I wake up, but my eyelids are too heavy to open. I lay in bed, not yet ready for the wonderful chaos that is my life with children; laughter, food preparation, mediating relationships, cleaning, schooling/reading, schedule management, et cetera…the many facets of the one job that is Mother. It is all such a blessing, these tasks and kisses that fill my hours! I wouldn’t want it any other way. However, there is one perpetual problem that most parents face: getting enough sleep when we’re in the trenches raising young children.
I’ll be the first to admit my sleep is sub-par. This is not because my children are doing gymnastics in their bedrooms all night long, but because of my racing brain and back muscles that have a hard time relaxing. Because of this struggle, I have explored a vast many ways to improve sleep. Here are some of my favorite methods to create the optimal sleep environment. These tips are for everyone–not just parents:
-Weighted blanket: I came across this by accident and had to buy one for myself. It weighs 15 pounds and forces my body into the heavy feeling that accompanies deep sleep. It is wonderful! Base your blanket weight off of your current body weight (8-12% of your body weight). Etsy has wonderful homemade blanket options.
-White noise: we love box fans! Or, I just found this Fridababy white noise and air purifier that I might try next.
–Eye mask: This mask is my favorite, being that it darkens so well and it is made of satin.
-Gentle exercise (stretching/short run), physical therapy, or weight lifting when tolerated: Daily movement and avoiding over-exercising has been imperative for my sleep quality.
-Hydration: Don’t neglect your hydration levels! I usually have sole and lemon in water, electrolytes, raw milk/kefir, kombucha, or one of my many herbal teas. Dandelion root, red raspberry leaf, spearmint, nettle, turmeric, ginger, and skullcap are my top choices.
-Magnesium glycinate or an epsom salt bath before bed.
-Valerian root: This is my favorite herbal sleep aid. I will probably be using it for the rest of my life.
-Gratitude journaling/prayer: An anxious soul finds rest difficult. To remedy my own, I make sure to write a few things down that I’m grateful for that happened during my day. I also make sure to pray each morning, throughout the day, and before bed.
-Light reading: fiction is best for relaxing, in my opinion. 🙂
–CES unit: recommended by my naturopath, using this unit seems to help even out my thought patterns during the day and rest at night.
-The floor: Okay, okay…you don’t have to sleep on the floor! But my back pain is less significant when I sleep on the floor. So, a firmer mattress might help you stay asleep instead of being woken up by tight muscles. My experimentation with sleeping on a yoga mat and a comforter on my floor have impressed me so far, though.
The above tips are all great, but they don’t address the main point of this post: night parenting! God has certainly blessed my family with children who sleep well, but like most people, we have had to implement some strategies to ensure everyone gets the most restful sleep. Here are my best tips for helping babies/children to sleep well:
–The Baby Sleep Solution: When I first became a mom, multiple friends recommended this book to me. I read it thoroughly and applied all of its recommendations.
-Recognizing baby sleep cycle length: babies have 45-minute sleep cycles. I learned to never wake a baby up or go get my babies before their naps are over–two sleep cycles are key! Even if the baby naturally wakes up after the first sleep cycle, I let him/her fall back asleep for an additional sleep cycle each naptime.
-A set schedule, including naps for kids who need naps: I schedule sleeptimes for my kids. The older 3 go to bed every day between 7-7:30 pm, and I get them up in the morning between 8-9:00 am. My baby (Walter is 9 months old now!) sticks to this schedule, but requires two naps during the day at 10:30 am and 2:30 pm. We have used this schedule for so long that my baby starts getting tired fussing each day 10-15 minutes before his scheduled sleeptime. If a child is hyper at bedtime and avoids napping during the day, I don’t give them a naptime.
-Quiet time for everybody: Though I haven’t used Quiet Time for a while, I will be adding it back to our schedule this Fall. After lunch every day, my house is quiet (no talking, running, playing) for 1 hour after lunch. This allows me to relax and catch up on chores, while the kids can enjoy reading, art projects, or napping if they want to.
-Epsom salt baths: Magnesium is our friend! My kids always sleep better after an epsom salt bath.
-Mental and physical exercise: During the warmer months, I try to get the kids outdoors as much as possible for long walks, playing in the yard, biking, going to parks, and playdates. During the cold months, I do “dance parties” or “workouts” with the kids…they love it! There is almost nothing better (besides the Sun) for uplifting your mood than putting on some fun music and dancing around the house with your children/husband! Of course, doing lots of book reading, flash cards, or games will help your child use energy positively.
-Child training: The two older children are allowed to quietly play in their room until Dan and I tuck them into bed for the night. In the morning, they will quietly sit in the living room or in bed and stay quiet until we come and get them in the morning (unless they need something, of course!). They take themselves to the bathroom. Having the children adhere to these rules has allowed them to sleep well because they are not in the habit of completely waking up at night, and if they do happen to wake up, they simply put themselves back to sleep without making a sound. I do not promote poor nighttime habits in my home; snacking, loud play, and a bad attitude are not reasons to disrupt sleeptime. These boundaries have worked well for my family and there is plenty of time for everyone to get enough uninterrupted rest. My baby and my 3 year old also rarely wake up at night, and Dan and I only attend to their needs if they protest for more than 5 minutes without putting themselves back to sleep…and they’ll usually stop protesting after only 1-2 minutes before they fall back asleep. Consistent schedules and boundaries are exceptional sleep tools!:)
-No screen time: Sleep-disrupting blue light exposure from screens are not factors that affect our children. No scary movies, shows, or ideas are floating around in their innocent minds…no boogie monsters, no scary/corrupting concepts to keep them awake. I highly recommend no screen time…watch your children fall in love with books and their imaginations flourish with original ideas, focus, and the ability to self-entertain!
-A good diet full of real food: fats, protein, fermented foods for enzymes and probiotics, and complex carbohydrates yield a healthy body and mind. The children (and anyone else, for that matter!) will find rest easier than one who had too much candy and not enough nutrients for proper growth.
When I can’t get enough sleep at night, it is hard to have patience during the waking hours, and mealtimes can be particularly stressful. I certainly haven’t found a foolproof method of grappling with this challenge, but I’ve found a few things can help me get good food onto our table, despite being tired:
-Using leftovers: typically, I (at least) double every meal we make, so that I can use leftovers for any meal in the following days. Some of my favorite foods to make extra are soaked lentil dahl over rice, soaked beans topped with salsa and fried eggs, cooked plain ground beef, a quadruple batch of soaked oatmeal with honey/maple syrup/raisins/milk/kefir/yogurt, a gallon of homemade yogurt with toppings, fermented carrots/sauerkraut/vegetables and sliced cheese, or a huge milk kefir smoothie.
-Making a large breakfast, a light lunch, and a big dinner satisfies the kids. On the weekends, we usually do a large brunch and don’t eat again until dinner time. Two meals a day= less time in the kitchen.
-Some may disagree with this, but I occasionally heat up foods in the microwave to avoid the hassle of creating more dishes used to heat food. We have also started to use paper plates and napkins to make life easier when I have morning sickness, am massively pregnant, freshly postpartum, or in a rush. I usually keep them on hand so I have the option if needed. This is a temporary solution for us and will probably go away when the children can be more helpful with doing dishes.
Getting enough sleep as a parent can be difficult–especially as each child has different needs. Some people, like my husband, can usually fall asleep effortlessly, unless he is dehydrated or stressed. As for myself, sleep in all forms (naps, falling asleep, staying asleep, et cetera) is hard to come by. As I mentioned above, I’ve tried just about every method! I hope some of these tips can help you get a restful night of sleep tonight.