You’ve been running on cups of coffee for hours and there’s nothing your exhausted body craves more than the sweet oblivion of a full night’s sleep. But people are relying on you, so you soldier on.
This can describe many new and sleep-deprived parents (not even Prince Harry is exempt). After all, only 10 per cent of new parents get enough sleep; Health Canada suggests seven to nine hours of sleep on average for adults. But there’s another group contending for the championship title of the world’s most sleep-deprived: NBA players.
Several athletes spoke to ESPN about their chronic lack of sleep, worsened by the rigour of professional competition, constant travel, and demanding schedules. One NBA executive calls the league’s sleep loss epidemic their “biggest issue without a solution.”
″[It] could be the difference between you having a career game or playing terrible,” Miami Heat player Hassan Whiteside said.
While not an exact equivalent, the same holds true for weary parents: being sleep deprived can be a big factor in whether you have a great day (or, let’s be real, great hour) with the kids or being so damn tired you mistake diaper cream for toothpaste.
So how can parents bring their A game to bedtime? Taking tips from your comrades-in-fatigue could do the trick.
Pay off “sleep debt,” Kawhi-style
The term may not be as financially draining as a mortgage or student loans, but it is just as punishing. Sleep debt refers to the negative effects that build up when you regularly miss out on sleep.
Sleep coach Brandon Marcello has worked with the Toronto Raptors on their sleep habits. The team has prioritized recovery for their players, even making a four-day sleep seminar part of their training. Marcello told TSN that paying off sleep debt is huge, especially when gearing up for important events like the NBA playoffs.
“If you’re going into a travel period or a season with tons of sleep debt, that’s a problem,” he said.
Watch: What parents are willing to trade for a good night’s sleep. Story continues below.
For moms and dads, this might be analogous to participating in activities that require a lot of energy, like soccer practice or organizing big family gatherings. The solution? Paying that sleep debt back by catching up on rest when you can.
It’s similar to the “load management” strategy used by former Raptors star Kawhi Leonard, a popular phrase in sports nutrition that saw plenty of airtime when Leonard was on and off the court. By deliberately not playing certain games, the player rested enough to maximize recovery and performance.
Incorporating load management in your evenings might look like sleeping as much as you need to on the weekend after a particularly exhausting week or ahead of one.
If you didn’t get your average amount one night, you can make up the difference by adding the lost hours to the following.
When you finally drift off, make it count
Toronto Raptors forward Pascal Sikam told TSN that he’s learned to turn off the screens when he turns in.
“My first couple years, I barely slept, just because I was always doing something on my phone,” he said.” But now that I’m getting better and more experienced I understand that the more I sleep the better I perform.”
Getting quality sleep, especially the deeply replenishing stage known as REM sleep, is key to making the most out of your slumber. Studies have shown that getting REM sleep can improve your mood, help you respond better to stress, and leave you feeling energized when you wake up.
Parents can encourage REM sleep in themselves and their kids by limiting their exposure to screen time and reducing distractions, A.K.A., babies and kids who can’t sleep through the night.
Although sleep training is controversial, it’s been scientifically proven to work and is safe to practice, depending on the age and weight of the child.
But if the thought of ignoring your little one’s cries is too much to bear, gradually easing in and using the method that works for your family can be the best compromise for getting much-needed sleep.
Get creative like Fred
Fred VanVleet is in the MVP of sleep deprivation: as a recent dad, the Raptors player racked up praise for racking up points while managing the birth of his son during this year’s NBA Eastern Conference Finals.
He revealed to TSN that since the birth of his second child, a now eight-month-old daughter, he’s had to get creative and “find extreme ways to get sleep.”
For parents looking to channel VanVleet, getting creative with sleep schedules can look different for family.
Sometimes it might look like trading shifts, where one parent goes on the offensive and hunkers down with the kids, while the other takes a power nap. Alternatively, it can mean employing some underhanded tactics: one mom inspired many with her glow-in-the-dark pyjamas trick; it got her kids ready for bed faster and made it easier for the mom herself to wind down too.