Several months ago, my older son let me know what he thought of my sleeping habits. Namely, he didn’t like the fact that his dad and I went to bed. I mean, who is going to watch over him if we’re asleep? It was, of course, adorable, and we assured him that even when we were sleeping, we were on call. We checked on him and his brother before we went to bed, we often heard them when they got up to use the restroom, and we were always there to help if they ever woke up scared, or cold — or even bored — in the middle of the night.
All this is true of every parent, of course. We are always on call, and it often feels as though the world is conspiring against us to make sure we never truly rest. Between colicky newborns and toddlers with night-terrors, nights spent feverishly trying to get things finished and early mornings scrambling to get kids ready for school, there never are enough hours in the day to get as much sleep as we could really use.
And I, personally, have grown discouraged with all of the admonitions to “get more sleep” and to make sleep a priority. I know how important it is to get enough sleep. I can feel myself dragging when I’ve only managed to get 6 hours of sleep each night for a week. I can hear my speech slow down as I read stories to my children and try to stay awake. I know I need more sleep. But until someone invents the 28 hour day, I feel like I’m pretty trapped. I’ve been over my schedule again and again and again, and there’s just nothing I can cut.
While I wait for that 28 hour day to come to pass, however, I’m doing my best to make the sleep I get really count — that it’s restful, comfortable, and let’s me use my waking hours as efficiently as possible.
Here’s what I’ve learned:
1. Timing matters. I’m a night owl. Usually. My brain is still going, going, going if I try to lie down before 11pm. So most of the time I work late into the night. But sometimes, when I can tell that my brain has turned off or tuned out by 9pm, I’ll go to bed early and wake up earlier than I normally do, too. With a fresh, well-rested brain, I’m able to do in one hour what would have taken me three hours the night before.
2. Temperature matters. It’s the time of year when, at least in my Brooklyn apartment, the heat from the radiators can get out of control and leave me tossing and turning in sweaty pajamas. But close the radiators or heaven forbid the boiler goes out and I’m shivering, and trying again and again to stretch the blanket over my icy-cold feet. It’s important for me to take stock of the heat situation in my bedroom and to dress appropriately so I don’t waste precious minutes in restlessness.
3. Cleanliness matters. Flossing, brushing my teeth, and washing my face before bed are important to my “wind down” routine which is an important way for me to signal to my mind that it’s time to close up shop. But it also helps me to relax and let go so I can sleep more deeply. Unbrushed teeth really do keep me up at night.
4. Exercise matters. Giving my body a good workout during the day leaves it tired at the end of the day, meaning I’m ready for a solid rest. But it also helps me release stress that could keep me up at night.
5. Scheduling matters. With so many little things to think about during the day, so many little things to do, it helps to make a plan the night before so I don’t have to use any time trying to figure out what comes next when I wake up. Taking a few minutes before bed to jot down the next day’s game plan keeps me from wondering and worrying as I’m going to sleep if I’ve forgotten anything or if I’m going to be able to get it all done.
What works for you? Any tips or tricks to using the hours of sleep you do get more efficiently?
photo credit Lizzie Heiselt