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I don’t know about you but everything deteriorates when I don’t sleep well. I know there are some unicorns out there (like my husband and my son apparently) who don’t need a ton of sleep and wake up energized and ready to take on the day. But I truly need 8 hours of sleep (preferably 9 hours) per night to maintain my sanity (literally) and be the best Mom I can be to Rigel.
As a baseline I have a hard time falling asleep and staying asleep, so I’ve had to learn a lot of strategies to maximize my sleep. This journey started for me over a decade ago when my then-therapist made the recommendation that getting better sleep would help with my mood. I was skeptical at first but she was right, I was a lot more able to maintain my mood once I started getting more sleep. Even though motherhood has thrown some curveballs into the sleep mix, these are things that I recommend Mamas do to get the best quality sleep they can.
1. Make Nighttime a Team Effort – I don’t have anything against traditional gender roles but Dad is just as much of a parent as Mom, so try to make the night time a team effort when the littles are still having multiple wake ups. If Dad really needs rest because of the demands of work this may mean Dad does the initial putting baby down and maybe helps first thing in the morning. This way Mom can wind down a little before sleep or she can ease into her morning. If Dad can withstand a wake up or two during the night (like my husband was able to – what a champ!) have them do those. I would have pumped milk available for him to bottle feed Rigel that we kept in the bathroom in a little cooler overnight with our bottle warmer next to it. This meant I would get a few hours of uninterrupted sleep, even though Rigel was waking up sometimes 4 or more times a night.
2. Brain Dump/ Plan Your Next Day Before Bed – I started doing this after I got my iPad. I have a journaling app where I journal. In my journal I write highs and lows, I put whatever is bugging me. Sometimes I even write out prayers to God. I consider this my brain dump. I also write out my agenda for the next day. This way I’m not creating the to-do list in my head while I’m trying to fall asleep. It’s made a huge difference in lowering my anxiety level.
3. Reading Something (Preferably Something Positive) – I started reading rom-com novels when I started working on lowering my cortisol levels to get my thyroid healthy. I read them before bed and I have found that reading before going to sleep helps me fall asleep faster. I say read something positive because at least for me, reading political thrillers (which I really love) or even science-fiction can get me riled up and have the opposite effect.
4. Use the Blue Light Filtering Options on Your Devices (if You Use Them Before Bed) – The best thing would probably be to go completely analog before bed but I honestly prefer reading on my Fire Tablet and have come to really like digital planning on my iPad. So as night time approaches I flip on my night-shift and keep the good times rolling until I’m done winding down. It helps ease my alertness level down so I can ease into my sleep session.
5. Avoid Shows or Movies with Dark or Violent Themes (And the News)Before Bed – I get it Mamas, for a lot of us the only time we have to enjoy our adult shows and movies is once the littles go down to sleep. However, all that stuff you watch before bed stays in your psyche. It has an impact on your adrenals when you get that rush watching that true crime documentary or that drama that’s always discussing drug use and suicide. I try to stop any of the dark stuff by 8:30pm during the week and we allow ourselves to stay up later Friday and Saturday nights to watch any of the adult shows and movies with darker themes. During the week we watch the shows like Marvelous Mrs. Maisel or the Office re-runs, Star Trek (all the iterations), or whatever other sitcom we’re currently into. It’s really minimized the number of nightmares I have at night.
6. Make Sure You’re Sleeping in a Cool Room – My husband and I argue about this one all the time. He gets cold pretty easily so he always thinks it’s too cold. But sleep experts agree you should sleep in a cool room for optimal sleep. You should keep your bedroom between 60 to 67 degrees fahrenheit for the best sleep. So if you run hot like I do (or you’re pregnant and feel like you’re cooking) arm yourself with this research and present it the next time the thermostat police tries to change the temperature in the house.
7. Listen to Sleep Stories, Relaxing Podcasts, or White Noise on a Timer to Help You Fall Asleep – If you planning your day before bed still isn’t enough to quiet your mind, drown out the noise with a relaxing podcast or sleep stories. My Oura Ring app comes with sleep stories that are designed to help you fall asleep. Many of the popular meditation apps now come with tracks designed to help you get to sleep. You can also listen to a podcast that you find relaxing or you could do likke I do and listen to ‘How the Universe Works’ to fall asleep. Something about Mike Rowe’s voice and the topics just get me all relaxed. I wear a set of sleep headphones so I don’t disturb my husband who prefers silence for falling asleep. Another option is white noise but be careful with white noise because for some people prolonged listening to white noise can actually disrupt their sleep patterns. I suggest whatever you fall asleep listening to, set it on a timer. i do about 30 mins.
8. Drink Some Chamomile Tea If You’re Feeling Wired – Melotonin and Valerian Root have better PR teams than chamomile but both of those can have negative effects on your sleep if you have too much. Some people for example report having terrible nightmares when they take Valerian Root. And sometimes melotonin can cause sleep disturbances that cause you to wake up several times during the night. But chamomile just kind of relaxes everything. During my pelvic rehab at one point my pelvis became too tight and I was struggling with spasms during a family vacation, none of the movements recommended by PT were working and so in a final ditch effort to make them stop I asked my husband to get me some chamomile tea. Made it right in the hotel room and when I tell you the spasms subsided and completely stopped within 30 mins. The herb is kind of a miracle! I also got some of the best sleep I’ve ever gotten that night. So when all else fails, give this tea a try.
9. Don’t Go to Bed Angry – Because we’re so busy childrearing during the day most serious conversations (or problems) between couples come up at night. Whatever resentments you have about what your husband is or is not doing, the thing they did at dinner while you were trying to get the kids to eat, the fact he got home late because he grabbed a drink with the guys from work. Resist the temptation to deal with it right then and there. First, you’re annoyed, you’re not going to say the right thing. Second, it’s going to mess up your sleep because your cortisol levels are going to shoot up. Instead, write it down in your journal, mentioned previously. Tell your person you love them, give them a kiss on the cheek and go to sleep. If you still think it’s a big deal in the morning, deal with it after you’ve given your person their morning cup of coffee. (there might be a whole couple’s post in this blog’s future) Whatever you do don’t let this ruin your zen Mama, you have earned your sleep!
And there you have it, my nine tips for better sleep for Mom. Let me know in the comments if you have any special rituals or things you do to guarantee you get good sleep. Also let me know what you struggle with the most at night time. I’m wishing you all the best sleep ever.