There's a bitter irony to the fact that as I wrote this post (a particularly desperate rant about baby-induced sleep-deprivation) there nestled gently on my nightstand was this book, Good Night: The Sleep Doctor's Four Week Program to Better Sleep and Better Health. Ever since my husband and I experienced at least five months of extreme sleep deprivation with the arrival of our firstborn, we became Sleep Zealots; positively anal about night-time routines, nap schedules, circadian rhythms. In all other areas we pride ourselves on being pretty flexible parents, but sleep is where we do not tend to compromise--this is borne of those five months in which both of us became creatures unrecognizable (and frankly not very nice) to one another.
I am not an insomniac. But even so, I can recommend Good Night to anyone who is interested in enhancing their night's sleep and particularly those like me who are interested in what studies are beginning to demonstrate about the role of sleep in our lives. This last few weeks as my four month old has been resisting sleep at certain times of the night, the book has strengthened my resolve to instill healthy sleep habits at a tender age.
I should state that this is not a book for parents of children with sleep problems, and Breus wryly admits that parents of newborns come to terms with sleep deprivation for the duration. However for those of us who have been fixating on our kid's sleeping routines and structures, this book forces us to switch that gaze and take a long hard look at ourselves.
Yes, we all know that a night with little to no sleep can make you feel like the Living Dead the next day, but Breus makes a convincing case for the link between sleep and overall quality of life and health. A large proportion of us are experiencing sleep problems such as frequent night waking or stress-induced insomnia, but only a "quarter of us admit that sleep problems have some impact on our daily lives" and only "a handful of us ever takes any steps to improve our sleep." We are living in a culture where decent sleep is increasingly perceived as a luxury as opposed to a vital necessity, and it's this perception that Breus attempts to take on.
To help individuals begin to pay back their "sleep debt" he provides a series of tools for self-evaluation, identifies the major "sleep thieves" (stress and anxiety, caffeine, parenting styles, bed partners, hormonal fluctuations, and business travel) and presents a practical program for sleep-friendly lifestyle. Many of the tips and tricks in those programs are helpful even to a non-insomniac parent who is waking for twice nightly feedings and has trouble falling back to sleep after. For instance the importance of beginning the sleep routine before exhaustion sets in; the optimal way to set up your bedroom for a conducive soporific atmosphere; the use of a "worry journal" for when your brain is spinning out of control; and a whole slew of tricks that mean you'll never have to count sheep again. All very simple ideas but effective to various degrees.
Good Night makes some pretty lofty claims--paying back the "sleep debt" will lift depression, enhance productivity, strengthen our relationships, and even lead to a better sex life. I am naturally cynical about these types of sweeping claims--which appear to be the general marketing ploy behind most self-help guides these days. But Breus does make a strong case for sleep's positive affects in these areas, and particularly in the claim I am most inclined take with a pinch of salt: Sleep makes us thinner.
A whole chapter is devoted on how we can "Snooze to Lose," and more to the point, how the sleep debt might be accruing at our waistlines. Breus presents research and findings about the relation of hormonal fluctuations to sleep rhythms too detailed to recount here, but some of the information he presented was a revelation to me. For instance, that "lack of sleep increases cortisol, resulting in your body storing fat, burning muscle--and making you hungry by increasing your appetite!" Now, I might be clinging on to this fact as I battle to lose weight in my own very sleep deprived and postpartum state, but cortisol aside, Breus presents a myriad of other endocrinological details that support the claim, and let me say it's not just because we're heading towards the fridge in the wee hours.
If you or someone you know battles with sleep loss, I can certainly recommend this book. Breus's style is engaging, personable and non-judgemental, his discussion punctuated with interesting case studies from his clinical work. I am not promising that the book will have you enjoying your eight+ hours a night in four weeks, but it will help you evaluate the role of sleep in your life and likely help you towards that goal of a better-rested "I am invincible" you.