Fact: almost all new parents are exhausted. The level of fatigue during the newborn phase is mind-blowing and, luckily, doesn’t last forever. But even after your baby or toddler is now sleeping more at night, many mums (and dads) are still running on empty. So how can we get more ZZZs even if our kids aren’t the best sleepers?
The key is using tools to ensure you get better sleep and feel more rested in a shorter period of time. The good news is that making a few minor adjustments to your day (and your attitude) about sleep can make a really positive difference to the quality of sleep you get. So, even when there aren’t many hours available for you to get sleep (hello night feeds, teething, night terrors, bed wetting….), these tips will ensure the sleep you DO get, even if only a little, is really good quality sleep, to help restore and revive you in order to give yourself the deserved rest you need to function.
You’re all probably aware of the need to switch off from your electronic devices, to be in a cool room and avoid stimulants like caffeine during the afternoon - but here are some sleep secrets you might not have known about…
1. Get serious about bedtime
If you want more sleep but your little one wakes each day at 6am, then one solution is to go to bed earlier in the evening. Set a bedtime that you do your best to stick to. It’s easy to get distracted (thanks, Netflix!), so I find it really helps to set a phone reminder to “wind down” 30 minutes before bedtime as a reminder to start preparing for bed.
Routine is the most important factor in getting good sleep, it is the guardian of good sleep. The body likes routine – it prefers to eat, sleep, and be active on a schedule. So stick to the same sleep schedule. Get up and go to bed at a similar time each day.
Our eyes need exposure to outdoor light because of a hormone in our body called melatonin - it regulates our sleep and wake pattern and also acts on receptors in your body to encourage sleep. If we stay indoors, it means a lack of exposure to proper light, which reduces melatonin levels. So make sure you get outside every day.
4. Park your stress
Try not to take those worries to bed. Tell yourself you've done all you can for that day and there's nothing more to do right now. Anything still on your mind can be picked up again the next day, after a good night's sleep. Now is time for rest. If anxious thoughts are preventing you from getting some shut-eye and you can't stop going over your to-do list or worries in bed, try writing it all down. Keep a pen and paper by your bed to do this. Sometimes it can be trying to remember everything that actually keeps us from switching off properly so also jot down the things you need to do the next day, this will help you ‘release’ them from your memory.
5. Use breathing techniques to de-stress
The 4-7-8 technique forces the mind and body to focus on regulating the breath, rather than replaying your worries when you lie down at night. It also helps soothe frazzled nerves and sends a wave of calmness through your body by activating the parasympathetic nervous system. To practice this start first by fully exhaling and emptying your lungs. Then, breathe in for a count of 4 through your nose. Hold for a count of 7. Breathe out through your mouth for 8. This method has been described as a ‘natural tranquilizer for the nervous system’, so do give it a try.
6. Introduce essential oils to your sleep routine
Essential oils are amazing for supporting healthy sleep. There are an array of essential oils that can help you relax, mentally and physically, and make it easier for you to fall asleep and sleep more soundly. My personal sleep favourites? Lavender is a soothing scent that’s long been associated with relaxation and sleep, and used as a natural remedy for anxiety too. Jasmine has some serious sleep-promoting capabilities. Research shows jasmine improves sleep quality and cuts down on restless sleeping, as well as increasing daytime alertness. A 2002 study showed that jasmine delivered all of these sleep benefits, as well as lowering anxiety, even more effectively than lavender.
7. Avoid sleep-stealing snacks
If you’re having trouble falling asleep, cut yourself off refined sugar and processed carb snacks by early afternoon. Refined grains and sugars disrupt your steady-state down-time metabolism, creating blood sugar and insulin fluctuations that may well wake you up at odd times. If you need to snack, make it a high-protein snack because that should avoid the blood sugar/insulin rollercoaster and will also provide a helpful dose of L-tryptophan, an amino acid needed to produce melatonin to aid sleep.
8. Don’t ignore your sleep wave
So you stayed up a little too late watching Netflix? Now, you’re in bed and wide awake. If you’ve been there for 45 minutes waiting for sleep to come, odds are, it won’t, not for at least another hour and maybe longer. You’ve missed catching the sleep wave or what some researchers call the “sleep gate,” the period of time that your body will let you fall asleep. Researchers have found that the body cycles through different sleep phases in the course of a night. At the beginning of each phase, which lasts for around 90 minutes, the “gate” opens and if you miss it, you’re out of luck.
So if it’s been 45 minutes and nothing’s happening, sleep-wise, there’s no point in fighting it. That will just stress you out more as the anxiety that surrounds insomnia makes the insomnia that much worse, a classic vicious circle. So break it! Get out of bed and do something calming for the next hour or hour and a half – read a book (in low light!), or do some other relaxation technique (i.e., meditation, restorative yoga, breathing exercises). Time will pass, pleasantly, and you’ll be ready to ride the next sleep wave when it hits.
What’s more, if you set an alarm when you go to bed, consider your 90-minute sleep cycle. You want to sleep either 6 hours, 7.5 hours or 9 hours per night. You don’t want to go to bed and set your alarm for 6.5 hours later. You will wake up from a deep sleep…groggy and so tired. Set your alarm for a half hour before that, and you will wake up from light sleep…refreshed and ready to go.
Louise Murray is a Holistic Health Coach with the qualification from the Institute of Integrative Nutrition and a Mindfulness Teacher. She takes a truly holistic approach to health and wellness by nourishing people ON and OFF the plate by coaching them with nutrition advice combined with lifestyle and behaviour change, healthy habit formation, mindset tools, mindfulness and self-care practices