I have always been a big fan of sleep. I was the kid that my mom had to sign up for afternoon kindergarten because I didn’t want to get out of bed in the morning. She still reminds me how she’d have to ask, “Do you want breakfast or lunch? Because you don’t have time for both.” This is all fine and dandy until you have kids of your own that wake up before the sun. Between that and crazy jobs that I’ve worked late at night, my sleep has definitely suffered since becoming a mom. I’ve asked my mom more times than I can count, “Why am I so tired all the time? How can I get more sleep?”
I’ve come to realize that almost nothing comes closer to teaching you what pure exhaustion feels like than being a parent. I’ve struggled deeply to figure out how to get more sleep. When that failed, I desperately tried all I could to adapt and adjust to a complete lack of it. Our kids need us 24/7, while all of our other responsibilities pile on as well, leaving us very little free time. That’s why it’s so easy to use our time in the evenings, when kids are in bed, to work on unfinished projects, chores, or even to spend some alone time binging our favorite tv shows. So how can we get more sleep as parents? Or even just make the sleep we do get count.
Why is Sleep So Important?
I often live in denial, telling myself that a few less hours of sleep won’t make that big of a difference. I think we all do this from time to time, prioritizing other responsibilities to our own well-being. So understanding why we need to prioritize sleep can be beneficial. Until recently, I didn’t fully understand how detrimental my lack of sleep was to my physical and emotional health. Here are just a few of the ways adequate sleep can help us specifically as parents.
Patience is one of the things I struggle most with when I am getting less sleep. When I only get a few hours, I notice that I lose my temper a lot more often with my kids about little inconsequential things. However, on days when I feel well rested, I have more motivation to plan fun activities that will keep them happy, and I’m better able to handle arguments without losing it.
Increases Brain Function & Productivity
Sleep helps your brain function at its full capacity. That’s why, as teenagers, your mom probably told you to go to bed early if you had a test the next day. Lack of sleep can negatively impact your ability to concentrate on tasks, causing your productivity to suffer as well.
Fights Off Disease
A few weeks back, our home was hit by yet another seasonal virus. My husband and I got it bad and were plain miserable, while my kids were untouched. When I started showing symptoms, I became so frustrated. I was super sick only 4 weeks previously with a persistent cold. In January, we were hit several times as well. I told my husband that my immune system must be on vacation this year. He replied that my lack of sleep was to blame.
One of the most interesting things about sleep is the body’s ability to fight off and prevent disease. Your body produces proteins called cytokines while you sleep. Some of these cytokines are released from your immune system to protect, prevent, and fight against invaders. Simply put, if your body isn’t able to produce the essential components to keep you healthy, then you will find yourself under the weather with every cold or flu your kids manage to bring home.
Ways to Get More Sleep (or Improve Your Current Sleep Routine)
Go to Bed Earlier and Wake Up Early
I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase, “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.” Plenty of people don’t like going to bed early, but getting up early is where many people tend to draw the line. But the benefits of getting into the habit are immeasurable. In my experience, as long as you’re getting enough sleep by going to bed early, getting up early is really not that bad. There’s actually something quite beautiful and relaxing about being up before everyone else and watching the sun come up.
Applying this can be the difficult part, though. If you’re not used to an early morning wake up, your body will take some time to adjust. If it’s difficult at first, don’t assume that you’re “just not a morning person.” Be consistent with your sleep schedule by going to bed and waking up at the same time, and your body will soon adjust.
One way to make the adjustment easier is to plan a fun activity in the morning that you will look forward to doing. If you enjoy exercising, plan to go for a run or schedule a yoga class. If you enjoy gardening, set out your gardening supplies and plan to plant some flowers or veggies.
Still not convinced waking early is a good idea? Here are even more benefits to doing so.
Accomplish Your To-Do List Early in the Day
We all have things that need to get done. So plan to get those things done during the daytime instead of after you put your kids to bed. One of the best times to get things done is the morning (another reason to get up early!) I find I’m always most productive in the morning, so instead of allowing yourself to drag and be lazy, make a list of just 2 or 3 things you want to get done by 10 am. This often helps me be motivated, and I end up getting a lot more things checked off my list. This prevents me from having to stay up late at night to finish, and I get a lot more sleep as a result.
Create a routine before bed that helps you unwind. I often have a really difficult time falling asleep at night. However, doing things that relax my body at night definitely helps. This may include taking a hot bath/shower, doing some evening yoga, reading, or journaling. If you need more ideas on how to relax before bed, here’s some awesome ideas!
Put Electronics in Another Room
One of my biggest faults is my inability to turn my mind off when I’m going to bed. I start thinking of all the things that I need to get done the next day. When my mind starts to wander, I often grab my phone to look something up, which sends me down a rabbit hole. I’ve found that keeping my phone in the other room prevents me from pulling out my phone and losing hours of precious sleep time. Instead, keep a notepad or notebook next to your bed. That way when you think of something important you can jot it down quick instead of getting on your phone and getting distracted.
Share Parenting Responsibilities
If you’re a parent of a new baby, one of the best things you can do for yourself and your spouse is to share the responsibility of caring for your newborn. Some families like to take turns getting up to feed, change and comfort your baby. Some breastfeeding moms, however, prefer to get up each time during the night, while letting your husband take over other responsibilities during the day. Sharing responsibilities will look differently for everyone. No matter how you structure it, just make sure all of the burden isn’t falling on only one parent to take care of your baby.
If you or your spouse work long days or nights, splitting nighttime duties may not be 50/50. So find other ways that you can share the burden if you can. Remember, what’s “fair” in a relationship is not universal. What works for one couple will not work for others. So be sure to always communicate with your spouse and do what you both are happy and comfortable with.
Getting your kiddos to sleep well at night once they’re past the newborn phase is essential as well. Read up on sleep training basics here!
I love taking naps. If your spouse is home, ask them to give you some time away from the kids so you can take a quick nap. If your kids are a bit older, make sure they’re content, happy, occupied and safe, and take a quick nap. For those with newborns, you’ll definitely hear the advice to “sleep while they sleep.” This may be followed by eye rolls and “in an ideal world, yes.” For me, though, I’ve found this advice to be very true. Sometimes you need to let things go, like cleaning the house or finishing some task, and put yourself first. It can give you that boost you need to accomplish more throughout the remainder of your day.
Plan a Weekend Away to Recharge
There have been many times where I feel like I’m months behind in sleep. Sometimes, all you need is a few days to just sleep and relax. If possible, find family or friends that would be willing to watch your kids for a night or weekend.
As parents, it can feel impossible to get the sleep you need (or want). Our kids need us, day and night. Even after all our efforts, there will still be days where we feel worn out and tired. For me, I find comfort knowing that it’s normal to feel that way. As parents, we need to be more realistic and not put up this façade that we are perfect; that we are doing and accomplishing everything in life. Parenthood is tiring. But these exhausting years won’t last forever. Rely on others to help and give you the strength you need when things get hard. Because it truly does take a village.
Check out our blog at babycubby.com for all things parenting!