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MumBack blogger Sarah Maber tries sleep-hacking to cure her exhaustion

Sleep? What’s that? Still knackered long after her two children have started sleeping through the night (they’re five and three), our MumBack blogger Sarah Maber tried the new sleep-hacking

Guess what woke me up this morning, at 5:40am? Was it my alarm clock (ha!), a snoring husband (more on that later), a hungry cat (ditto) or two fingers prising my eyelids apart and a shrill, shouty voice encouraging: “OPEN YOUR EYES OPEN YOUR EYES MUMMY ITS MORNING TIME!”

If you are a new parent, turn away now, for I have a plot spoiler. Think you will be enjoying long hours of deep, dreamless sleep once your child has reached that magical stage of ‘sleeping through’? Well, if your family is anything like our family, that sought after prize will elude you for a few years yet.

Martha and Seth are now 5 and 3 and, as the mornings grow lighter, they wake up ever earlier. They also still snuffle, cry and call out in the night. Since having children, the sleep part of my brain has been set to ‘light/intermittent’ and the slightest squeak from their room makes my eyes spring open. There is actually an evolutionary truth to this. In the olden days, mothers would need to be aware if a wolf ran off with our offspring. Today, we are doomed to continue to doze this state of near-high alert, even though our cat can’t even shimmy into Martha’s room, let alone a marauding wild animal.

Then there is the small matter that young children go to bed at an ungodly early hour. Not for us the sprawling, toddler-embracing, 10pm dinners of the Mediterranean. Martha and Seth eat tea at 5pm, and are fully immersed in their bedtime routine by 6:30pm. There are several advantages to this (chiefly, a child-free evening), but one huge disadvantage. By 6am. Martha has had ten and a half hours sleep and springs out of bed, bright eyed and bushy tailed, raring to start her day, swiftly followed by Seth.

sarah two
Sarah with her children Martha, five and Seth, three

And we don’t help ourselves. I often don’t hit the sack until midnight, even though I know a night of disturbed sleep and an early start awaits. I often wonder if the big energy deficit we associate with mid-life isn’t more to do with a persistent lack of sleep than advancing years and bad lifestyle habits. Yes, our diets probably need attention, we should of course exercise and not drink too much, but perhaps it’s chronic jet lag that’s leaving us narky, unable to focus, permanently hungry, and craving sugar and caffeine. I hate to admit it, but after a bad night, my patience is non-existent and I find family life an exhausting grind. At 43, I have never been so deeply and obliteratingly tired.

The problem is that the older you get, the more you realise that a good night’s sleep is paramount to health. Inadequate sleep is linked to heart disease, diabetes, short term memory loss, depression, obesity, and dementia. Good quality sleep is, conversely, associated with myriad benefits; researchers from the University of California, Berkeley revealed that couples who get a  good night’s sleep will have more successful relationships; creativity, confidence, and decision-making (not to mention your sex life) are all enhanced by sleeping more.

We are rigorous about our children’s sleep habits, going to extremes to ensure they get adequate rest (three-hour car rides at lunchtime to force sleep on two grumpy children are, chez nous, still occasionally necessary).  So why are we so slack about our own? After all, our own parents knew the importance of sleep. My mother, in rude health at 75 and fizzing with energy, simply takes to her bed for two days if she gets ill or just feels out of sorts. She credits plenty of sleep for maintaining her health, and my hollow eyes horrify her whenever she comes to stay.

I recently trialled the practice of ‘sleep hacking’ for a magazine; advocates claim that you can thrive on just a few hours of sleep by ensuring the sleep you DO get is deep and refreshing. Your whole day and bedtime routine is geared towards enabling this; the die-hards even take ice baths before hitting the sack for an almighty body temperature drop that ushers in the kind of sleep we only dream of. I couldn’t face an ice bath but did do a week of cold, midnight showers to no avail. In fact, it actually took me longer to get to sleep than usual.

If we can’t cheat our way to more refreshing sleep, what’s the answer?

Simple – grown-ups need to take their sleep needs as seriously as they take their children’s and get to bed earlier for the foreseeable future. And when I say early, I mean pre-watershed early. I mean tea at 5, bath at 8 early. I mean lights out by 9.

As the newly converted, sleep evangelist Arianna Huffington declared at a recent conference: ‘You know all those clichés? That sleep is for losers, or I’ll sleep when I die, forget that. Sleep deprivation is for losers. Sleep deprived people make the wrong decisions. They miss the whispers and the signs and red flags, but you know the days when you wake up feeling really great? You can deal with anything,”’she said. ‘Sleep your way to the top!’ I’m starting tonight. Join me?

Read more from MumBack blogger Sarah Maber:

The family who plank together…

5:2 diet failed you? Try the 4:3

Is it Wine O’Clock yet?

Sarah maber headshotSarah Maber is a former women’s glossy and national newspaper editor.  Follow Sarah on Twitter @sarahmaber



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