The Importance of Sleep for the Whole Family
There’s nothing like a good night’s sleep to help us cope with the challenges of each new day. Most of us define “good sleep” as having to do with the duration and the depth of rest we get; it’s about both quantity and quality. There is actually more that goes into the definition of “good sleep,” and that is the subject of chapter 2. For the moment, I want to turn your attention more generally to why
sleep matters so much.
The expression “sleep like a baby” refers to that deep, peaceful sleep that we observe in babies. But as parents of most infants know, it’s often the case that those charmingly serene little sleepers can pop awake and stay awake and can also have a terrible time getting to their needed slumber in the first place.
“Needed” is the operative word here; babies need quality sleep, and when they don’t get enough of it, everything is off, including their ability to get to sleep again. This might not make much immediate sense to you; many parents think that tiring a baby out over the course of a day will help him sleep better at night. Indeed, the single most common misconception is that babies will simply sleep when they are tired and if they are kept up longer, they will sleep better.
As we’ll discuss below, the opposite is true. Babies who are even a little overtired will have a more difficult time making up that lost sleep or napping on cue.Skip ahead to Part II if you’re ready to get started learning to sleep-train right away, and look to chapter 5 for information about how much sleep is enough in twins of varying ages. But after all that, do come back to this discussion. Having a good understanding of how to get good sleep and what happens when children don’t will help you appreciate what your children are going through and may help you understand why they cry so hard when they don’t get enough rest.
A LITTLE TIRED IS LIKE A LITTLE SICK
Have you ever been a little sick or injured? Imagine that you have an ordinary cold with low- grade fever, sneezing, runny nose, headache, and a cough. After a few days the fever is gone, your nose is less stuffy, and the cough is less persistent. But you still feel a little weak and tired from having been sick for a few days. Even though you are ready to get back to your routine and your life, you feel uncomfortable and not at your personal best. Maybe you are a little less playful, less creative, less able to multitask. Maybe you’re a little more irritable as well. Being a little tired leaves you in the same predicament. If you’ve not had a good night’s sleep, you won’t be able to operate at 100 percent the next day. Each subsequent night of restlessness or interrupted sleep only compounds the problem. We get crankier and crankier; we may even start to have physical pain (headaches, body aches, and such).
So it goes for children as well. When babies and children don’t get enough sleep, they are not able to cope as well with what the day brings, and they are less able to take restorative naps during the day or fall into deep sleep quickly the following night. They may also have trouble staying focused on eating when you nurse or bottle- feed them. Of course, because they can’t communicate their distress any other way for the time being, they cry. All of this understandably makes parents stressed, but not everyone understands that lack of good sleep is the underlying problem.
We often attribute a baby’s crying and discomfort to gas, teething, or that dreaded but universal time of the day–the early evening–known to veteran parents as the “witching hour.” Other times we label our children “ high- spirited” or “needy,” but, actually, it’s usually impaired sleep that makes babies fussy, less adaptable, more intense, and more frightened in the first place. You might notice these changes more near the end of the day, when their sleep tank nears empty. Of course, everyone knows that when you are horribly sleep- deprived, you feel bad. But few people realize how even a little sleep loss impairs children’s mood and performance.
In our ever- busy lives as adults, sometimes sleep is the last
thing on the to- do list. But to put it simply, sleep is not a luxury; it is a biological necessity. We should protect our own adult sleep so that we can think clearly in the short term and for the benefit of our long- term health. We need to nurture and protect our children’s sleep for both their present-day comfort and their long- term health as well. Helping your twins learn to soothe themselves, to fall asleep on their own, and to stay asleep for restorative periods of time is the key to making sure everyone
in the family gets the sleep he or she needs!Simply put: sleep is not a luxury; it is a biological necessity!
HOW SLEEP DEPRIVATION AFFECTS YOU
My research with parents of twins confirms what I have observed as a pediatrician for more than thirty- five years: regardless of how old you are or what you went through to conceive your twins, or whether you have fraternal or identical twins, when they do not sleep well, the primary caregiver– usually Mom–suffers. Sleep deprivation undermines all aspects of her life and interferes with her ability to discover and execute solutions to help the twins sleep better. Ideally, you’ll want to talk about sleep solutions before the twins are born, but if you already have them and are already sleep- deprived, get Dad involved in figuring out the solution.
In addition to the lack of physical coordination, headaches, and even gastrointestinal issues that are associated with physical exhaustion, mental stress from sleep deprivation is likely to cause an increased heart rate, a rise in blood pressure, muscular tension, irritability, and depression. The physical and mental strain might resemble or trigger baby blues or postpartum depression and can create a severe strain on your marriage. One mother in my survey reported that because she and her husband were so tired, they began to fight, and, at the height of their sleep deprivation, they “hated each other at night.” Of course, we do not know whether exhaustion and stress from sleep deprivation mimics, worsens, or causes baby blues or postpartum depression. Maybe all three events can occur. What we do know is that sleep deprivation colors one’s outlook (the world looks like a darker, more lonely, and more difficult place to navigate), exacerbates relationship tensions, and makes life generally harder for everyone in the house.
Excerpted from Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Twins by Marc Weissbluth, M.D.. Copyright © 2009 by Marc Weissbluth, M.D.. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.