If there is one issue that every mother I know shares, it is the difficulty of getting adequate sleep.  Feeling rested, energized and ready for the day is a wishful thought for most of us.

Because of the hours we sleep, and because the amount we’re wakened during the night feel out of our control, we don’t often think of ways we could improve the sleep we do get. Especially during our children’s younger years, sleep deprivation can truly cause havoc on a mom’s mental and physical well-being.

We know lack of sleep produces fatigue, irritablility, impatience, and may contribute to depression.  Physically, not getting the rest we need impairs our body’s ability to repair and rebuild, and it weakens our immune system.

So how do we balance the reality of our lives with children, the daily needs of running a household or working outside the home, and our physiological need for ample and restorative rest?  Here are a few ways we can make the most of the sleep we do get, while taking into account the unique demands most mothers face.

1.  Find your rhythm.

We all have an internal biological clock that sets our days and nights into a cyclical rhythm, and is controlled by a series of hormones and external cues.  Often called the circadian rhythm, the energy of our waking times and restorative nature of our sleeping times are maximized when we work with this natural clock.

The thing is, habit and pattern will reset this clock, even if it varies from what the body ideally wants.  This means we can condition ourselves to be night owls, even when our body may need us to sleep earlier — and it means we can condition ourselves back to a preferred internal rhythm by making new habits around sleeping and waking.  Great news!

• Your best time

We’ve often heard that most adults need somewhere between eight to ten hours of sleep a night, but what may be even more important is the time we go to sleep and the time we wake.  Imagine a night when you go to sleep at 2 am and wake at 10 am.   Now imagine a night when you go to sleep at 10 pm and wake at 6 am.  Most of us know intuitively that when we sleep  eight hours and wake at 6 am, we’ll have more energy and productivity to our day. Waking at 10 am will leave most of us dragging through the afternoon.

• The earlier, the better

Generally speaking, earlier to bed is better as it more naturally fits with our body’s preferred daily rhythm. How much earlier varies between each person, but a good rule of thumb is to shoot for a bedtime between 9 pm and 11 pm.

2.  Set yourself up for success.

Since becoming a mom, I’ve heard more advice on establishing a bedtime routine than any other part of child rearing.  It seems common knowledge that children need external signals that cue them for bedtime to successfully usher in sleep.

• Routine is essential for adults, too

This is no less true for adults as well. I can recall far too many nights I’ve gone through an established and calm routine for my children and left them soundly to sleep, only to engage myself in work, conversation or activity right up until I plopped into bed, expecting to shut myself off like a light.

Give yourself a bedtime routine that includes cues to help you mentally and physically unwind and prepare for deep sleep. Intentionally transitioning into sleep with a nighttime routine may help with issues of insomnia when you first fade, which prevents middle-of-the-night insomnia bouts.  This allows more relaxed and restorative sleep and brings a calming closure on your day, which also prepares you to begin anew come morning.

milk bath with rose petals
Photo by Dennis Wong

Some things to consider for your routine are:

  • Dimming the lights around the house
  • Forgoing screen time late at night
  • Sipping a cup of calming herbal tea, like chamomile
  • Jotting down spinning thoughts with a timed journal writing session
  • Reading material that helps you tune out engaging thoughts and calms your mind
  • Listening to soft music or nature sounds
  • A warm towel scrub (see details below)
  • Acknowledging the blessings and gifts of the day

• Check your bedroom’s influence

In addition to your bedtime routine, the feeling of your bedroom may promote or prevent restfulness. One of the most neglected rooms in a home is the master bedroom.  So often we focus our attention on the areas visitors will see and leave the behind-the-scenes rooms in disarray.

Put some thought into how you can create a place of retreat, renewal and comfort in your bedroom. Swap out the TV or computer for soft lighting and speakers for soft music.  Hang soothing pictures.

How comfortable is your bed?   Do you enjoy the feel of your sheets, your pillow, the blanket or comforter?

Close your eyes, and imagine walking into a room at a retreat or a bed and breakfast that completely delights you.  The elements in that room might be surprisingly easy to duplicate.  Could it be the tidiness of its space, the color on the wall, the style of decor? Use this as a guide to making your bedroom a room that replicates those feelings.

• Watch the energy crutches

Check your amount of caffeine and sugar intake. How we each respond to these things varies, but think of caffeine and sugar as energy loans.

coffee and apron
Photo by Ali Edwards

We that financially, it’s not wise to rely on loaned money day in and day out, because it will set us up for financial ruin.  Similarly, when we rely on caffeine and sugar day in and day out to meet our energy needs, our body is going to pay the price.  This is often in the form of burnout, sickness, sleep disruptions, and mental stress.

• Go for a warm towel scrub

Here are simple instructions for a warm towel scrub, one of the best sleepy time remedies I know.

Before heading to your bedroom, take a few moments to unwind in the bathroom:
• Fill the sink with hot tap water.
• If you want, add a couple drops of an essential oil like roman chamomile, lavender, or rose.
• Take a washcloth, dip it in the hot water, and then wring it out.
• Gently rub your skin from head to toe with the washcloth, rewetting the cloth as necessary to keep it as warm as possible yet still comfortable.
• Loosen the tension in your neck, jaw, shoulders, lower back, or legs.
• Finish with a light coating of natural oil to calm and soothe your nervous system.  The warmth of the towel rub and the moisture of the oil or lotion are powerful cues for your body and mind to slow down and prepare for restful sleep.

3.  Work with what you’ve got.

Let’s face it, there is no strategy that will guarantee the rest you truly need every night.  While navigating the waters of raising young children, most of us will have many days when we are more tired than energized and need to cope with inadequate sleep.

When that happens, it is imperative to compensate by being gentle with ourselves and to creatively find ways to rest.

• The power of napping

The advice to sleep when your children sleep is as old as it is true.  Too many of us feel we need to use our children’s nap times to do household or work chores. If you are home with your children during the day, and you are fatigued from lack of sleep, then make napping a priority.

Even if you nap for half the time your children do, you will be more productive, focused and prepared than if you trudged through, never giving yourself a mid-day rest.

• Give yourself a break

Some nights we will get better sleep than other nights — it’s just part of the parenting gig.  When you have a rough night and you feel the impact the next day, choose to slow down, reduce expectations in every way possible, and resist the urge to take on too much.

There are many things we simply can’t take off our plates, but it’s important to identify the essential tasks from the nonessentials, and to give ourselves permission to go through the day slower and calmer.

In which ways do you manage the issue of sleep deprivation and fatigue while still performing all the essential mom duties?   Have you found your own ways to maximize your quality of the sleep?

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