We often hear about young parents not getting enough sleep because they have to attend their newborn at all hours. However, as your children grow, you realize that sleep deprivation is recurring in your life as a parent: illnesses, nightmares and sleep terrors, early mornings and late nights, you name it.
In my case, not only do I have a five-year-old who used to wake up every night until recently and still wakes me up regularly, but I find it very difficult to go to bed early when the evening is my only alone time.
However, I’m starting to wonder if one more hour of “me time” makes up for the lack of sleep I’m experiencing. Maybe getting more sleep would be an even better investment in my self-care.
So why is sleep so important in the first place?
Importance of sleep
Even though we tend to underestimate their impact, sleeping habits have a significant effect on our health. Among other things, sleep deprivation can affect our immune system, hormones, metabolism and healing processes.
Mental and emotional well-being
While we are sleeping, our brain is busy working processing the previous day and preparing for the next. Sleep deprivation makes you irritable and short-tempered. We all know that a rested parent will be (more) patient.
Level of performance
A better sleeping hygiene will make you feel more energized and increase your skills and level of performance. It will affect your ability to solve problems, learn new things and be creative. Sleep also has an impact on your performance at physical exercise. It makes sense, who is keen on working out when you are already struggling to find the energy to get through the day?
Getting enough sleep will allow you to concentrate better and increase your productivity. For instance, it has been proven that sleep deprivation has a negative impact on your memory performance and capacity to make decisions.
Tips to sleep better
1. Become aware of the importance of sleep and make it your priority
We tend to underestimate the importance of sleep and the benefits a better sleeping hygiene can bring. See sleeping as an investment in your health, well-being, efficiency, and productivity.
2. Stick to a consistent sleep schedule
Ideally, you should go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. Luckily, our children are there to keep us from sleeping in on weekends!
3. Listen to your body
As much as possible, try to go to bed when you feel tired. Usually, you will start yawning and feel drowsy.
4. Adopt a bedtime routine
Find relaxing, sleep-inducing activities before going to bed: taking a bath, reading a book, listening to music or an audiobook – whatever helps you to wind down.
5. Avoid electronics before bed
This advice is well-known but can be quite difficult to follow. Switch off your phone, tablet and/or laptop at least an hour before going to bed. If this seems really unfeasible, then at least use a blue light filter. Today, most devices are equipped with a night mode, else, you can find several apps to adjust your screen lighting in the late hours.
6. Adapt your diet
Ideally, you should avoid big meals in the evening, as well as caffeine and alcohol. Also, make sure you balance your fluid intake such as to drink enough but not too much to avoid having to visit the bathroom during the night.
7. Exercise during the day
Regular exercise has a positive effect on your sleep quality. Just make sure you don’t fit in your workout too late in the day as it might otherwise interfere with sleep. Here are some tips to exercise as a parent.
8. Clear your head
Have you ever had the feeling that as soon as your head hits the pillow, your thoughts start racing? I found that writing down my thoughts helped to quiet the mad swirling in my head. You could also try to relax through deep breathing, meditation or just visualizing a peaceful place or thinking of something positive.
9. Optimize your sleep environment
Make sure the room is dark and the temperature cool enough. Also, ensure that your bed is comfortable (appropriated mattress and covers) and that it’s tidy and inviting. Ideally, your bed should only be for sleeping and sex – this way, your brain will make the right associations and it will be easier to fall asleep.
10. Stop seeking perfection
Don’t hesitate to prioritize your sleep over chores or other activities. Sometimes, especially if you have a baby, the cleaning and laundry have to wait so that you can rest and be fit.
Don’t feel guilty for allowing your child to sleep with you when they wake up during the night if it helps you get enough sleep to get through the next day.
11. Find options to allow you to sleep a bit longer in the morning
You could take turns with your partner on weekends – one looking after the children while the other stays in bed.
Ask older siblings or grandparents to look after the children from time to time to allow you to rest.
What to do when you cannot sleep
- Try to focus on relaxing: Breathe deeply, feel your body.
- Avoid thinking: Racing thoughts will keep you awake.
- Get up and do a non-stimulating activity if you cannot go back to sleep after 15 minutes (e.g., reading).
Especially as a parent, taking care of our sleep is a major factor in achieving a healthy lifestyle. The first step to adopting healthier sleeping habits is to realize the importance of sleep and make it a priority.
What about you? Do you struggle to get enough sleep? Let me know if you have other tips and strategies to make sure you get enough rest.