Rest for the Weary Homeschool ParentMay 31, 2021
Guest post by Stephanie Wilkins
Matthew 11:28 – Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
When raising a family and homeschooling your kids, how important is it to incorporate rest into your day? You might say, “It’s very important!” When push comes to shove, however, many times other things take precedence over an afternoon siesta or a good 7.5 hours of uninterrupted sleep at night. Studies show that sleep is one of the most important things we can do for our mental and physical health, and good sleep is even more hard to come by these days due to technology, eating habits, and anxious minds that won’t stop.
David F. Dinges, Ph.D., Professor and Chief of the Sleep and Chronobiology Division at University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine was quoted in The Extraordinary Importance of Sleep by Susan L. Worley saying, “We know for sure that sleep serves multiple functions. Nature tends to be very parsimonious in that it often uses a single system or biology in multiple ways to optimize the functioning of an organism. We know, for example, that sleep is critical for waking cognition—that is, for the ability to think clearly, to be vigilant and alert, and sustain attention. We also know that memories are consolidated during sleep, and that sleep serves a key role in emotional regulation.” Without proper sleep, which is considered by experts to be at least 7 to 7.5 hours per night, studies show that the body and mind are more susceptible to certain conditions such as hypertension, obesity, type-2 diabetes, immune system impairment, cardiovascular issues, arrhythmias, mental health mood disorders, neurodegeneration, and dementia.
Setting Priorities as a Homeschool Family
So how do we ensure that we get at least 7 to 8 hours of good sleep each night for ourselves as well as for our children? We can begin by prioritizing sleep just as we would other obligations such as sports, committees, church, and school. This means “go to bed” and “wake up” are put on the daily schedule. It also means that before committing to certain sports and club activities, we look at how these commitments might interfere with the regular nightly bedtime routine. It’s all about being aware and looking at the “end game.” Health should take precedence over tireless activity that not only interferes with sleep, but also stresses other important aspects of life. Does this mean that things like travel teams are out of the question? Of course not, but it might mean getting more creative and thinking out of the box to ensure that driving late into the night is the exception and that a good night’s sleep is the rule. It might also mean that “never missing a game” is replaced by “never missing once-in-a-lifetime family events, being there for our friends and family in times of need, making sure school and church attendance come first, and not sacrificing health for the game when we know we are pushing the limits.”
As a former gym mom that participated frequently in travel gymnastics meets, to ensure a good night’s sleep, we would sometimes get a hotel room. It was an advantage we had as a homeschool family. As well, as a homeschool teacher, I had the ability to tweak the school workday for my daughter so that test days did not fall on the same days that we had a meet. During the time we were involved with gymnastics, nothing made me sadder than to see little girls come to practice, not from home, but after having been at school all day. They would arrive at practice by 4:00 p.m., having no dinner, just eating a quick snack, and then practice until 8:00 p.m. at night. After practice, they would go home, eat a quick dinner, do homework before going to bed at who knows what time, get up at 6:30 a.m. to get to school by 8:00 a.m., and then repeat that schedule four days per week.
My daughter was heavily involved in both music and in gymnastics. In high school, when she started attending school outside of the home, she gave up gymnastics. For her, this was a very good decision, because she needed her sleep and wanted to salvage her body, which had already been taxed by the sport. So, give and take is another thing to consider to create balance and achieve rest for your family. Everyone knows that sacrifice is necessary for all types of activity, but always count the cost before beginning any new sport or activity, especially when it affects your bedtime routine.
Tips for Getting Quality Sleep
Not only do we need adequate sleep hours, but we need quality sleep hours. One way to ensure deeper sleep is to make sure you are not eating low-fiber, high-fat, sugary foods after 7:00 p.m. A study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep management showed that eating these types of foods late in the evening puts the body into a lighter, less restorative sleep state with more arousals during the night. I have put this study to the test on more than one occasion and have proven it true every time. Every time I eat sweets late at night, I personally end up with nightmares, as well as wake up every two to three hours. On the contrary, when I have a warm glass of milk, kefir, or something with a small amount of vegetable protein, I sleep very soundly.
With anxiety on the rise, and the stressful times we’ve experienced recently, sometimes our anxious minds don’t want to shut down. A Harvard Health publishing article, entitled Blue Light Has a Dark Side, recommends avoiding looking at bright screens beginning two to three hours before bed, and if you work a night shift or use a lot of electronic devices at night, they recommend wearing blue-blocking glasses or installing apps that filter blue/green light at night. The reason for this is that blue light from our phones and laptops disrupts the sleep cycle twice as much as green light. This disturbance decreases melatonin, the hormone responsible for sleep. Charging your phone at night in a different room will ensure that the blue light disturbance will not awaken you. Also, with the phone in the other room, you will not be tempted to break your personal sleep routine and continue to surf the internet at night after you lay down to rest. In addition, there are phone settings to change the blue light setting to a different color after a certain time. I highly suggest changing your settings.
Furthermore, the Sleep Foundation suggests listening to music to get a good night’s sleep. In an article entitled, “Why Does Music Affect Sleep,” the author quotes, “In a study of women with symptoms of insomnia, participants played a self-selected album when getting into bed for 10 consecutive nights. Before adding music to their evening routine, it took participants from 27 to 69 minutes to fall asleep, after adding music it only took 6 to 13 minutes.” That’s some pretty amazing results!
One last thing I like to do to get myself into a restful state is to have a time of prayer and praise alone in my bed before going off to Never Never Land. Quoting Scripture eases anxiety for me, and prayer releases any stress that I have encountered during the day, as I give up all these things to my Father in heaven who can handle the load much better than I can. Psalm 127:2 says, “It is vain for you to rise up early, To sit up late, To eat the bread of sorrows; For so He gives His beloved sleep.”
With a little creativity, an introspective look at your outside commitments, healthier snacks in the evening, and a tweak here and there to your routine, you and your family can and will find rest. My prayer is that your sleep becomes deeper and that you experience more interrupted sleep hours during the night. Blessings to you my friends. Sleep well, and may God bless you with sweet dreams tonight!
More about the author:
Stephanie Wilkins is a board-certified nutrition counselor and founder of “No More Band-Aids” which is a ministry of encouragement and evidence-based research for caretakers and those suffering from chronic health conditions. Stephanie is also a veteran homeschool mom of 21 years and has had the unique opportunity to have lived in four different countries and four different states. Stephanie’s passions are homeschooling, travel, health and wellness, and her faith.
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