Top 5 Reasons to Prioritize Sleep in a Hectic Household
All too often parents of children with autism are unsung, underappreciated, overworked and without exception, they are chronically sleep deprived. It goes without saying that caring for a child on the spectrum begs an insurmountable level of vigilance, ingenuity, and temperance. It requires “A-Game” energy and execution in every waking moment of each day.
Perhaps the single most important factor in your ability to bring your caregiving and parenting “A-Game” to fruition is the quality and quantity of your sleep. But combine the fact that u to 80% of children with autism experience trouble sleeping with the fact that you’re running a household, paying the bills, building a career, and trying to sneak in an occasional workout. Sleep inevitably gets left by the wayside. In the words of Dr. James B. Maas: “Sleep is the single most important thing you can and must do to reset your brain and body for health and performance. Sleep is a necessity, not a luxury.” To offer your children their greatest opportunity to thrive and to offer you, as a caregiver, the cognitive respite, emotional regulation and mental acuity you are capable of, it is essential that sleep becomes a focal point of your family’s routine. Here are five reasons to prioritize sleep, especially in a hectic household.
1. You’ll remember where you left the car keys
During waking hours, our brains are inundated with stimuli. This new information “collects” as short-term memories in the hippocampus, a formation in the center of your brain, where they are stored in temporary neural networks for approximately 24 hours.
During rapid eye movement (REM) and slow-wave deep sleep, these short-term memories are translated into long-term neural networks in the cerebral cortex, the outermost layer of your brain that is responsible for memory retention and retrieval. From remembering where you put the car keys to cementing the anecdotes of parenting into your long-term files, getting a minimum of seven hours of quality sleep is critical for transfer and retention of your short-term to long-term memory.
2. You’ll see fewer tears
Sleep deprivation dramatically impacts the way we process and regulate our emotions. The brain’s prefrontal lobe is responsible for tempering our emotions, which arise from the activity of the amygdala, the center for rage and fear. In a sleep-deprived brain, there is a disconnect between the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex, so that anger, frustration, resentment, and disgust are left unchecked by judgment and rationale.
The next time you’re feeling especially anxious, frustrated, or angry, ask yourself “Have I been getting enough sleep?”
3. You’ll eat chicken soup by choice, not a necessity
It’s hard enough to maintain a household schedule with every member in tip-top condition, but add sniffles into the equation, and the operation crumbles. It’s an age-old adage that warns “put a hat on, or you’ll catch a cold,” but it should more accurately warn “get to bed or you’ll catch a cold.” A 2015 study showed that people who sleep six hours or less each night are over four times more likely to catch a common cold than those who sleep seven hours or more. Cut your nightly sleep to five hours or less and your likelihood of viral infection increases even further.
Sleep deprivation increases your susceptibility to viral infection, and over the long run, it dramatically increases your risk of obesity, stroke, heart disease, hypertension, type II diabetes, mental illness, and even cancer.
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4. You’ll fly through the “To Dos”
Completing a task requires the coordination of multiple brain regions in the cerebral cortex, which plans, reasons, and rationalizes.
The reactions powering the neurons in these processes produce toxins and metabolic waste, which accumulate and eventually inhibit efficient brain function. Most of our tissues rely on the cooperation of the cardiovascular and lymphatic system to remove waste, but the brain relies on a unique waste removal mechanism that occurs while you sleep. Your ability to check off the boxes on your to-do list is dependent on the efficiency of neuronal action potentials and therefore, on the duration and quality of your sleep.
Quality sleep improves memory, judgment, creativity, concentration, critical thinking, and overall mental acuity. In an hour by hour cost-benefit analysis, you’ll find that up until your physiological need is met, each additional hour of sleep yields increased clarity and productivity during waking hours.
5. You’ll keep on kickin’
For too long, our culture championed a machismo that touted the familiar refrains, “sleep is for the weak” or “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” But these claims could not be further from the truth. Over diet and exercise, sleep is the most accurate predictor of longevity. As the backbone of your household, you owe it to yourself and your family to prioritize commitments in order to get the sleep your body and mind require.
Margaret Liederbach is Research Director at Sleep for Success and has a background working in behavioral therapy. Margaret and Dr. James B. Maas are co-authoring the forthcoming book Sleep Made Simple: Optimize your Wellness and Performance.
This article was featured in Issue 75 – Helping Your Child with Autism Thrive