Why am I devoting a whole blog on how to improve your sleep as an adult when I’m an infant sleep consultant? Well, in my experience, how well parents are sleeping contributes massively to the family sleep puzzle. That’s why when working holistically with a family on any child related sleep issues they come to me with, I always ask about their own sleep and consider ways in which it can be optimised.
After all, any sleep issues your little one has will only feel amplified by your own sleep problems.
The great thing about working on your sleep first, is:
It's often resolved more quickly and easily than your child's.
Once you’ve tackled any underlying sleep issues you have, you’ll hopefully feel more rested and ready to face any changes to your little one's sleep head on. Bonus.
So instead of vowing to give up something this New Year (when so much has already been taken away from us with local lockdown restrictions, etc.), make this the year you focus on adding something back into your life - more sleep.
Whether you’ve never particularly slept well, or you only started struggling with your own sleep when your little one came along - this blog is for you.
New year, new (more rested) you
Below are my 10 steps to improve your sleep for a happier, more rested 2021 and beyond. They’re all realistic, quick-win, easy changes even new parents can make - I promise.
Step 1 - Write down or talk about your worries or concerns
One of the biggest barriers to good sleep, has to be lying awake worrying about things. Carve out a bit of time at the end of the day to either discuss any worries you’ve got (however big or small) with someone you feel comfortable confiding in, or jot them down on a piece of paper. You can also leave a notepad and pen by your bed in case any worries manage to niggle their way into your sleep still.
As well as jotting down any worries, it’s a really good exercise to note down three or more good things that happened that day (again, however big or small, it could be you just managed to drink a hot drink while it was still hot!).
At the end of the week you’ll have a list of at least 21 good things that happened that week and if you keep it up, over 150 by the end of the year. So however hard a week (or year) may have seemed, you’ll have some positives to reflect on.
Step 2 - Try and add exercise into your daily routine
I know you already know this, but you can’t underestimate the benefits of exercise on improving your sleep and helping your mental health. When we exercise we release endorphins, helping relieve stress and when we're less stressed we sleep better.
If you’ve just had a baby, even a brisk walk outside with the pram, or with the baby in a sling counts. Plus, you get all the added bonuses of both being outside which really helps anchor your circadian rhythm and will help to develop your little ones in the early months.
If or when any restrictions allow it, you could try and find a local buggy fit or sling fit class. Not only do these tick the exercise and possible outdoors box for you and your little one, but it’s an opportunity to meet other parents.
If you’ve got older ones you could simply kick a ball around in the back garden or local park.
If it’s a super cold or a wet day, you could try an online yoga workout - exercise, plus bringing some Zen into your life - extra bonus.
The benefits of trying to find time in your day to focus on exercise - whatever that looks like for you and your family (crazy family dancing in the living room anyone!) has benefits for the WHOLE family is so many ways, so is definitely a step not to be missed.
Step 3 - Reduce screen use
This is a must in the few hours before bed, as the light emitted plays havoc with the sleepy hormone being produced to help you get to sleep. So really try to not be flicking through your phone in the lead up to bed, or worse still be looking at your phone in bed.
Less looking at your phone has the added bonus of less social media scrolling. I know at a time when social interaction is so limited, online groups are a lifeline for many. But really try and stick to the accounts that make you feel good about yourself and unfollow the ones which are detrimental to your mental health.
Step 4 - Take a supplement
We’ve all been trapped indoors more than we would have liked over the last year and although nutrient deficiency in the Western world is pretty rare - given deficiency in vitamin D can be associated with sleep problems (particularly not falling asleep until later), it’s a good supplement to introduce into your daily routine if you don’t already.
Step 5 - Listen to a meditation/relaxation track or music before bed
This is one of my main go-to’s if I'm ever struggling with my own sleep. There are so many amazing apps available these days you can download and listen to, they don’t need to be long, but they can really help you switch off and zone out before bed. They're great for kids too, so you can always incorporate one into your routine with your little one and both benefit from the calming effects.
Step 6 - Try to eat and go to bed at similar times every day
I know how hard this can be in the early days with a little one when any sort of routine of this kind goes completely out the window. But it’s definitely something to strive for. Our body clock works on a cellular level and keeping these things consistent really helps anchor it contributing to a good night's sleep.
Step 7 - Keep your room for sleep only
I am fully aware you might be getting up to some non-sleep related activities in the bedroom - what I’m talking about is avoiding spending long periods of time in bed doing non sleep related activities - such as reading, watching TV or looking at your phone. Spending too long awake in your bedroom without actually being asleep, can build some negative associations, so is best avoided.
If you like to read in bed for example, why not set up a comfy space with some low lighting in the living room instead, only moving into bed when you actually feel ready to fall asleep.
Step 8 - Make sure your bedroom is pitch black and a good temperature
I have blackout blinds in every bedroom in the house. I genuinely couldn't live without them and I still sleep with something over my eyes to make sure it is pitch black! So a definite quick win is to consider how dark your bedroom is and incorporate something to help if it isn't.
Also think about room temperature, 16-18 degrees is ideal. As I explained in a previous blog, we need to achieve a slight drop in body temperature to fall asleep, so being too hot isn't helpful and clearly if we are too chilly it will also be difficult to fall asleep.
Step 9 - Don’t be tempted to have a lie in on the weekend to catch up on sleep
Again, I know this may be unrealistic in the early days with a baby and no real structure. But I know a lot of parents will tag team or take turns on the weekend to have a lie in and catch up on sleep lost during the week as their little one gets older. But again this really messes with your body clock. Easier said than done, I know, but you’d be better off having a short restorative nap in the day if you can to catch up on some sleep and keep your wake up time similar 7 days a week instead.
Step 10 - Limit caffeine, alcohol and any fatty foods in the hours before bed
Don’t hate me for saying this, but if you're really struggling with sleep, you need to take a step back and think about what you’re putting into your body which might be interfering. I know you all know the results of these things before bed, so I'll just leave it here as a gentle reminder that limiting, or better still eliminating these things, really will make a difference.
Instead, really try and concentrate on incorporating a rainbow diet into your day as best you can, in the knowledge that we all need a few treats as well now and then!
If you’d like some support with any of the above and your little ones sleep at the same time, please do check out my sleep support packages, or hop on your free 15 minute introductory call. Or in the meantime, head over to my Instagram page for all my latest free help and tips.