By Brittney Stefanic, Certified Family Sleep Consultant
The family sleep struggle
Exhausted moms, we need to chat…
Getting a full night’s rest is vital to both mental and physical wellness. During the deeper stages of sleep, our bodies restore themselves—replenishing energy and boosting the immune system.
With this in mind, it’s no wonder that restful sleep is essential to keeping you and your family running as smooth as a new jar of peanut butter. (I mean, really, is there anything better than that first smooth spoonful sans crumbs and slobber? YUP – SLEEP!)
Yet sleep is one of the first things we sacrifice when the going gets tough.
If you are reading this, I suspect you are sleepy—possibly even exhausted—and ready for a change. No matter if your sleep deprivation is caused by stress at work, a needy baby, a clingy toddler or a constantly running mind, here are my top tips to help you sleep more soundly - starting tonight!
5 Tips For a More Restful Sleep
Create your sleep sanctuary
Your bedroom should feel calming and inviting. Making your bedroom into your sleep sanctuary can be very helpful for initiating sleep.
First, tidy up. Removing clutter, laundry, and other anxiety-inducers from your bedroom is a great place to start. If you’re anything like me, you are known for a giant pile of laundry that lives on your floor or even on your bed. This mound of clothes may just seem like a small inconvenience, but chances are it stimulates some sort of stress for you, and it should not be in your room! Find another place for it—guest room, laundry basket in the closet or better yet…get it put away!
Although it’s a time investment up front, a clothing clean out (check out Marie Kondo’s KonMari method) can pay off big in the long run.
Fewer clothes = less laundry = fewer laundry piles.
You may be surprised by how small changes like this can help you create a tranquil bedroom environment and benefit your sleep!
Next, make sure the blinds in your bedroom are blocking out light. It’s not just the early morning sun you’re trying to avoid. If you live on a busy street or have neighbors with bright porch lights, these can trigger a sleep hormone imbalance in the middle of the night.
Finally, set the thermostat between 68 and 72 degrees an hour before bedtime to make sure that your sleep space feels just right. You should also consider a thermostat check if you have a tendency to rise suddenly in the early morning. Between 3 and 4 A.M. there is a biological drop in temperature as the body prepares hormones for the day, which can interrupt your sleep cycle. To keep your body temperature warm during this drop, consider adding an automatic space heater to your sleep space or setting your home’s thermostat to accommodate this rhythmic change in order to prevent the early rising!
2. Turn off your devices
I know, I know. It’s tough to imagine putting your phone down any earlier. You need it to stay connected to work, you want it to mindlessly scroll on social media while in bed, and you have a big-time habit of taking it everywhere you go!
But there is science here that we just can’t ignore. In addition to being a potential cause of extra stress, the blue light that is emitted from our devices (phones, tablets, TVs) has been shown i to inhibit the production of melatonin. Melatonin is the body’s main sleep hormone, and we need plenty of it to fall asleep at bedtime and stay asleep through the night. Your phone use is actually interfering with the production of the hormones in your body... YIKES!
My advice… power down the electronics at least one hour before bedtime. This may feel like a HUGE stretch for you, and it did for me too, but guess what? YOU HAVE DONE HARDER THINGS! (Hmm… birthing and raising a child comes to mind.)
In order to minimize temptation, don't charge your device(s) near your bedside. Consider setting up a “charging station” in your laundry room or home office to minimize the pull of having your device within reach.
I suggest you pick up a new book to distract you from the fact that you aren’t checking your email or scrolling before bed. This shouldn’t be a business book, a parenting book, or a meal-prepping book. Think romantic beach read or something trending with book clubs! This new (or new to you) book should be a paper version so that you aren’t closing your Kindle app every few pages to “just check Facebook real quick”.
As for the wake-ups that occur in the middle of the night to feed your hungry babe or get your toddler back to bed, be sure to keep this time screen-free as well. I know it is SUPER tempting to pick up your device during your middle of the night cuddle session, but this will not only distract your sleepy little one, but it will stimulate your brain as well. It will be easier to get back to sleep (for all involved parties) if you keep the lights low and screens off.
Remember, there will be plenty of time tomorrow for social media and Netflix. Keep the night time hours reserved for rest!
3. Prioritize your bedtime routine
Creating and implementing a bedtime routine keeps our minds and bodies happy. We always like to know what’s next, which is why we crave consistency and resist change! There is a big misconception that bedtime routines are just for kids, but actually, a good sleep routine is essential even for adults.
Routines are not just about getting physically ready for bed. In fact, through a routine, signals are sent to the brain that bedtime is approaching, and the mind starts shutting down in preparation for sleep.
This routine doesn’t have to be long and drawn out, but doing the same steps in the 30 minutes, or so, before bed can be a useful trigger for your mind. A few things you can include: stretching, reading, meditating, coloring/doodling and completing personal hygiene needs (brushing teeth, washing face, showering, etc).
4. Be mindful of the time
When you feel like you have to do #allthethings, it can be REALLY hard to prioritize a scheduled bedtime. You feel obligated to take care of things around the house, you want to touch base with friends, you need to shower, and your only free time to binge watch Netflix is once the kitchen is cleaned, the lunches are packed and the rest of the family is in bed. I GET IT! But, if your sleep needs are not being met, it is going to be hard for you to keep on keepin’ on. Your body needs sleep which means you need to make it a priority.
For adults, if you can hit the 7 to 8 hour mark, you’re doing great. To do so, you may need to set an alarm to remind you to start wrapping up your Pinterest browsing or laundry folding and start getting yourself ready for bed. We use alarms to signal that it is time to wake up, so why not use one to remind us it is time for bed?
This hourly sleep goal might not be attainable every night, but if you can get into a habit of getting your family into bed a little earlier, you can find ways to get yourself into bed earlier, too. Within a few weeks, your bodies will adjust to the new schedule.
5. Make time for the outdoors
Spending time outside is a great way to burn off extra energy, soak up Vitamin D, spend quality time with your family, and boost production of our natural sleep hormone, melatonin. An hour outside is ideal, but any amount of time in the later afternoon or early evening can be helpful.
Tonight you could aim for a brisk walk around the block with your family. Or how about taking a part of your lunch break to walk around the building a few times? Or instead of meeting a client for coffee, suggest a leisurely walk to touch base. It is amazing what natural light and endorphins can do for syncing up our natural body clock and making sleep a little easier to come by.
If you bundle up, outdoor time IS possible, even in the cold winter months!
What’s in it for me?
These tips may seem like a lot of work, and in reality, they can be. But if you are expecting your family to function like a well-oiled machine, you’ve got to get everyone sleeping better, including yourself!
Doesn’t it sound great to have a stress-free bedtime, a smooth morning wake-up and an overall happy and well-rested family? That should be motivation enough for cleaning up the sleep hygiene in your house and prioritizing one of the most basic human needs… SLEEP!
You’ve got this, mama. Keep dreaming the big dreams while you are getting your much-deserved sleep.
About the Author:
Brittney Stefanic is a certified whole-family sleep consultant working with ages newborn through adult. She knows from personal experience that life as a mom trying to do #allthethings requires REST! As an educator, Brittney believes in the power of teaching and loves supporting families in meeting their sleep goals through her customized sleep plans. You can follow her on Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook @brittneystefanicsleep for access to her free sleep tips and tricks and opportunities for sleep virtual Q&A sessions. If your family is struggling with sleep, the challenges of motherhood can be even trickier but sleep CAN be your reality.