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Sleep Your Way to Better Parenting

It’s par for the course for us parents to stretch ourselves pretty thin. It’s part of the job description, if I’m not mistaken. We get up early in the morning to make our kids’ breakfasts, pack lunches and pick out their clothes. We make sure homework is carefully stowed in binders, teeth are brushed, shoes are tied and crud is out of sleepy eyes.

Then, after the kids are off to school, we make our way to work, return home, throw together a dinner, wash dishes, dump trash, and do the bills while we’re providing snacks and helping our little ones with their homework between shuttling them to orthodontist appointments, dance practices and soccer games.

When we finally get the kids to bed, we have “our time”: maybe check some emails, spend some time with our spouse, watch some Netflix, or read how wonderful everyone else’s life is on Facebook. When we eventually crawl into bed we’re often asleep before our head hits the pillow, and then that alarm is screaming at us much sooner than we would like.

We do all of this because we want to be the best parents we can, and what suffers is our sleep. The truth is, though, that sleep-deprivation does not better parents make.

I am here to liberate you from the mistaken constraints we’ve created that tell us good parenting means five and a half hours of sleep. The following are five reasons to get your nightly recommended seven to nine hours of shut-eye…in order to be a rocking parent.

1. Have Some Fun
A big part of good parenting is interacting with our kids in a fun way. That includes having some kind of sense of humor, be it laughing at “the annoying cow” knock-knock joke (Google it if you don’t know), watching Minions together, or just horsing around while throwing a ball back and forth. If you’re sleep-deprived, according to a 2006 study, you’re losing your sense of humor, and no kid wants to hang out with a parent who’s always a grump. Get to bed!

2. Do Something
You want to be a good parent. That means going outside and cycling with your kid, getting on the floor and building a Lego skyscraper with him, or taking a family fun day at the local bowling alley. But, when we haven’t had sufficient sleep, our energy levels drop, and if we have a free moment, all we want to do is plop down on the sofa and watch Modern Family. Your kid wants you up and interacting with her. You can’t do that when you’re too pooped. So, sleep tonight in order to play tomorrow.

3. Patience Are Not Just For Doctors
Kids are not small adults, no matter how we dress them (oh, but only if they were). Their prefrontal cortexes, as well as many other parts of the brains that are difficult to pronounce, haven’t developed. They have difficulty seeing how their current actions affect their futures. And, their gross motor skills can be lacking. As a result, they may inadvertently knock over that glass of milk, forget to clean their rooms, or lie about completing their homework. That means, for us to be good parents, we must have a decent reserve of patience in our parenting arsenal. Apparently though, in a 2005 study, researchers found that sleep loss was associated with hostility. Hostility and patience have a very difficult time living together in harmony (spoiler alert: hostility tends to win). Your kid wants an understanding parent. So, go grab some zzz’s!

4. Model Healthy Living
As parents we all want our children to live healthy lifestyles, but no matter how much we tell them to eat right and go outside and play, it’s what we do that impacts their view of a healthy way of living. Therefore, we need to model regular exercise and making healthy food choices. The problem is when we lack adequate sleep we’re not motivated to exercise and we just don’t have the energy to do it, even if we wanted. Also, scientists at UC Berkley found that when we don’t sleep enough, the area in our brains that wards off temptation lowers its guard and we tend to eat precisely what we know we shouldn’t. And, what we eat and what we do (or, in this case, don’t do) our children will repeat. So, close your eyes already and drift off into Dreamland, for goodness sake!

5. Get It On
Kids don’t always admit it, but they feel safest when they see a loving connection between their parents. Mom and Dad tend to hug, smooch, hold hands, and cuddle on the sofa more often if they are having an active sex life. But, when you’re tired, you don’t want to mess around in bed…you just want to sleep so you can survive another day. Start getting your eight hours and your libido increases. Once that happens, when you and your partner hit the sack early enough, maybe you’ll be motivated to do a little more between the sheets than just snore. And, trust me on this, kids see you two happy and loving and that makes them feel secure in the family. Hence, go to sleep!

We all want to be the best we can for those little people we are bringing up in this world, but overworking and undersleeping ourselves, although it feels like we’re being productive parents, is actually counterproductive to balanced parenting. Doing a little less today in order to give yourself enough shut-eye tonight, will pay massive dividends tomorrow, not just for you, but for your children as well.

Now, what are you doing just sitting there? Go grab those pajamas and sleep mask and get your forty winks!

America’s Relationship Guru

Leon Scott Baxter, “America’s Relationship Guru,” is the author of Secrets of Safety-Net Parenting and the founder of SafetyNetters.com. He’s the father of two girls, 12 and 16, and has taught elementary school for eighteen years.