9 ways tired parents can get more sleep
BY CHERYL LOCK
Follow these tried-and-true tips to get good sleep–and more of it!
Most new parents know not to expect the same quality of sleep they had B.C. (that’s before child), but we all know that exhaustion from 5 a.m. feedings, random requests for water, or way-too-early wake ups isn’t sustainable either. To be the best parent, you simply need to be rested! That’s why figuring out how to fall asleep faster and wake up better rested is essential. It starts with getting your baby to sleep, of course, but it doesn’t stop there. We asked the pros and the parents who’ve been there to tell us what really works, so you can squeeze the most out of your precious sleep starting tonight.
rock a little less
There’s no magic playbook with the answers to get your child to sleep through the night, but most experts agree that sleep training is a good start. “The main thing that will encourage success with sleep for years to come is ensuring parents teach their child the skills they need to fall asleep independently,” says Nilong Vyas, MD, a pediatrician with Sleepless in NOLA and medical review expert at SleepFoundation.org. To do that, Dr. Vyas suggests putting your child to sleep in their bed while they’re still awake and eliminating the overuse of any extras that might help your child fall asleep, like rocking or bouncing.
Elizabeth Hicks, mom of two, found that instituting a “sleep feeding” before she went to bed helped her little ones sleep better throughout the night. “This is an easy trick taught to couples to get a full night’s sleep,” she says. “You just give your baby a bottle while they’re asleep, right before you go to bed. This way your baby hopefully won’t wake up hungry in the middle of the night.”
It took a while for Jessie Cintron and her husband — who have two girls, ages 1 and 3 — to settle into a routine, but now they switch who wakes up early with the kids, allowing the other partner to get a couple extra minutes of shut-eye every other morning. “It seems like such an obvious solution now, but it never even occurred to us to do it earlier,” Citron says. “Now, I honestly start getting excited the night before it’s my turn to sleep in. I’m someone who’s always functioned better on eight or nine hours of sleep.”
check your own habits
Parents often spend so much time focusing on their child’s sleep routine that they forget to perfect their own. Your bedtime and wake time should not fluctuate more than one hour during the week and on weekends, advises Whitney Roban, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist, sleep specialist, and founder of Solve Our Sleep. “If you are going to nap when the baby naps, do not nap past 3 p.m., and do not nap for longer than 30 minutes,” Dr. Roban addsed. “A brief nap in the early afternoon will give you the boost of energy you need to get you through the day, and it won’t interfere with you falling asleep at night.”
Unnati Patel, MPG, certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant and founder/CEO of Nested to Rested Sleep Consulting, explains that routines are essential to proper sleep habits. “Routines really help signal to our brains that bedtime is near, and therefore once we hit the bed we are more likely to fall asleep faster,” she says. For kids, consistent routines are an “evidence-based method that will not only help your child fall asleep faster, but also stay asleep longer.” For parents? Working mom Emily Bond also finds that sticking religiously to a bedtime routine for herself and for her 2- and 5-year-old is a big help. “I read them three bedtime stories and then once they are down, I make myself a cup of peppermint tea and read for one hour in my bedroom—no phone, it’ll keep me up—and then I close the book at 9 p.m. and sleep,” she says. “I’ve found that the earlier I go to bed, the better, and if I give myself what feels like a little luxury of tea and reading, then I feel so much more relaxed.”
How you spend your day has a big effect on how well you sleep at night. Martin Reed, a certified clinical sleep health educator and founder of Insomnia Coach recommends staying as active as possible during the daytime hours. “As parents, we can easily feel worn out and fatigued, which causes our mind to scream at us to rest and do very little during the day,” he says. “However, being sedentary usually doesn’t help us feel more energetic.”
Funke Afolabi-Brown, MD, is a board-certified pediatric pulmonologist, sleep medicine physician and founder of Restful Sleep MD. She recommends making the most of daytime hours by also trying to get outside, even if just for a short period of time. “Try to take advantage of the light, which is the strongest cue for your circadian rhythm,” she says. “Combine this with a brisk walk or jog, which will not only help your mood, but also will help you get deeper, more restorative sleep.”
open the windows
Po-Chang Hsu, MD, medical content expert with SleepingOcean.com, recommends opening a window at bedtime to let in some cool air. “Cooling down with an open window can help the body lower its score temperature, which is an essential thermoregulation step when preparing for sleep,” Dr. Hsu says.
stop tossing & turning
We’ve all been there: We’re so exhausted we imagine that we’ll fall into bed and sleep immediately. Instead, we lay there, awake for hours. “If you don’t fall asleep within 20 minutes of getting into bed, or if you wake up and can’t fall back to sleep in 20 minutes, get up and do something that requires using your hands and your mind until you feel sleepy,” suggests Tasha Holland-Kornegay, PhD, LCMHC. She recommends working on a puzzle or crossword, coloring, or reading. “When you do get back into bed, focus on relaxing, not falling asleep, by practicing deep breathing or by meditating.”