How can you get better sleep and feel more rested in a shorter period of time? I’m going to share with you 6 ways you can start getting better quality sleep than you ever did before, and stop feeling like a tired parent.
For many new parents, sleep quickly falls to #54 on the daily “to do list”. But inching sleep up toward the top is crucial to the health and happiness of many growing families and tired parents.
Sleep restores our bodies, promotes healing, regulates hormones and stabilises the brain neurotransmitters that brighten our mood. Plus good sleep is also vital to keep our immune systems strong, key as kid are back-to-school and therefore back-to-bugs and colds and sniffles.
The harmful effects of sleep deprivation are cumulative, meaning they get more severe over time. Sleep deprivation can exacerbate, or even lead to anxiety, depression, migraine head-aches, chronic insomnia and a decrease in a nursing mother’s milk supply.
The good news is that making a few minor adjustments to your day (and your attitude) about sleep is the best way to avoid the potential pitfalls of sleep deprivation. Even when there aren’t many hours available for you to get sleep (hello night feeds, teething, night terrors….), these tips will ensure the sleep you DO get, even if only a little, is really good quality sleep, to help restore and revive you.
There some simple steps you can take to improve your quality of sleep and give yourself the deserved rest you need to function. You’re all probably aware of the need to switch off from your electronic devises, to be in a cool room and avoid stimulants like caffeine during the afternoon - so here are some sleep secrets you might not have known about…
Routine is the most important factor in getting good sleep, it is the guardian of good sleep. The body likes routine – it prefers to eat, sleep, and be active on a schedule. So stick to the same sleep schedule. Get up and go to bed at a similar time each day. I find it really helps to set a phone reminder to “wind down.” And those daytime naps you might be tempted to take? I've got bad news. It’s best to save your sleepiness for bedtime. Treat being sleepy as a precious resource and don't waste it on a short daytime nap. If you really do need a nap, take a micro-nap - make sure they’re short and not too late, as in, no longer than 20 or 30 minutes and early in the day. A short snooze before 4 p.m. can be refreshing and revitalizing, whereas longer and later ones have the opposite effect.
Our eyes need exposure to outdoor light because of a hormone in our body called melatonin - it regulates our sleep and wake pattern and also acts on receptors in your body to encourage sleep. If we stay indoors, it means a lack of exposure to proper light, which reduces melatonin levels. So get outside every day. To improve the results even more go outside at the same time each day, so it becomes part of your daily sleep routine.
- Park your stress
Try not to take those worries to bed. Tell yourself you've done all you can for that day and there's nothing more to do right now. Anything still on your mind can be picked up again the next day, after a good night's sleep. Now is time for rest. Noting things down can help. You can help to reduce a busy brain at night by keeping a journal and pen near your bed. If anxious thoughts are preventing you from getting some shut-eye and you can't stop going over your to-do list or worries in bed, try writing it all down. Sometimes it can be trying to remember everything that actually keeps us from switching off properly. Also jot down the things you need to do the next day, this will help you ‘release’ them from your memory.
- Use breathing techniques to de-stress
Sleep is needed to maintain your emotional balance, and you can lose this balance when the emotional part of your brain becomes hyperactive – with stress levels increasing. Take a few moments in the day to stop and concentrate on breathing slowly, deeply and purposefully – this will help you to activate the parasympathetic nervous system - ‘your rest and digest’ system which helps ease your body into a state of relaxation. I love the 4-7-8 breathe. Breathe in for a count of 4, hold for 7, breathe out for 8. Repeat it 3-4 times and feel a wave of calmness through your body. Practice this breathing technique throughout the day whenever you start to feel your stress levels bubble up.
- Avoid sleep stealing snacks
If you’re having trouble falling asleep, cut yourself off refined sugar and processed carb snacks by early afternoon. Refined grains and sugars disrupt your steady-state down-time metabolism, creating blood sugar and insulin fluctuations that may well wake you up at odd times. If you need to snack, make it a high-protein snack because that should avoid the blood sugar/insulin rollercoaster and will also provide a helpful dose of L-tryptophan, an amino acid needed to produce melatonin to aid sleep.
- Don’t ignore your sleep wave
So you stayed up a little too late watching Netflix? Now, you’re in bed and wide awake. If you’ve been there for 45 minutes waiting for sleep to come, odds are, it won’t, not for at least another hour and maybe longer. You’ve missed catching the sleep wave or what some researchers call the “sleep gate,” the period of time that your body will let you fall asleep. Researchers have found that the body cycles through different sleep phases in the course of a night. At the beginning of each phase, which lasts for around 90 minutes, the “gate” opens and if you miss it, you’re out of luck.
So if it’s been 45 minutes and nothing’s happening, sleep-wise, there’s no point in fighting it. That will just stress you out more as the anxiety that surrounds insomnia makes the insomnia that much worse, a classic vicious circle. So break it! Get out of bed and do something calming for the next hour or hour and a half – read a book (in low light!), or do some other relaxation technique (i.e., meditation, restorative yoga, breathing exercises). Time will pass, pleasantly, and you’ll be ready to ride the next sleep wave when it hits.
What’s more, if you set an alarm when you go to bed, consider your 90-minute sleep cycle. You want to sleep either 6 hours, 7.5 hours or 9 hours per night. You don’t want to go to bed and set your alarm for 6.5 hours later. You will wake up from a deep sleep…groggy and so tired. Set your alarm for a half hour before that, and you will wake up from light sleep…refreshed and ready to go.