When you woke up this morning, did you feel energized? I mean, how was your sleep? I ask because I know that your busy life as a parent is likely affecting both the amount and quality of your sleep. Sleep affects all areas of your life, whether you are aware of it or not. Parents, in particular, are vulnerable to accumulating “sleep debt” – which simply means not getting enough sleep.
Parents abroad often face additional challenges such as frequent travel and the impact of time zone changes or struggles to cope with the ever-changing schedule of a global careerist in the family. How might your lifestyle abroad be robbing you of sleep and what can you do about it?
When your sleep is shortened, or not of high quality, you are cheating yourself out of the opportunity to get closer to that fabulous feeling of being a well-rested and happy parent. Do you even remember what that feels like?
You probably know from experience that sleep deprivation can affect your inner sense of well-being and your mood. Perhaps you feel grumpy, short-tempered or easily irritated after sleeping for only four consecutive hours. Lack of sleep can have a negative impact on the quality of your responses to your loved ones. Positive (or negative) patterns of behaviour can emerge when you make a choice to get enough (or to sacrifice) sleep.
Think about the domino effect – that chain reaction that happens when you gently push the first domino in a series of dominoes. It’s a simplistic image, but it shows how one small action – that first choice to gently push the first domino – can have a far-reaching impact on many other seemingly separate parts of the domino pattern.
What I like about the domino image is that it shows how you can affect a whole system by initiating one small action. The family unit is a relationship-based system that can profoundly shape how we approach life and living both now and in the future. Our children are completely vulnerable to the system we create for them in mood, attitude and energy level.
According to Dr. William C. Dement, author of the book The Promise of Sleep: A Pioneer in Sleep Medicine Explores the Vital Connection Between Health, Happiness, and a Good Night’s Sleep (Dell, 2000), sleep becomes “pushed aside by social and work demands. The only time most of us catch up on sleep is when our bodies break down and force us to rest.” The low-energy state, negative mood and attitude changes that may accompany the “body break down” from sleep debt is not ideal for raising happy, secure and confident children.
Sleep, global careers and parenthood
It seems that there is a growing focus on social and work demands which can tempt parents to try and keep up with a frenetic pace even though their body may be telling them to slow down and to recharge with some much needed sleep. Globally mobile parents may face additional sleep debt risk as they may frequently travel in global leadership and executive positions.
It is not uncommon to hear of parents in global careers crossing multiple time zones on a regular basis and being available for calls and emails for staff in various parts of the world. If this sounds like you, ask yourself the following:
- How often have you pushed yourself to do tasks beyond a reasonable time to go to bed?
- What is required for you to wake up feeling energized, happy and ready for the day ahead?
- In what situations would you choose to sacrifice your sleep?
- In what ways do your sleep habits affect your ability to enjoy time with your children?
Your life is busy. You might want to get more done for work, more done around the house and more done for yourself. But does all this busyness have to be at the price of losing our essential need for a good night’s sleep?
In his book, Dr. Dement goes further to say that “when we harmonize our lifestyle with our body’s master clock, we maximize the quality of our life – physically, mentally, and emotionally.” Isn’t that how you want to be when you are at work, at home, with your children and when alone?
Storied sleep customs
“How was your sleep?” was a common question at our breakfast table growing up. My father greeted me every morning with a kind smile and a warm pat on the back as he said “Goodmorning, Nne” (‘Nne’ means ‘daughter’ in his language), “how was your sleep?”. This was a simple routine that made the start of each day a comforting one. I would usually beam back a smile back at him and then say something like, “Good!” or “Really good!”. The positive tone to our morning greetings would often lead to a recount of a cool dream I’d had, right at the breakfast table.
This memory is an example of the far-reaching effect of the choice to gently push the first domino in a particular pattern sequence. The positive effect of sufficient sleep on me as a child was a result of the conscious choice my parents made about sleep routines – not just for us, but for themselves. Getting ready for bed was a happy time and waking up was equally joyful.
As kids, we knew what to expect from our parents each evening and enjoyed the time before bed together because we had routines to help us connect, feel loved and settle down at a consistent time and in an expected way each night. On some nights, we enjoyed a rich oral story-telling tradition as a family as Dad stirred our imaginations with tales from his home country. On other nights, Mum would hug us close and read aloud from a children’s book and chat with us about the pictures and our questions about the story. Both were loving and unique sleep routines just right for our family.
What I recognize now, but was unaware of as a child, is that my parents gave themselves the gift of sleep too. This was one of the most significant strategies they used to cope well with a house full of children and two busy, full-time careers. Oral stories, books and family narratives lovingly and regularly shared at bed time resulted in effective sleep routines for our whole family. It is a positive “domino effect” that continues to ripple into the next generation!
The way we nurture ourselves before heading to sleep can support us in accessing the quality sleep essential for us to keep up with dynamic pace of raising children abroad. Consciously creating and nurturing healthy, happy family sleep patterns will serve you well abroad. It is a domino play worth putting into action.
Sleep customs and family wellness. What’s your approach?
I’d love to hear about the sleep customs that you and your family practice. Please feel free to share in the comments below!