By Kara Richardson Whitely 

A cold rain pelted down on my rooftop. It was especially hypnotic because my office is in my attic. It lulled me to start nodding off, just like my 1-year-old son’s sleep machine helps him nap.

I could no longer ignore the fact that I needed sleep.

Of all the things I’ve learned over my journey to health, one that aids and abets me to make terrible food choices is when I’m overtired. As a mother of three children (ages 8, 4, and 1), that’s all the time.

I’ve always been a light sleeper, the one who wakes up with every creak and sound in our house. My husband could sleep through a rumbling bear coming through our room. I am awake every time our baby makes a peep.

Perhaps it is in my nature. When I was a kid, maybe 12 years old, I had a paper route and had to be awake before sunrise to deliver the Burlington Free Press in our condo development. That meant trudging uphill and often in snow (often before a snow plow had cleared a path) regardless of how tired I was.

I’ve worked as the shift supervisor at a bagel shop with the opening shift. I often had to arrive at work at 5 a.m. and convinced myself that I needed more carbs to stay awake. I’ve been a night police reporter, staying alert in the darkest hours as crime unfolds.

I’ve learned to survive on a sleep deficit. I can manage with about 6 hours of rest. But when there’s a night of teething and I’m awake every few hours or when our toddler comes in and takes over our bed, leaving me with a neck ache from clinging for dear life over the edge of the bed and unable to fall back asleep, then I am a wreck.

Since I work there are few opportunities to catch up. But on this particular day, I had an hour opening in my schedule. Instead of trying to force my way through my to-do list, I took a break.

And I took a nap. At first, I couldn’t settle down. I checked my phone about three (OK, five) times to make sure I wasn’t missing anything important. But then I finally settled down and slept.

The heaviness of not being able to function started to drift away. Just the act of being still and closing my eyes was a relief. And then, I was out. I slept for about 40 minutes but that time was absolutely golden.

While it is important to keep charging through — be an active mom, exercise with wild abandon, and get through my mountainous to-do list — sometimes the best thing I can do for myself is rest: to know when I really, really need sleep. And then go rest.

Rest is one of the most actively healthy things I can do for myself. 

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