If you follow my writing, you know that I’m mildly obsessed with the subject of sleep. Baby and kid sleep, sleep biology, dreams — these topics are endlessly fascinating to me. But I’m also a parent, and I know that in practical terms, sleep is tricky and unpredictable.
As I wrote recently, sleep deprivation has real costs to parents. Even when we think we’re awake (albeit drowsy) we may not be functioning with a whole brain. And the worst part is that as parents, we think sleep deprivation is just a way of life .
It’s not true — we need sleep (maybe even more so, since our kids require so much energy). So here is an expanded break list of tips for sleep deprived parents. Make a few of these tweaks in your house for better nighttime rest:
1. Your bedroom vibes affect how you sleep. You know how you spent months painting, wall-decalling, and organizing your child’s room? Have you turned that same enthusiasm towards your own sleeping space? The National Sleep Foundation tells us that how we take care of our bedrooms affects the timing and quality of our sleep. A lot of parents end up with piles of the cast-aways from the rest of the house in their rooms, but having a de-cluttered, aesthetically-pleasing space, a good mattress, plump pillows, and fresh sheets sends us warm vibes and can really change the way we settle in for the night.
2. Artificial light is your enemy. When you’re texting, using your ipad, or working (or purusing facebook) right up until bed, it tricks your brain into thinking it’s time for action. That’s because artificial light from these devices activate our brain chemistry and send the wrong signals to our biological clocks. Shut down the screens an hour before bed to allow for the wind-down.
Even turning on the bathroom light in the middle of the night can throw off your sleep. Keep a nightlight on in the bathroom or your child’s room so you never have to flood your brain with mid-night light.
3. Natural light is your friend. Natural light tells your circadian rhythm it’s time to start the day. In the morning, throw open the shades or eat breakfast on your porch. Take a walk in the middle of the day if you can. Sunlight during the day helps regulate your sleep at night. (Note, if you’re waking up too early in the morning, use dark blinds to block morning light and make your room very dark).
4. Pad in time for the unexpected. The biggest sleep challenge for parents is that we’re not completely in charge of our nights. You never know when someone will have a nightmare, a coughing fit, or a bathroom request. Don’t hit the pillow exactly 7-9 hours before you need to wake up, because that plan can easily go awry. Go to bed 30-60 minutes earlier than you think you need to.
5. Switch the shifts. If there are two adults in the house, decide who is on kid duty so the other one can sleep through. Just one night of solid sleep can change your whole outlook on the day.
6. Put the little ones to be early. Most kids do best with a bedtime between 7:00 and 8:00, and getting everyone tucked in early lets you have your evening free. That also helps you go to bed earlier and still feel like you’ve had time to yourself.
7. Work on your child’s sleep. Easier said than done, I know. But there’s no reason that you need to accept multiple wake-ups in the middle of the night as a way of life (unless you have an infant). I recommend “The Sleep Easy Solution” for baby sleep, and Jodi Mindell’s “Sleeping Through the Night” for older kids, especially ones having nightmares.