By sleep expert James Wilson
For many of us, balancing work and family life is often a difficult and exhausting activity. So, what is making us tired and what can we do about it?
Firstly, we must understand tiredness and sleepiness are not the same. Many of the people I work with are constantly tired but when it comes to bedtime they just cannot sleep. Good sleep leads to energy and activity, but sleepiness is not the same as exhaustion, and we need to understand ourselves and how to achieve a feeling of sleepiness to get the sleep we need.
Let us start by asking, “are we getting the sleep that we need?”. Now, most of us don’t understand what this means. We judge sleep on how much sleep we have had, and do not take into account the quality of the sleep we get. Many of us have an arbitrary amount in mind, for example eight hours, and tell ourselves we have not had enough sleep if we don’t hit this number. The issue here is sleep is not about a number, but about feelings. So, do we feel awake and active when we should, and do we feel sleepy when it comes to bedtime? To work out how much sleep we need, we have to answer the question “how much good quality sleep do I need to feel alert and active at 10/11 in the morning?”. There are times in the day where we are designed to be lethargic, roughly between 1-3 in the afternoon and 5-7 in the evening, but at 10/11 in the morning we should be at our most alert.
The most common phenomenon I see in working parents and their sleep is a self-destructive relationship. There is a name for it, revenge sleep procrastination, which describes when we believe that, due to our busy days, we are entitled to some free time, some alone time, some personal care time that is a reward for the hard work we put in, (all of which is true we do deserve this,) but we schedule it when we should be asleep. Often this behaviour is driven by a belief that sleep is an option, that sleep is not important and that missing out on sleep is a debt we can pay off later. All of which is not true. Sleep is fundamental to our health as humans, during deep sleep we physically recover, while REM sleep is like an overnight counselling session where we work through the emotions of the day; sleep is fundamental to a healthy immune system, helping us fight sickness and disease, including COVID. We need to give sleep the respect and space it needs to fuel us the next day. To do this we need to understand what time we should be targeting to go to sleep, and in the hour before that time doing things that relax us and help our core temperature drop.
To work out our preferred sleep time we need to understand our sleep type. Are we a early type, typical going to bed between 8-10 and getting up between 4 and 6, a late type, going to bed after 11 and waking up after 8 (if you can) or somewhere in the middle, which is where most of us sit, with a slight preference one way or another. When thinking about what to do before bed, ditch social media scrolling and try a meditation app instead, swap the news or an engrossing drama for your favourite Rom Com or try reading a trashy novel. When we understand our sleep type and make sure we are winding down before bed properly, we will start to have good quality, consistent sleep.
When we are carrying out the eternal struggle of juggling work and family, one of the main drivers of that horrible, tired feeling is our kid’s sleep. No matter their age, you could have a 3-month-old waking for a feed, or a 17-year-old coming home in the early hours and waking you (and how to get our kids to sleep better is a whole different article), when they have gone to sleep, as a parent you end up struggling to get back to sleep. If this happens, we need to remember we cannot force sleep, and the harder we try the less likely sleep is to come. We need not to worry and let our mind wander. Listening to something really helps us to do this. A spoken word book, particularly listening to one you have already read, podcasts, the radio or music of less than 60 beats per minute can really help this.
Finally, is it a lack of sleep that is creating this sense of tiredness? Are you getting enough daylight, particularly earlier in the day, are you eating healthier, getting some exercise, is your workload detrimental to your health and, if you are in a relationship, do you feel it is loving and supportive? All these things can contribute to that feeling of tiredness.
There we go, tiredness, what might be causing it, and what to do about it.
For further information, please visit www.beingwellfamily.com