healthy habit moms miss out on; sleep; sleeping womanWhether you’re trying to lose weight, get strong, or just want to feel better, there’s one healthy habit most moms are missing. Even when you’re working out consistently and watching what you eat, skimping on sleep can derail all your good intentions.

Yes, it's true. Sleep is the one thing all humans need to survive, and it can be the answer to lasting good health. Perhaps you remember it from your pre-kids days? It’s that activity that lasted beyond six in the morning on the weekend. 

In case you need convincing that sleep should be a priority for you, here are four reasons sleep is so vital, as well as practical tips on getting more -- and better -- sleep.

1. Sleep can prevent obesity. The well-known Nurse’s Health Study, which is one of the longest running and largest studies into lifestyle and preventable disease, indicated that women who get less than seven hours of sleep a night have an increased risk for obesity.  The reason for this increased risk is not exactly known, but part of the issue may be the effect sleep deprivation has on your hormones and glucose tolerance. More studies show that lack of sleep (again, less than seven hours a night) can lead to reduced insulin sensitivity, as well as an increase in your ghrelin levels (which essentially means your appetite is increased with lack of sleep). So you’re not only tired, you’re hungry, and not able to deal efficiently with spikes in blood sugar. I believe the scientific term for this state of affairs is, "Ruh-Roh."

Tip: Think of sleep as a tool for weight loss, just like keeping a food journal, or hitting the gym. Try to keep a schedule of the same bedtime and waking time. Work with what you’ve got -- if your kids are super early-risers, getting to bed even a little earlier can make the next day somewhat easier. 

2. Sleep can make you happier. Do we really need a formal study into whether getting sufficient sleep leaves us in a better mood? When you can’t sleep, or you don’t get enough sleep, it can take every ounce of self-restraint not to be an irritable, snapping mess the following day. It seems to be a chicken-and-the-egg scenario -- does lack of sleep lead to feeling stressed and sad, or are you unable to sleep because you’re stressed and sad? While the jury may be out on the root cause, there is evidence that focusing on better sleep habits can improve your mood and feeling of well-being 

Tip: Set yourself a bedtime routine: It works just as well for grown-ups as for kids. Shut off electronics at least 30 minutes before you get into bed, then have your own wind-down rituals that your brain will start to recognize as the precursor to sleep. Whatever works for you is fine, whether it’s reading a book, drinking a cup of tea, taking a shower, or stretching.  

3. Sleep could affect your sex drive. While most evidence between lack of sleep and a lower libido is anecdotal, there are links between sleep apnea -- which results in sleep deprivation -- and a diminished sex drive. It stands to reason you’d be less inclined to get busy if you’re already hungry, tired, stressed, and sad anyway, right?

Tip: Make your bedroom a sleep and sex-only zone. How often do you find yourself in bed with your tablet or laptop, or watching TV? Make a pact with your partner to limit bedroom activities to sleeping or sex, and enjoy the benefits. If your partner complains about not being able to watch a movie in bed, repeat the part about having sex. That should help. 

4. Sleep can keep you safe. When you’re tired, your judgment can be impaired, your reaction time is dulled, and you’re more likely to nod off during waking hours. This is especially bad news if you happen to be driving, working in high-pressure surroundings such as a hospital, or working with any kind of machinery that requires a high level of alertness. 

Tip: Minimize your accident risk by not relying on alcohol or caffeine to help you sleep or keep you awake. Alcohol in the evening might make you feel sleepy at first, but it diminishes the quality of your sleep. Caffeine has a short-term effect on drowsiness when you’re feeling tired -- it won’t work forever. 

How many hours of sleep a night are you getting?

Have you tried any of these techniques for getting better sleep?