Sleep… the holy grail of parenting. Anyone who has looked after children know the hellish ordeal that comes from sleep deprivation or any kind of lack of sleep; it is pure torture. Over the last two weeks, my 8-month-old has had a bout of sleep regression, waking very frequently, almost every 2 hours, worse than when he was a newborn. I am beyond exhausted! But of course, I’m a mum so there’s no option to just lay in bed all day and catch up!
Sleep is important. It’s a time of rest and rejuvenation for our body. It’s the time when our brain is the most active. It’s the time when our unconscious mind processes everything that is going on around us in our daily lives. We need sleep to be healthy, we need sleep to be alive. Poor sleep contributes to poor mental health and in turn, sleep disturbances can be a reflection of certain mental health conditions including depression and anxiety.
A lack of sleep also affects our ability to parent. When we’re sleep deprived, we’re exhausted and more likely to be in a bad mood. If we’re in a bad mood then our patience wears thin and we’re more likely to yell at our kids. When we’re yelling, our kids don’t learn as well. They feel the emotion behind what we are yelling, and miss out on the lesson that we are trying to teach them. Our parenting isn’t effective. We suffer, our kids suffer and our family as a whole suffers.
We all know that we should all get more sleep, but how do we actually do it? Parenting is a 24-hour job so that even if you have children that are the best sleepers, there will be days when you wake up feeling as if you’ve had little to no sleep.
How do we overcome this? How do we cope? How can we manage when we’re working on almost empty? There are two ways to address the problem – looking at the quality of our sleep and how we act in response to being exhausted.
1. Go to bed early
Too often I speak to mums who stay up late watching TV or flicking around on social media. They’re up cleaning, doing housework, or spending that much loved time with partners or husbands. Sometimes staying up late is the only time a mum has to herself. All of this is okay, to a point. If you’re staying up that little bit later and the kids are sleeping well, then why not. But if your kids are sleepers who are up a lot then this might not be such a wise choice.
If you stay up late so you can connect with your partner, then make sure that you actually do it! Make it meaningful time. Switch the TV off, put the phones away and connect, really talk to each other.
If you’re staying up late to do housework/chores, then set a time limit. Do it straight away (always eat the frog first!) when the kids are asleep, do 30 / 40 minutes only then put everything down. It will all be there the next day and you getting sleep is more important than the laundry!
If you’re a mum who stays up late to spend time by herself then again make sure it is productive self-care time. Crashing in front of the TV might feel nice but isn’t necessarily restorative. Spend some time doing something nice for yourself, have a luxurious bath, do some exercise, meditate or do some yoga. Make the time that you spend in the evening for you, make it count!
2. Turn off your phone an hour before bed.
If you’re flicking through Facebook, reading emails or just reading junk online then you’re stimulating your brain. The blue light emitted from our devices disrupts the output of the hormone melatonin which is responsible for regulating our sleep-wake patterns. You can download filters for the screen that come on at nighttime but they aren’t a replacement for simply turning it off.
When we’re connecting with the world through our phone, we deprive ourselves of looking after ourselves. The hour before bedtime is when we should be connecting with who we are. It’s a time for journaling, meditation, stillness and calm. If we’re stimulated by the latest argumentative thread on Facebook or drama on TV then we don’t relax as well when it is time to sleep and our sleep isn’t that lovely quality sleep when we wake up refreshed and energised.
3. Be comfortable
We all know how it’s easy to become obsessive about the correct sleeping environment for our children. Of course, we follow SIDS Guidelines for a safe sleep environment. We buy room temperature thermometers, special sleeping bags, discuss on mothers group pages about what we’re dressing our babies in so they’re not too hot or too cold. We’ll install heaters or air-conditioning. All of this to make sure that our kids sleep well. The same applies to us!
Clean sheets and clean PJ’s can go a long way to helping you feel comfortable in bed. Don’t have the room too hot or cold. Have appropriate bedding. Everything that you do for your child at bedtime, do for yourself! You are an equal priority! (Bedtime story optional!).
4. Cut out the caffeine!
Yes, shock horror! One of the best things you can do for your sleep is to stop drinking caffeine. If you must have a cup of coffee or tea that isn’t de-cafe, then have it first thing in the morning, long before your bedtime. Beware of hidden forms as well. That 3 pm chocolate snack? There’s caffeine in there too.
Caffeine is a stimulant and causes the body to produce adrenaline, that lovely hormone that kicks us into gear. It, however, isn’t very good to have it floating around in your system if you’re trying to relax and get a good nights sleep. Avoid it as much as possible and you’ll be able to fall asleep faster and get that quality sleep.
If you’re a person who needs that cup of coffee in the morning to wake yourself up, then remember there are other things that you can do instead. Get some fresh air and sunlight (without your sunglasses on). Just like the blue light from our phone disrupts our sleep in the evening, sunlight hitting our retina in the back of our eye can help us to wake up. It tells our body to stop producing the melatonin that makes us sleep. Fresh air is always helpful to wake us up and put us in a better mood (and bad moods often come with being tired).
5. Do some exercise
Are you dedicating some time to doing exercise everyday? Apart from our general physical and mental wellbeing, regular exercise will also help us with our sleep. When we exercise, we fall asleep faster
We are actually tired at bedtime, and for the right reasons.
Have you rolled your eyes yet? Thought that yes you know you should be exercising but who can find the time? There is really no excuse. Look objectively at your day. How much time do you spend doing ‘busy’ work that isn’t productive? Flicking around on Facebook and before you know it almost an hour is up? That time could have been spent exercising. You don’t have to go to the gym or even have any special equipment. Flick YouTube on and search for aerobic exercise videos. Join an online subscription for yoga videos. There are an endless number of solutions that don’t even require you leaving your house!
If those points are looking directly at our sleep, what about how we act in response to being tired? This point is what I know saves me. It can be hard, and even harder to hear but I promise if all you did is this one thing, you would feel more energised every day.
Stop complaining! Yep, that’s right, stop talking to everyone about how tired you are. Stop mentioning how many times you were up. Don’t measure the number of hours you had. Don’t whinge, don’t whine, stop talking about it! Controversial a bit isn’t it!
When we talk about something enough, we draw more of our conscious attention to it. Just think about when you were trying to become pregnant or ready to give birth. I bet you suddenly noticed all the pregnant women everywhere or all the newborn babies. Were there suddenly more of them around? Probably not. Instead, your mind was highlighting to you, what you were consciously focusing on in your own life.
The same applies for sleep. If you complain about it, talk about it, focus on it, then you will feel more tired. You’ll feel the exhaustion and the sleepiness in a heightened state. You’ll be even more frustrated at your child who kept you up. You won’t focus on the joy that you can get out of the day because you’ll be watching the clock, counting down the hours until you can finally lay down. Of course, it’s important to share our journey with our friends so it’s okay to mention your poor night sleep once, just don’t go on and on about it!
Sleep Regression WILL Pass!!
We all must remember that the saying is true, this too shall pass. My eldest daughter who turned 6 this year has only just started sleeping through the night in the last few months. My almost 4 year old still wakes up, but I do have to say she’s better than her sister (she’s always been my good sleeper). My baby? Well, he’s 8 months. I don’t expect him to sleep through. Yes, the nights are long, but I know that they will pass and I will miss those nighttime feedings and those snuggly cuddles.
Ride your sleep deprivation like a wave Mumma. Don’t resist it. Support yourself with choices that maximise the amount of quality sleep you can get. Look after yourself physically and emotionally. Change your attitude towards being tired. You will reap the benefits and in turn, so will your kids!