NEWS2U Health & Wellness
Living Healthy in an Unhealthy World

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

How to Have It All, Sleep Included

By Dr. Michael J. Breus

A thriving career. A house with 2.5 kids, the average. Time to exercise. A vibrant social life. A great romantic relationship, whether married or not. And you sleep like a baby at night for a full X-hours, whatever you need to feel like a million bucks the next day. Is this possible? Is this a total fantasy?

I'm not trying to state the obvious or beg the obvious answer. My gut feeling is that having it all, including sleep, is a tall order. And recent research proves it. A Canadian article I read online outlines researchers' data about the relationship between sleep and lifestyle, which includes a number of things like employment status, gender, and marital status.

Do you commute a long way to work? Do you work full-time (i.e., long hours)? Do you have kids, especially ones under the age of 15? If yes, then chances are you don't get as much sleep as someone who answers no to most of these questions. And I don't think you have to be Canadian to fit the bill of what these researchers found. In fact, in America I think we tend to fare far worse.

There's nothing very revolutionary about these study results. Other interesting findings to note:
The more money you make, the less sleep you get. (More money usually means more work, more stress, more of everything but sleep.)

Men tend to get less sleep than women, but it's the women who complain more of not being able to fall asleep easily.

Men who exercise sleep better, but women who exercise don't sleep as much as women who don't. The reasoning behind this makes sense: woman who carves out time to exercise could be taking time away from sleep. The payoff, though, is that the women who do make time for exercise don't have as much trouble getting to sleep. This has a scientific explanation: exercise is a great promoter of restful sleep.

It's hard to know what to do with a study like this. It points out the obvious, and I'm not about to tell someone to sacrifice having children, working full time, and making more money for sleep. But surely this kind of news helps call out what we can attempt to modify in our lives for the sake of restful Zs. After all, being well-rested is what makes our jobs easier, our quest to be fit more doable, and our capacity to parent and deal with the hassles of life, including stress, much bigger.

Can You Achieve a Balance?

Here are some questions to ask yourself. Your answers may help you to see how you actually can have it all -- or as much of "all" as possible:

Can you create better boundaries at work so you aren't over-working yourself every single day? (Yes.) Remember, it's okay to pull long hours once in a while. But don't make a habit of it.

Can you make the need for exercise not infringe on your need for sleep? (Yes.) If fitting time to exercise means cutting back on sleep, try cutting back on something else in your life -- go to bed a little earlier if you're an a.m. exerciser or leave work earlier so you're not watching the 11:00 news while on the Stairmaster.

Can you equally share your parental duties with the other parent? (Yes.) Don't feel like you're the one who has to handle everything 24/7. Go 50/50. Each of you can pick days when one parent takes on a smaller percentage of the parental role so you can catch up with yourself and recharge your batteries. Then switch.

Can you knock off two or three things that you had on your To Do list and move them to tomorrow? (Yes.)

Can you think of at least ONE thing -- just one -- that you can push to next week so you can devote more time to sleep this week? (Notice this should be a recurring question each week!)
I'll leave you with this: can you imagine being rich, fit, and well-rested? Yes you can.

Dr. Michael J. Breus, PhD, is a Clinical Psychologist and a Diplomate of the American Board of Sleep Medicine.