We have all been there. Three AM and you are staring at the ceiling. The fan spins and you try to count the repetitions. Sheep have been no help. Your brain swirls with the thoughts of the crazy that was your day and dread for the day to follow slowly seeps in.
Suddenly, the silence of the house is shattered by the bouncing bubbly kid in the room down the hall. Energy pours out of his room. Joy exuberates from him. He is excited to start his day…before the sun.
You groan as you turn over. You know today will be like yesterday and the day before that and the day before that. Why can’t this kid just sleep? By the time he is asleep, you finally get a bit of me-time. But me-time at midnight is never good. This needs to change. But how?
There is no debate on how badly poor sleep affects us. Poor sleep can hurt our hormones, performance, and brain function. It can cause weight gain and increase the risk of disease (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7).
But, oh sweet, good sleep, can have incredibly good results. It can help you eat less, exercise better, have better response times, have more control of your emotions, and increase of thought process (2, 8, 9, 10).
With New Year’s upon us, perhaps now is a great time to take charge of our sleep to have better success with our other New Year’s Goals.
Speaking from experience, this is exhausting for you, your partner, and your children. Here are ten tips we used to help our son (and ourselves) get on a better sleep schedule.
Reduce blue light exposure during the evening: Blue light comes from our screens. We surround ourselves with blue light, especially before bed. Checking our social media before bed may sound relaxing, but the blue light stimulates us (along with the social media). So put a stop to screen time at least 30 minutes before bed. We try for an hour on school nights. No TV, no video games, no phone, no computer. Instead, use this time to relax and connect face to face with those you cherish the most. Click here for more tips on how to manage screen time.
Reduce naps during the day/length of naps: I LOVE naps! But, we limit naps. If we or our son takes a nap, it is usually on a weekend to allow a little breath before scheduled sleep. When our son was younger, he could take a nap for two hours or more. We quickly learned this was detrimental. Now, if he takes a nap, it is limited to 15-30 minutes. The best way to know you slept enough for a nap is to take your keys (or something else that makes sound) and hold them in your hands. When you have slept enough for a day nap, you will relax enough the keys will drop and wake you up. Perfectly refreshed for the remainder of the day without messing up your sleep that night.
Start a pre-bedtime routine: If you have followed me even for a short time, you know how much I love routine. This is one of my favorite routines. This is great for executive functioning and calming down for sleep. We use this simple routine in our house. After dinner, we brush our teeth, take a shower, and get in PJs. Then we do a meditation/prayer and story. This typically takes 30 minutes if done correctly. This routine acts as a mental trigger that the day is ending, and it is time for bed.
Go to bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time: This one is hard. I admit. Especially as more people and commitments claim on your time. Find a time that allows the right amount of time for your child to get enough sleep. We kept an 8 PM bedtime for our son till he was a teenager. Then we increased it to 9 PM on weekdays and 10 PM on weekends (unless there was a game/dance/etc.) And let’s be honest, no good happens after 10 PM anyway. We also keep a routine wake-up time. Alarm clocks may be needed for the first few weeks to get the body used to it, but soon you will find you naturally wake up at the same time daily. This is important even on weekends. You might think sleeping in on weekends is good, but it can mess you up for the first few days of the week.
Optimize the bedroom: The room is a sanctuary. It should be a place where you feel safe and comfortable. The best sleep happens in comfortable rooms. Here are some things we use to help our family sleep:
- No screens: There are no screens in our son’s bedroom. No computer. No phone. No TV. These produce light, sound, and are an easy distraction once the kid thinks Mom and Dad went to bed.
- Blackout Curtains: These are lifesavers. Two houses we lived in had a streetlight that shone straight into our son’s room. These curtains helped block that light and create a boy cave for him. He knew when they were drawn, it was time for hibernation.
- White Noise/Soft Wordless Music: We lived off a highway in Maryland for years. You often heard sirens and the like at odd hours of the night. We learned white noise and wordless music were great for helping our son sleep. Do kids share a room? No problem! Try this awesome tool in the child’s pillow and they can listen to their own sound without bothering their roommate.
- Temperature: A room that is too hot or too cold is prohibitive to good sleep. The best sleep temperature is about 70° F (20° C). But the temperature is dependent on your preference. Test it out.
Don’t eat before bed: When you are having trouble sleeping, it is tempting to find yourself in the kitchen eating. We often go beyond the warm glass of milk and eat a bowl of cereal or ice cream. Not only is this bad for our waistlines, but it is also bad for our sleep. Your body uses sleep to restore muscles and systems. When we eat before bed, we tell our bodies to divert that energy to digestion. Save yourself and just say no. I find when I am tempted, a good cup of hot tea is perfect.
Relax before bed: Relaxing before bed helps me and my family fall asleep and stay in deeper sleep longer. Take a nice hot shower or bath, do some meditation or yoga (or both). Read an actual book. The blue light from a Kindle or iPad will be counterproductive. Need some entertainment? Do some art or adult coloring pages. Take up a new hobby. Sew. Crotchet. Knit. There is so much you can do that does not require a screen. Enjoy learning about you and your kids.
Rule out a sleep disorder: This one is so important – especially for those with special needs. Sleep disorders are real. Take the time. Talk to your doctor. Describe the sleep your child (or you) is getting. Do a sleep study. They are not scary and can be quite comfortable. This can be eye-opening. We learned a lot when we took our son for one. One eye-opening thing is how fast my son can hit REM. Once he shuts his eyes; he is practically in REM. This means he is being charged faster than the average human. Due to this, he needs slightly less sleep than other kids his age. Taking with our doctor (who happened to see my son fall asleep in a routine checkup once) was so helpful in starting our path to successful sleep.
Exercise regularly: It is New Year. You are thinking you will be at the gym five nights a week for an hour or two. Let’s get real. That is probably not true. But you should work out regularly. Take a walk after work and enjoy the outside world. Do a workout online or in your gym. Start the day with a workout. Just, do yourself a favor, and do not work out before bed. This will increase your adrenaline and prevent the natural melatonin from working.
Don’t drink liquids before bed: This is important especially for young ones working on potty training. This is a great model to use lifelong. Drinking too much before bed keeps us up or wakes us up at odd hours. Waking up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom can stimulate your brain enough to prevent you from being able to go back to sleep. Try to limit the liquids at least an hour before bed.
BONUS: If all else fails, set rules for waking up the house. This is so important if you have a child like mine who literally needs less sleep. Here are some of the rules we incorporated that helped keep the rest of the house asleep and the house peaceful:
- A time when to leave the room: If your child is waking between 3 AM and 6 AM, it might be helpful to get a visual clock and tell them when an appropriate time to leave the room and start the day is. This helps with the telling of time and teaches family values and compassion. Different children have different needs.
- Give activities they can do: If toys are in their room, let them play. Books are a great way to keep them engaged and quiet. Books do so much more too! We also allow our son to use his electronic drum set, but he must use headphones.
- Have a Coffee Rule: We have the One Cup of Coffee Rule. Even if we are awake, the quiet of the house must remain until the end of the first cup of coffee. This allows everyone to wake at their own pace and keep the house peaceful in the mornings.
We use these tips for our entire household. It has changed how we operate, how kind we are to each other, and helps create a productive environment throughout the day. These are by no means all the tips that can help you. I encourage you to try them. Use what works for you. Ditch what does not.
May this year be one full of rest, relaxation, and growth.