Ah, sleep. It’s a wonderful thing, isn’t it? And it’s something that mums don’t ever seem to get enough of. And never do you value something more that when it eludes you.
I first experienced insomnia when I fell pregnant with my first child. At the time I most needed rest, it deserted me. And it didn’t improve on the other side. My baby was not one of those rare creatures to sleep through the night at six weeks of age (and if you are the mum of one of those perhaps you should stop reading now). But she wasn’t a terrible sleeper, either. She began sleeping through the night at around 8 months of age, right around the time I went and got pregnant again. Cue: insomnia! Given I was already in a perpetual state of fatigue, I went and did the same thing again. Having three children in less than three years meant that sleep was merely something I dabbled in. In those days if I got more than two hours of uninterrupted sleep I called that a victory!
But nothing lasts forever, right? Nowadays my three young children sleep soundly through the night, so that should mean I do too, right? Wrong. While they enjoy the never never land I wrestle with a mind that does not stop. Let me repeat that. It. Does. Not. Stop.
My mind seems to goes into overdrive just when I want it to shut down. It’s rather like my washing machine, which never bloody stops either. Wash. Rinse. Repeat. Wash. Rinse. Repeat. My thoughts are tangled mess, much my like my laundry pile – no order whatsoever! Poring over my endless to-do list at 3am is neither enjoyable, nor productive. Much of this is not worry, it’s merely thoughts. But these thoughts intrude on me when I most need to rest. It’s like my brain has too many tabs open. Can you relate?
Sleeplessness is – quite simply – torturous. To go to bed at the end of a busy day, exhausted from hours of kid wrangling, tears and tantrums, and not be able to fall asleep is cruel. And what happens during the night has a knock-on effect the next day. Being responsible for three little people’s lives is infinitely harder when you’re not rested. I often feel foggy and brittle; emotionally ill-equipped, impatient, confused, and sometimes sad.
I am not alone. Insomnia and fatigue are among the most common health complaints of women aged 40 to 70. Sleep is as important to our health and well being as nutrition and exercise. How I envy those who effortlessly fall asleep at night. To nod off into the land of never-never for 8 hours must be nirvana.
A few months ago I sought the advice of a Sleep Specialist. I needed to break the viscous cycle and I discovered some useful sleep strategies. I am going to share my top Sleep hygiene tips with you below, so that when you put your head on your pillow at night, you nod off into a peaceful, and long sleep. But there’s a caveat. I can help you fall asleep, but I can’t help you stay asleep. Night terrors, wakeful babies, unsettled toddlers, and nighttime visitors are all part of the parenting package 🙂
“Sleep is the best meditation ~ The Dalai Lama”
Tips on how to sleep better:
- Establish a bedtime ritual. For me, I like to have a shower after the kids go to bed, and then relax for a couple of hours before my bed time. I may do some work but never past 9pm. I am a creature of habit and go to bed every night at 10pm, with a book, the lights out at 10.3opm. Find what works for you but try to go to bed, and wake up, at the same time every day.
- Keep your bedroom cool and uncluttered. Also, a well made bed is very welcoming. I fell into the habit of not making my bed for a while but now I am totally into making it and much to my hubby’s annoyance it is covered in decorative pillows, throws and cushions. “Decorative” cushions are impractical and annoying, according to Mr Practicality. One day I’ll get a nice storage box to place at the end of my bed for all our pillows!
- Reduce caffeine intake and avoid it altogether four to six hours before bedtime. I have just one coffee in the morning and then I drink herbal tea in the afternoon. Also, certain foods help promote sleep such as bananas. I eat a banana about an hour before going to bed.
- Limit your alcohol intake to a (measly) glass. Sorry, I know this is a real kill joy, but while alcohol may help to put you to sleep, it interferes with your body’s temperature and hormones and disturbs the quality of your sleep. Ever get an attack of the anxieties after a big night out (rare, as they may be)? That’s the booze. Stick to one drink for a good night’s sleep.
- Reduce stress as much as possible. This is a hard one when you’ve got a lot on your mind. Meditation, yoga and simple breathing exercises in the evening can help. If you toss and turn, get up.
- A heavy meal too close to bedtime interferes with sleep. We eat dinner as a family at 6.00pm, and then I snack on a banana at about 9pm as I getting hungry again. And if you’re hungry, you can’t fall asleep.
- Exercise relaxes muscles and aids sleep. But vigorous exercise just before bed may interfere with sleep. I walk or run during the day but I know this isn’t always possible when your kids are young. When I can’t get out the door for my morning exercise I sometimes go for a gentle walk after dinner to aid digestion and help clear my mind.
- Go to bed only when you are sleepy. Get out of bed if you can’t fall asleep within 10-15 minutes and return when sleepy. When you are up, sit in a chair and read a book or magazine, but whatever you do, do NOT turn on your computer!
- Establish a regular sleep schedule. It keeps your biological clock going in the right direction. Avoid napping during the day. Also, here’s a hot tip from my sleep specialist: Go to bed LATER for a better night’s sleep. I know this may sound counterintuitive but you may find you fall asleep faster and your sleep quality is better. When my sleep was particularly bad my specialist recommended going to bed at 11pm and getting out of bed at 6am. I was reluctant to try this initially as I worried that I wouldn’t get to sleep until after midnight and then that would be less than six hours sleep, but I fell asleep faster and didn’t wake as often during the night.
- A good mattres and supportive pillows will do wonders for your sleep. My hubby is about three times the size of me. Last year we bought one of those mattresses that minimises partner disturbance. A good move. Use Sleepmaker’s Comfort Selector Tool to help you find your perfect mattress. It’ll make a big difference and considering we hope to spend at least 8 hours in our bed every night, it’s an essential investment.
Do you get as much sleep as you like/need? What are your tips for a good night’s sleep (aside from not having kids)? 🙂