tidy. But it’s hard to unwind in a room that feels chaotic and messy. Turn your bedroom into a “sleep sanctuary,” Cralle recommends, by avoiding bright colors, investing in a comfortable mattress and bedding, and keeping clutter at bay.

So the next time you’re tempted to stay up late, remind yourself that sleep is a biological need, not a luxury or an indulgence. “Quite simply, you are a better mother if you are not sleep-deprived,” Cralle says.


About PJ Feinstein

PJ Feinstein is the editor of Washington FAMILY and the mother of two elementary school-age boys.

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