I don’t know of many parents who’ve never had to deal with the excruciating tiredness caused by night after night of broken sleep. The physical benefits of getting enough sleep are well known, but sleep has a massive impact on our emotional and mental health too. After a good night’s sleep we feel calmer and can think more clearly and make better decisions. We’re less reactive and can handle more pressures, feel better able to cope and life is less stressful as a result.
When we don’t get enough sleep, the body secretes higher levels of cortisol (a stress hormone) into the body the following day. This is most likely the body’s attempt to stimulate alertness and explains why you not only feel tired, but also grouchy and short-tempered.
Like lots of the challenges we have to deal with as a parent, when it comes to our children’s sleep (and the effect it has on us), there are parts of the challenge that we have no control over and need to accept and other parts that we can do something about.
If you’ve not been getting the sleep you need and feeling stressed, foggy-headed and overwhelmed as a result, here are 5 top tips to help you:
- Manage your expectations
If you try to keep going at 100%, to take care of your kids, and the house, and yourself, and your partner and work, when you haven’t had the sleep you need, you’re going to feel completely overwhelmed. Remember, your levels of stress are already heightened so you won’t be able to do as much without being sent over the edge. When you’re sleep-deprived, it’s even more important to slow down and just do the basics if you want to feel calm. The washing up can wait.
2. Change what you think about when your children won’t sleep
Trying to get your kid to go to sleep can easily turn into a battle. Especially if you’re desperate to switch off at the end of the day to get your “me-time”. The way we feel is a result of the way we’re thinking so rather than getting more and more annoyed when they won’t go to sleep, try and see that time as a chance for you to rest too. Replace thoughts of “why won’t they just sleep” with the chance to do a body scan, safe space visualisation or breathing exercise. They’ll pick up on your calm vibes and be more likely to relax more quickly too.
3. Use your breath
It’s important to use your breath frequently throughout the day too when you’re dealing with the effects of another broken night’s sleep. Consciously slowing down the breath sends powerful signals to the brain that there is no threat, helping you feel calmer. The great thing about using breathing exercises to manage stress is that you can do them anywhere and anytime; whilst changing a nappy, being jumped on, making dinner, driving to pick your kids up or breaking up a fight.
4. Rest when you can’t sleep
Trying to fall asleep when you can’t drift off can cause stress, in of itself stopping you from drifting off. Rather than focusing on how much sleep you might be able to get each night, focus on how much rest you get. Whether you’ve been woken ‘again’ during the night or you just can’t drift off, focusing on giving yourself the rest you need, rather than the sleep can help you get less frustrated and still give your mind and body the chance to relax and replenish
5. Create a bedtime routine that will help you drift off and sleep more deeply when you finally can
It’s easy to collapse straight into bed at the end of a long day. Or perhaps spend too much time in front of the screen at the end of the day that you don’t get a chance to prepare yourself for a good night’s sleep. Creating a period of time between the day and night; when you can put the pressures of the day behind you and prepare yourself for a good night’s sleep, is one of the most powerful ways of experiencing all its benefits and maintaining your balance and wellbeing. It can help you to process your day and the experiences you had and put aside any worries, fears or difficult thoughts that may otherwise seek your attention during your sleeping hours, so that it’s easier to switch off and sleep deeply when you finally can.
If you want to be able to wind down and switch off more easily at the end of the day, the bedtime journal will help, supporting a positive attitude around bedtime and aligning you more closely with the life you want to lead.