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Why Moms Can’t Sleep

More and more moms are saying they aren't getting anywhere near enough ZZZs -- and it's wrecking their health, their careers, even their marriages.

The New Night Owls

Kids and busy schedules aren't the only things keeping moms up at night. Countless women say they actually enjoy being up during the wee hours, because it's the only personal time they can manage during the week. "I love to stay up late," says Bunny Perry, 38, of Fern Park, Florida, who uses this time to catch up on reading. "I have children and a hubby who demand my time. So my time is after 11pm."

Kate Miller, 27, of Chandler, Arizona, confesses that nights are the only time she can do what she wants without feeling guilty. "At 3am I can't run errands and can't return phone calls," she says. Freed of responsibilities, Miller browses eBay or tracks down old friends on Classmates.com. "I can do anything I want or nothing at all and not feel bad about it," she says. "This is my time."

Risks of Not Relaxing

No matter how much moms may enjoy their time to themselves at night, the toll sleeplessness takes on their days isn't worth it. According to the NSF, women with sleep problems report a 30 to 50 percent drop in their enjoyment of daytime activities. And about a quarter say their sleep problem undermines their performance on the job and their ability to care for their families. In fact, a person who's gone 20 to 25 hours without sleep performs only as well as someone with a .1 percent blood alcohol level (the level of intoxication), says Deelip Chatterjee, M.D., director of the Neuro Sleep Center at the Barnert Hospital in Paterson, New Jersey.

Some mom insomniacs find themselves so tired during the day that they can't do their jobs at all. According to a study by Zammit, people with insomnia use nine times more absentee days than those who sleep. Insomnia forced Niki McDonald to quit her at-home day-care business, because she felt too spacey to be responsible for the children's safety. "I don't feel comfortable if I'm going to fall asleep while caring for someone's child," she says.

Relationships can also suffer: About one in three women says her bad sleeping habits interfere with her relationship with her spouse. "Modern couples, especially those who both work office jobs, don't get enough bonding time as it is," says Zammit. Add insomnia to the equation -- the wife who crashes early, then is up at 3am; the husband who sleeps from midnight until seven -- and couples can go weeks without having a decent conversation.

Lack of sleep can also undermine marriages by depleting women's libidos, to the point where they can hardly remember the last time they wanted to use the bed for anything but sleep. As one 29-year-old woman confessed, "Before I had kids -- and started suffering from insomnia -- my husband and I would have sex two to three times a week. Now it's just a few times a month. When he gets in bed and makes the moves on me, I usually pretend to be asleep," she says, "but he knows I'm just pretending, which keeps me tense and awake longer."

What's more, in 10 years' time, the effects of not getting enough sleep can be deadly. According to a recent study of more than 70 women by the Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, women who sleep five or fewer hours nightly for 10 years have higher blood pressure and a 39 percent higher risk for coronary heart disease than women who get eight hours. "This research sends an important message to a population that's spending more and more time working and staying up late," says researcher Najib Ayas, M.D. "Adequate sleep should not be considered a luxury, but an important component of a healthy lifestyle."

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