I didn’t sleep through the night for 7 years.
That isn’t something you expect when you decide to try for a family!
I don’t want to sugar coat it, parents, sleep is something you take for granted until it’s gone. You are super fortunate if you get a baby that sleeps and you are a good sleep trainer. Unfortunately, whether it’s me or my three babies, they wake me at night often. Even now. I used to get woken up by the kids multiple times a night every night.
I would never suggest taking advice from me on how to get your baby or child to sleep through the night, but I have learned a lot about how to function on interrupted, not great sleep.
Here are my seven best strategies:
1. Work with your sleep cycles as best you can. Our brains’ sleep cycle works in 90 minutes, and the goal is to get 7.5 or 9 hours of sleep each night. The next best thing isn’t 7 hours, or 6.5, it’s actually 6 of sleep. Not lying in bed, but sleep. So if you get woken up just after the 6 hour mark, it’s best to get up if you can’t sleep another 90 minute cycle because it’s morning. The extra 30 minutes will do more harm than good and you’ll wake feeling groggy.
2. Go to bed early, don’t sleep in. As if you could sleep in, right?! Those little monsters will wake you up early anyway! Research proves that the most restful, useful sleep to your brain is based on circadian rhythms of 10pm-2am. Those are the key hours to get more bang for your buck of sleep restoration. Beneficial hormone secretions are at their highest during these hours - human growth hormone - which keeps us young and rejuvenates our bodies - and melatonin. Around 10pm our bodies give us a second wind of energy that should be used for restoration, not watching Netflix!
3. Don’t eat 4 hours before bed. Digestion interrupts your sleep - maybe subconsciously, but it still affects it. So if you know it’s going to be a rough night or you might not be able to get the best rest, help your body out and don’t make your digestive system work, too! Let your body focus on sleep and restoration instead. You are hungry before bed because your body is tired and it wants fuel to stay awake. We confuse ourselves with all the screens and indoor lights, but it’s best to rest a few hours after the sun goes down.
I used to get a second wind and surge of energy in the evening, but now I’ve realized that it’s because I had all those screens going and I’d have a snack that gave me more energy. If you need to stay awake, those things help, but if you’re trying to catch up on sleep eliminate them for awhile until you feel more rested.
4. Make your room as dark as possible. Science has proven that your body can sense light through your skin, not just your eyes. If you don’t have blackout curtains, grab a sleep mask and make sure to cover up. Even the light from your power strips, digital clocks and thermostats can affect the way your circadian rhythms flow. Keep it cool in the room and dark. I used to be nervous with a sleep mask and little ones, but I got used to it fast.
5. Do your most important mental work in the morning. We wake up in the morning refreshed and every decision we make throughout the day - what to wear, what to eat, what to bring, how to parent affects our mental capacity and makes us more and more tired. Mentally we are fresh in the morning, although we might be a bit tired upon first waking if we’ve had nights of interrupted sleep cycles. Drink a big glass of water by an open window or outside and do a little bouncing, stretching or jumping jacks to wake your body up.
6. Plan your day the afternoon before, so you’re not making all those small decisions in the morning and wasting decision making energy. Ideally, I’d get up and exercise or meditate but when I’m really tired, I force myself to at least lie awake in bed and go over my day and start remembering my intention for the day. I go over the few things I need to do personally to make the needle move, what my kids need from me and what the day holds for me to get done.
If I’m at the end of a sleep cycle, I will get up before the kids and sneak down to the kitchen and make coffee or tea and revel in the bliss of the quiet house. My kids seem to have a 6th sense and know I’m down there so it doesn’t last long, but if I get 15 minutes the day is golden!
7. Curb that coffee addiction. If you haven’t slept well or gotten enough uninterrupted sleep cycles in, it’s going to be tough not to get tired throughout the day. Caffeine is a crutch that will make your morning easier but your afternoon harder. I still spent years using it and just dealing with the afternoon drag. If you can, try and save it for when you really need it and instead get your energy from water, tea, fruits and veggies.
I started having a green smoothie a day for awhile and it really changed my energy levels only when I tapered off the coffee. The difference was amazing. If you can’t give up coffee, try an afternoon green smoothie pickup instead of a sugary snack and lots and lots of water. If you’re not a water drinker, add lemon or ginger and lemon and cayenne pepper to pep you up.
BONUS TIP! Spark afternoon energy with a nap or sun, movement and water. I would have LOVED the luxury of a nap for years, but never felt right about it when I was in charge of the little ones. It’s one thing when you have a baby, but my toddlers were unpredictable. If you can nap, keep it to about 20 minutes of actual sleep - so give yourself 30 minutes. About 20 minutes is half a sleep cycle, which is what you should aim for to get the most rejuvenating effects.
If you can’t nap, get outside and take a walk. Skipping, bouncing and jumping jacks rev up your nervous system and work even better! If you can’t get outside, get some kind of sunlight on your skin if you can.
I know it's rough, but I'm out on the other side of this after three kids and it will get better! Hang in there and do the best you can. Ask for and be willing to receive help. I'm curious: so please comment below and let me know how many times you are interrupted at night these days.... Happy resting!
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