Your sleep is important. As a holistic sleep coach, I have a family-focused approach to every sleep situation. This means that as well as addressing a child’s sleep struggles, I also help optimise a parent’s sleep. At the end of the day, for parents, it’s far easier to work on their own sleep and change their own habits than it is to modify a baby’s behaviour. Once a parent is getting more sleep and feeling more rested, they will then have a greater capacity to make changes to their little one’s sleep. It’s a win win!
Improving lifestyle habits and sleep hygiene is a great place to start and you can do this in many ways. Sleep hygiene is basically the habits and behaviours you have around bedtime and the associations you have with your bed, bedroom and bedtime routine.
Here are some tips for getting a better night’s sleep:
1. Establish a regular bedtime routine
Predictable bedtime routines are not just for babies and children. Having a consistent time you go to bed and wake up in the morning every day with really help regulate your body clock. Having a bedtime ritual that you repeat every night will also help prepare your body for sleep. Repeat the same things in the same order every night.
2. Unplug before bedtime
Avoid using screens in your bedroom including televisions, mobile phones and tablets. If you are struggling to fall asleep, unplug all technology for at least an hour before bedtime.
Instead, be proactive in finding ways to wind down before bedtime. This could include reading a book, listening to gentle music or a guided meditation. This will help train your body and brain to relax and help you to fall asleep faster and more easily.
3. Use nutrition in your favour
You are what you eat! When we are sleep deprived it’s common to crave carbs and high-fat foods which make us feel more sluggish and can make sleep worse. Aim to have healthy foods easily accessible for snacks and plan ahead for meals. For the best possible night’s sleep, avoid foods which are stimulating such as alcohol and caffeine in the afternoon and before bedtime. This includes tea, coffee, chocolate and some fizzy drinks. Foods that potentially help with sleep contain tryptophan, which your body uses to make melatonin (your sleepy hormone). These include turkey, bananas, spinach, almonds, cherries and lettuce. Eating well and at regular times has been shown to help regulate our circadian rhythm and improve sleep. For more detailed information check out Foods for Sleep.
4. Make sure your bedroom is optimised for sleep
Try to get your room pitch black by installing black out blinds or wearing a sleep mask. Declutter your bedroom and make it a peaceful and calm sanctuary conducive to sleep. You don’t want it to be too hot or too cold and consider using a lavender spray which can have a positive affect on sleep.
5. Learn ways to cope with night feeds and night wakes
Babies wake in the night. This is to be expected but try and get back to sleep as quickly as possible each time by keeping the lights low and avoid looking at the clock in the night. It will make you feel worse by working out how much sleep you haven’t had or how many hours are left until the morning.
6. Reduce stress before bedtime
Worrying about sleep will make it more likely that you will struggle to sleep. Remind yourself that this is just a temporary phase in your life, your sleep will improve again. Remember that you are not responsible for your child’s sleep, all you can do is provide the best environment and condition for them to sleep.
It can be hard to wind down or to switch your mind off so you can fall asleep. Try not to get worried or frustrated about how long it is taking to fall asleep and use some relaxation techniques such as slow deep breaths, alternate nostril breathing or progressive muscle relaxation. It might be worth getting up and writing down what is on your mind or how you are feeling.
7. Get active during the day
Getting physical activity and eating healthy food can give you more energy. It might be the last thing you feel like doing when you are sleep deprived but going out for a brisk walk in the fresh air can relieve stress and help to regulate your body clock. Getting exercise also floods your body with endorphins and serotonin which will boost your mood.
8. Get real
Lower your expectations and take the pressure off yourself. There will be days when you have low energy and need to ask for help. Working as a team with your co-parent tends to positively influence sleep. Consider sharing the load, reducing the stress and tag-teaming whilst the other parent catches up on sleep if possible.
When optimising parent sleep, I suggest you start by tackling the easiest things first. Whilst these simple self-care and sleep hygiene ideas can help, it is important that you see a medical professional if you are struggling with insomnia or have other concerns about your wellbeing.