The NBA’s Sleep Doctor On What New Parents Can Learn From Athletes About Zzzz

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by Chase Scheinbaum
Originally Published: 

There is one unimpeachable truth about being a parent: You never get enough sleep. Of course, your level of fatigue might not match that of a professional athlete during a championship run or astronaut hurtling at 5 miles per second — but close enough.

Dr. Charles A. Czeisler, Director Of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School is the go-to guy when NBA and NHL teams, NASA and the Secret Service need to get their Zs. Hell, Shaquille O’Neal wouldn’t be able to sleep in his 2 California King beds if not for “Dr. C.” who diagnosed him with sleep apnea. And while being alert may not always be a life and death (or sudden death) situation for the average person, Dr. Czeisler’s advice can at least help you feel a little more like a woke dad.

Keep A Consistent Bed And Wake Time

Dr. Czeisler says that the best thing you can do to achieve the 7 to 9 hours of sleep you need each night is go to sleep and wake up at the same times everyday. Go ahead and tell your baby a Harvard-educated specialist says no more 3 AM feedings.

“Parents are kidding themselves if they think they can get by on 4 to 5 hours of sleep. It will catch up with them,”

Realistically, you won’t be able to control your new human alarm clock in the next room, and the younger the kid, the earlier you’re rising. So he says you should start by impose an earlier bedtime for yourself. Yes, Dr. C just killed all your joy of catching up on Mr. Robot. “Parents are kidding themselves if they think they can get by on 4 to 5 hours of sleep. It will catch up with them,” says Czeisler. Don’t worry, you’ll soon have to stay up really late just to catch your curfew-breaking teen coming through the door.

Recognize Your Kid’s Sleep Patterns

Like previously mentioned, your toddler’s sleep schedule is an unstoppable force, but you’re not an immovable object. Instead of trying to force their naps, bedtime, and when they get up to accommodate you, you may be the one that has to do some accommodating. The arrangement is temporary, because a 2-year-old’s sleeping habits are different from a 10-year-old’s. And you have to admit — you’re super flexible.

Nobody Gets Screens Before Bedtime

After dusk, minimize exposure to electronic screens as much as possible, Czeisler says, because they interfere with sleep. You’ve probably heard the reports on how “blue light” is no longer just for K-Mart specials, but the wavelength emitted from your phone, tablet, and computers. Cut that out.

If you are going to stare at your iPhone or laptop in bed, download an app like F.lux or turn on the Night Shift setting that reduces blue light. You can also invert the black text on a white screen to white on black to reduce eye strain.

How To Nap Like An Adult

Long naps are a surprisingly effective way to reach your 7-to-9 hour quota if you’re short on sleep, Czeisler says. “If you need sleep because you only slept for 3 hours the night before, sleep as long as you can.” The operative word is can.

The only reason to take short naps is if you A) only have time for a short nap or B) don’t want to be groggy when you wake up. Pilots and athletes use short naps, as little as 10 minutes long, to refresh themselves before they need to perform (which to a pilot means, “Not crash”). Nap for fewer than 30 minutes and you’re less likely to fall into a deep stage of sleep which will make you feel like you’ve gone cold turkey on opioids. Based on a quick survey of mall benches and movie theater seats during Finding Dory, most dads have gotten the nap memo.

Flickr / Basheer Tome

Don’t Drink Caffeine After Lunch

Caffeine has a half-life of 6 to 9 hours. Czeisler says don’t drink any after lunch (oops, too late?) and certainly nothing after dinner. The caveat is that if you’re dozing off heavily but need to be sharp for a business meeting, use the coffee nap technique. Drink that cup of coffee, take a 20 minute power nap under your desk (or in your car, broom closet, or abandoned storefront) and wake up refreshed just as the caffeine takes hold. Now go and put the power into Power Point.

You Probably Will Never Catch Up

On weekends, you can try to catch up on shuteye lost during the week. Except if you can’t. The sad fact is, even if the stillness of Saturday morning isn’t broken by whining and cartoons, once you hit your 30s you start to lose the ability to sleep in. “The key thing to realize is your bedtime is the most important determinant in how long you sleep,” says Czeisler. Start setting those clocks ahead now.

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