Kids!  We all love them, they are so cute and precious!  We all want to be the best mom we can be to our children.  We wake up with them every night until they are old enough to sleep through the night.  When they are sick we wake up with them.  We wake up with them when they are scared.  But what is all of this waking up in the middle of the night doing to our own sleep?  How can we sleep better at night once our kids don’t need us to wake up with them all the time?

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Why Is Sleep Important

Did you know that sleep is essential to life just like food and water?  Sleep deprivation can cause cognitive impairment, hallucinations, irritability, and paranoia.  For these reasons, a person driving without enough sleep can be just as dangerous as a person who is driving drunk.

We need sleep because it repairs our body and mind. Without it, we would be walking around like mean drunk people all the time. While there is still a lot that scientists don’t know, what they do know is enough to want to sleep more.

Sleep, despite what was once believed, is when our body and mind are extremely active.  Our body and mind are actively repairing themselves and exercising parts of the brain that don’t get used regularly.  Hormones are secreted to help kids grow, proteins are produced and repaired to build muscle, neurons are repaired and exercised for peak performance. (American Sleep Association)

 

 

So How Much Sleep Do We Need?

Studies say adults need around 7-8 hours a night, but that can be different for different people.  What is more important that quantity is the quality of the sleep that you get at night.  For that reason, sleep hygiene guidelines were developed. (American Sleep Association)

 

How To Sleep Better

 

Disclaimer:  I am not a medical professional.  I am a mom stating tips and habits that I find have worked for me after having kids.  I am not responsible for anything that does not work for you.  If you need real help with sleep, speak with your doctor.

1. When And Where To Sleep

Studies have been done on when you should sleep and also where you should sleep.   Scientists have determined that the best sleep practices to have are as follows.

Only nap for 30 minutes or less and not within 4-6 hours of bedtime.

Use your bed for sleeping at night and nothing else.  Examples of what not to do in bed are reading, watching TV, and working because they are all activities you do when you are awake.  Some studies say sex is okay, others say not to have sex in your bed.  I guess you will have to determine what works for you.  (Harvard Healthy Sleep )

 

How I Fixed It For Myself…

The best way I found to try to make your sleep right again is to only sleep at night.  Cutting out the daytime naps can be really difficult…I know, I had to do it!  But if you do, you will be more tired at night and hopefully sleep better.  I have found that by cutting out naps, I still wake up at night, but not nearly the same amount as I used to.

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2. GO TO BED AND WAKE AT SAME TIME EVERYDAY

Everyone’s body is on something called a Circadian Rhythm.  What this means is that our bodies have a natural 24 hour pattern that they follow everyday.  It is influenced but light, dark, genetics, hormones, and habits. (University Of Minnesota)

How I Fixed It For Myself…

There are some things that are out of our control when it comes to the Circadian Rhythm, such as genetics and hormones.  But there are also things that we can control.  Such as light, dark and our habits.  By creating a habit of going to bed and waking at the same time everyday, you are essentially training your body to expect a certain thing at a certain time of day.    When I started to do this, I also started eating breakfast at the same time, taking my medication for my thyroid at the same time, and working out at the same time every morning.  When you do things at the same time, it alerts your body what time of day it is and gets you back on a good rhythm.




3. Make Your Environment Relaxing

Studies have shown that the best environment for sleep is a dark, quiet room set at 70 degrees Farhenheit.

How I Fixed This For Myself

At first I began using earplugs.  They worked really well.  They blocked out all of the noise that my very alert mom ears hear all the time.  But that made me a little uncomfortable, so now I use a white noise machine.  It works really well, but some other options to try would be a loud fan or relaxation sounds like the ocean or a thunderstorm.

As for keeping things really dark, I currently make sure the door to my room is almost all the way closed so there is no light from the hallway.  I also use blackout shades on my windows to block out streetlights and the moonlight.  I am thinking about investing in a sleep mask, but I feel like that may be a little over the top! (Can you say Hoity Toity!)

4. Have A Relaxing Ritual

The last thing that studies have shown to work well is to have a nice relaxing ritual before bed.  Taking a bath, reading or doing some gentle stretching every night can tell your body it is time to sleep.

How I Fixed This For Myself…

This step was really hard for me mainly because it takes time.  My husband and I like to use our evenings to watch a few shows after the kids go to bed.  But that is hard to do if I am reading to myself, taking a bath or stretching.  What I have started doing is only watching one show with my husband.  Then going up to read (NOT in my bedwink) for about 20 minutes before I go to sleep.  I feel like this helps me unwind a little and sleep a little better.

 

Some additional things I have found that work for me

NOTHING SCARY OR DISTURBING LATE AT NIGHT

I can remember watching all the distrurbing CSI shows and serieal killer shows before I had kids.  They didn’t seem to bother me then.  But once my kids came along, for some reason I just cannot stomach that stuff anymore.  Probably has to do with the fact that I am scared to death these things could happen to my kids!

How I Fixed It For Myself…

Long story short, I started to only watch things at night that are funny or have a pretty dull storyline.  That way when I go to bed I do not have dreams about all the disturbing images I saw on TV!

 

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MEDITATION BEFORE BED

I know there are a lot of women and even men out there that have a hard time turning off their brains at night.  All of our daily responsibilities bleed into the nighttime when we are supposed to be sleeping.  We worry if we finished everything for the day.  Did we remember to give the kids their medicine, did we remember to pack lunches?  And on top of it all, we don’t just worry about us now.  But we carry our children’s worries as well.  All of those things can stress us out enough to not be able to fall asleep.

How I Fixed It For Myself…

I actually got this tip from my physical therapist.  If you don’t know about my back problems, you can read my story here Knowing that sleep helps heal your body, she believes sleep is very important.  So she suggested I try an app for progressive relaxation.  There are a variety of apps out there you can try.  I went through about 20 before I found one that really worked for me.  But the idea behind it is that it helps you refocus your mind and relax the muscles in your body.  In the beginning, it was hard to be still through it, but now, I am asleep before it finishes.  It has made a huge difference in the quality of my sleep.

NO FOOD OR DRINK AFTER 8 PM

Eating and drinking after 8 pm can do things to your body that you don’t want to happen at night.  When you eat really late, your metabolism thinks you just gave your body fuel.  We fuel our bodies to work, so eating late at night tells your body it is time to do some work and run around to burn off that fuel.  Definitely not good for sleep.

When you drink too late in the evening, you may be getting up to go to the bathroom every 2 hours.  Also, definitely not good for sleep.

How I Fixed It For Myself…

Simple, don’t eat or drink after 8 pm.  When we give our bodies the chance to fast for at least 12 hours at night, it helps our hormones to reset for the next day.  It is actually healthy to fast at night.  And then in the morning, you break your fast with…BREAKFAST!

As for water, I would always forget to drink during the day.  This would cause me to chugg down glasses of water at night  trying to make up for what I didn’t drink during the day.  Well, guess what.  I went to the bathroom all night long!  So now that I drink more during the day, I don’t need to drink anything after 8 pm.  It helps me sleep much better.




READ A BORING BOOK

This goes along with a good nighttime ritual, but takes it a step further.  This is something I learned from my years in college.  I can remember studying for a BIO or CHEM test and falling asleep every time I would try.  So I thought it may help me sleep now.  And it does.  I read books that are informational, not exciting and fun.  I am usually starting to fall asleep within 10 minutes.  Try it, it really works!

 

NO CAFFEINE AFTER LUNCH

There are different views on this.  Some studies say not to drink caffeine at all, some say not in the afternoon, and some say not for 4-6 hours before bed.  Caffeine is one of those chemicals that disrupts our daily circadian rhythm.  When our body is telling us it is tired, we just feed it some caffeine to shut it up!  If you do this before bedtime, the effects are predictable…you won’t sleep.

How I Fixed It For Myself…

You need to figure out what works for you.  I am not a coffee drinker anymore, I drink matcha tea in the morning.  It has less caffeine than coffee so it doesn’t make me as jittery during the day.  I also don’t fall asleep when IT wears off.  But regardless of what I drink in the morning I never drink caffeine after lunch.  This includes hot tea, iced tea, coffee, soda, or energy drinks.  If you drink them before bed, plan to be up all night or at least have a restless sleep.

NO EXERCISE IN THE EVENING

Exercise is great for sleep.  It gets your blood flowing for relaxation, it helps you relax your mind by focusing on something besides work or kids, and it uses up some of your energy.  These are all great things…just not at night.

Exercising releases adrenaline and endorphins that give us energy.  When you work out, you get your metabolism going which is the system that uses energy.  If your metabolism, adrenaline, and endorphines are all up, you will not sleep well because your body thinks it is time to go instead of stop.

How to Fix it…

Of course, we need to work out as often as possible but make sure you do it earlier in the day.  For myself, I have actually found that if I work out after 3 pm I sleep terribly.  So just a personal preference for me is to make sure I get my workouts done first thing in the morning.




 

TURN YOUR CLOCK AROUND

When you start looking at the clock every time you wake up, it trains your body to do that every night.  Your mind and body expect to wake up and look at the clock, it anticipates it.  That is why you wake up at the same time every night.

How I Fixed It For Myself…

I was always one of those people that would wake up and look at the clock repeatedly all night long.  When I finally started to turn my clock around, it made a huge difference.  Now I have to pay attention to whether I am tired or not to tell me to go back to sleep, not the time on the clock.  This also falls into getting rid of all the light in your room.  If you turn the clock around you cannot see the light.  Your alarm will still work even if you can’t see what time it is! wink

NO ALCOHOL AT NIGHT

I know this one stinks!  Especially since that is when we all want to drink.  It is always nice to have a glass of wine in the evening after a rough day, just to relax.  But studies have shown that drinking at night can stop you from entering a deep sleep and therefore miss out on sleep’s restorative properties.

How I Fixed This For Myself…

I rarely ever drink anything after 5 pm.  I have learned that when I do I do not sleep well at all and feel terrible the next day.  Even if it is just one glass of wine.  There are of course nights when I just accept the consequences and do it anyway, but most nights I refrain from that night cap.  If I want to have a drink to relax, I have one around 3 pm or 4pm.  That way the alcohol has time to get out of my system so I still sleep well.

 

There are also some more great tips by:

Harvard Med School Healthy Sleep

University of Minnesota

American Sleep Association

 

Overall, sleep is such an essential commodity in our lives.  And also one that we take for granted.  Make sure you make your overall quality of life better by getting better quality sleep.

Thanks for reading!

     

     

     

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