Bad news: Jelly Bean has croup. (A virus characterized by a nasty cough that kind of sounds like a seal barking. Which my boys found hilarious. Which made Jelly Bean upset. Which made her cough harder.)
Good news: She got a dose of steroids at the pediatrician’s this morning and she’s like a new kid. Modern medicine really is a miracle. (Except that she’s ravenous. I’ve never seen her eat like this! It’s kind of funny – she just ate 4 pretzel buns, one after the other, only stopping to tell me, “these is the bestest food I’ve ever had!!”)
Tired news: But that meant that I spent most of last night awake – holding her upright, rocking her, taking her in a steamy bathroom and then out into the cold night air. (The hot/cold thing is supposed to help open their airways – I learned it from Anne of Green Gables. And the pediatrician also recommended it.) And then watching her fitfully sleep just in case she, you know, stopped breathing. Thankfully she’s fine now but I didn’t sleep at all and now I’m a walking zombie.
Exhaustion makes me incoherent and incoherence leads to awesome interviews, as I found out today when I tried to do some for an article I’m working on. (I called one poor guy the wrong name four separate times. It wouldn’t have been so bad except it was a different name every time. He probably thought I was drunk.) Fortunately, unless interrupted by a kid emergency, sleeplessness isn’t usually a problem for me. Don’t ask me how I dodged the insomnia bullet – with my anxiety disorder and general high-strung-ness you’d think I’d be a shoe-in for the sheep-less sleeplessness but if I have one God-given talent, it’s the ability to fall asleep anytime, anywhere. But for the 60 million Americans who suffer from insomnia, my brutal night and consequent ditzy day are the norm. (Did you know you can actually die from insomnia?!) And I think Son #2 might be one of them. He has a terrible time getting to sleep most nights.
So I was super excited when Shape assigned me a story about the new research into using exercise as an aid for insomnia. Anyone who has insomnia can tell you that laying in bed watching the numbers on the clock change and telling yourself to just sleeeep already! doesn’t work. And that whole counting sheep nonsense? Only works for Little Bo Peep, lucky girl.
“Sleep is the fuel of life.” Gale Green, author of Insomniac, says. “It’s nourishing; it’s restorative. And when you are deprived of it, you are really deprived of a basic kind of sustenance.”
Insomnia can be as difficult to treat as it is frustrating, so what does help? Exercise is one of the first things doctors often recommend but how well it helps you skydive into snoozeland isn’t quite that simple. It’s not simply a matter of “wearing yourself out” so you’ll pass out. A new study from Northwestern University reports that while exercise can be an effective tool to help you get a good night’s sleep, there are a lot of factors that determine how effective it will be.
Director of the behavioral sleep program at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and lead researcher Dr. Kelly Glazer Baron says she first decided to look at the sleep-exercise connection after having multiple patients complain that getting their sweat on just wasn’t helping them doze off. While it’s been known for a long time that exercisers sleep better, researchers haven’t been sure exactly why. “It may have to do with resetting the stress response,” Baron explains. “We think that one reason people with insomnia can’t sleep is that their stress response is overactive. I tell my patients- your brain is doing 60 mph and everyone else is going 45!” So Baron designed a study to examine what type of exercise helps with insomnia. Here are her tips:
1. Consistency is key. Like so many things in life, just sticking with it is half the battle. The study followed 11 women with insomnia who were assigned to exercise 3-4 times per week for at least 30 min at 75 percent of their maximum heart rate. What they found was that while exercising on a single day didn’t improve that night’s sleep, after 16 weeks of consistent exercise all the participants were falling asleep faster and sleeping nearly an hour longer.
2. Time of day matters. Baron says that exercising too close to bed can negatively affect sleep so the study participants were instructed to do their exercise between 1 and 5 p.m. although earlier would work fine as well.
3. No need to kill it in the gym. Brazilian researchers found in a 2010 study that while brisk walking helped participants fall asleep in half their usual time and sleep longer, higher intensity activities like running and weight lifting did not have this same effect. And participants in the Northwestern study only worked out 3-4 days a week at most.
4. Be patient. The improvements didn’t happen overnight for the participants. “On the days that subjects exercised, they didn’t sleep any better,” Baron says. “However, they exercised more after nights with better sleep. The results tell us that exercise is not a quick fix for insomnia and takes a while to improve sleep.”
5. Do it. ”People have to realize that even if they don’t want to exercise, that’s the time they need to dig in their heels and get themselves out there,” Baron said. “Write a note on your mirror that says ‘Just Do It!’ It will help in the long run.”
Any of you have insomnia? Does exercise help you at all? Any other tips I could try with my son?? Anyone else a total Anne of Green Gables fangirl?
Update: So Jelly Bean just wandered out of her room as I was publishing this post (10 pm) to tell me she “has the snots” and can’t get them out. Poor thing is super congested. Looks like it might be another long night… sigh.