Sleep had always been a precious commodity to me, until I had my daughter and I started placing less importance on it (or maybe I should say she placed less importance on my sleep? Ha.). Even though I'm a night owl who prefers to stay up a little late and get up later, I usually require a good 8-10 hours consistently in order to feel rested and at my best. Unlike my husband who can get by on as little as 5 if he needs to. When we had our daughter, we had the normal newborn period of waking every two hours at night, but somehow your mind and body just get through it. You're kind of in a daze, but everything else in your life takes a backseat to the baby, and you don't have the energy to care or worry about much else. A little later on, everything else still takes a backseat to the baby, as it should, but you are forced back into the realities of life if you want to remain in your home and keep up your mortgage payment and other bills. Add to that working - and/or being a stay-at-home mom - and there are all kinds of things vying for your energy and attention. If you don't try to get a decent amount of sleep, you end up cranky, feeling guilty, extremely down on yourself, and overwhelmed. Did I say you? I meant me. But it would probably happen to you too. Those things can happen as a parent even when you do get enough sleep. Lack of sleep makes it harder.
Since I am working at home (a part-time day job, plus my own freelance business), in addition to taking care of our daughter, our pets, the house, bills, all that stuff - though my husband helps - my energy gets tapped out pretty quickly. If I don't get enough sleep, I have even less of a reserve to draw from. In order to get some kind of time to myself, or get all my work done, I often find myself staying up late and paying for it the next day. This is somewhat of a time management issue, I think. Or sometimes I just get involved in a really good book that I simply cannot stop reading until I'm done. Sometimes if I don't properly detox my thoughts before I lie down, I will either lie awake or wake up at 3 am and can't go back to sleep.
I am determined to make my own sleep as precious to me as my daughter's. We will all benefit.
I also need to view myself with the same grace as I view her. She's still not any less wonderful of a person in an unrested, irritable state; neither am I, so I need to stop berating myself.
In an effort to make sure we all get enough sleep, here is what we are doing - which is the result of a lot of trial and error.
Supplements. I have weird limb pain sometimes at night that makes it really uncomfortable to try to sleep. A doctor prescribed a muscle relaxer for me, but I didn't fill it because she said it would make me really drowsy (which might be a good thing if we didn't co-sleep, but that would make it dangerous). I read that magnesium is a natural muscle relaxer and started taking a supplement about 30 minutes before bed, sometimes along with melatonin, and it works. For my daughter, we tried a magnesium supplement called Kids Calm that worked great for a friend's kid. It didn't seem to do much for her. We're now using Bach Kids Rescue Remedy flower drops, and it seems to be helping enough that I'm planning to get some for me. It has an ingredient that is supposed to help calm erratic thoughts.
Earlier bedtimes. For both of us. She used to naturally go to sleep every night at 10 pm (from birth). When she reached a certain age, that wasn't working anymore, so we moved it back. I'm also moving mine back but not too much. I've noticed if I fall asleep too early, that's when I wake at 3 am and can't go back to sleep. If I stay up too late, then I obviously don't get enough sleep either. I think I've found the right time for me to go to sleep and wake up, and I wake up actually feeling refreshed. I make a conscious effort to stop doing anything that requires a lot of mental capacity half an hour before I lie down to give myself some time to unwind. Most toddlers thrive on consistency and routine. Not ours! She wants circumstances to vary in order to sleep. Sometimes she wants music, sometimes not. Sometimes she wants to sleep in her bed, our bed, the guest bed, the Ergo carrier. And that's fine by me; I totally identify. However, the one type of consistency that does work for her is making sure she naps or at least rests at the same two times every day (or as close as possible). With her still taking two naps a day, it's pretty tough to make plans outside the house unless it's something quick. But the alternative is much more difficult to deal with. :)
Brain dumping. Like a good crap, brain dumping can take a load off. Sorry, but I'm a bit past the magic time I need to go to bed, despite my own advice, so I'm getting a little silly. If you have a lot on your mind, you can consciously go over a list of things to do the next day in your mind or jot them down. Treat it as a purge. Once it's gone, you're not allowed to let yourself think about it anymore. Make a concerted effort to focus on a really positive memory instead - something that has already happened so you don't get excited or start planning anything. If you just can't redirect your thoughts, try this next tip.
Listening to something soothing. My daughter and I both sleep better with some white noise, usually a fan. I've also been known to turn on my hypnotherapy or HypnoParenting mp3s on my phone, which usually lull us right off. I think she and I both have a similar problem of not being able to shut off our brains. I have an endless, exhausting stream of consciousness that never gives me a break unless I'm reading, watching mindless TV, or listening to hypnotherapy. I'd give anything sometimes to be able to turn it off like a light switch and get some friggin' peace once in a while. I worry. Like a LOT. About everything. As if I don't have enough legitimate stuff to worry about, I will make up things to worry about as well. Worry makes it very hard to sleep restfully. If you can really zone in on a soothing sound you hear in the room and let it fill up your senses, it helps drown out your thoughts so you can relax.
Massage. My daughter loves to have her back and feet rubbed to help her relax. So do I. I ask my husband to do so quite regularly and no longer feel bad about it because he's happy to and because if it helps me relax, it's good for everyone. I'm thinking about getting back to the chiropractor too.
Bathtime. I don't shower every day. Most newish moms don't. It's just a fact of life. And my daughter isn't usually dirty enough at this age to need one every day. But we're going to start doing it at least almost every night because it's a chance to unwind, and warm water and smelly-good things help us relax. Even though she plays in the bath and sometimes gets too playful, there is just something about going to bed feeling clean.
Removing the pressure to sleep. When you feel like you should be sleeping, all it does is make it more elusive. If my daughter is fighting sleep and doesn't want to give in (and she fights it harder than any kid I've ever seen), I will tell her, "You don't have to sleep. You do have to be still and quiet and relax." She can sense when I let go of the desperation and pressure, and it helps her to let go and sleep. And even if she doesn't sleep, she has to use the whole allotted time to relax so she at least slows down for a bit. For my problem of waking in the wee hours, I'll admit, some of my best work and ideas have come from that 2-4 am window when I couldn't sleep. One time, I woke up and could not stop thinking about one of my freelance clients. So many ideas were flooding into my mind that I had to get up and type them all out. It turned out to be very valuable info. During these times, I try to let it come if it needs to and not chastise myself for being awake. Taking the pressure off myself helps me go back to sleep easier when I'm done. Sometimes it's just flat out easier to concentrate on stuff late at night when the rest of the house is quiet and distraction-free. That's usually when I blog.
Making sleep feel safe again. If you have a lot of bad, or even really vivid dreams, you might dread sleep. If you lie awake a lot, you might dread that stretch of time lying in bed all uncomfortable. For my daughter, she is terrified of waking up alone. So we sit with her for her naps when she's in her own bed. She might stir a little and look up to see if we're there; when she sees us, she falls back asleep. After some time of doing this, we will slowly inch farther away until she feels secure waking up without us in the room. In the meantime, I try to use the time to read or work so that I'm not thinking of all the things I "could" be doing instead of sitting in her room, which will only lead to her feeling that pressure (plus, one day when she is older, I won't have such a sweet opportunity to just watch her sleep). I realize that it might sound like we're bending over backwards for her sleep schedule. We are; I have no delusions. But trust me when I say that it's much harder to deal with her not getting that sleep. It's so worth it. And it's a temporary thing; as she grows and learns, she will gradually feel more comfortable. If you're the one with the problem, think of ways to change your negative associations about sleep.
Pacifier. Okay, that only works for one of us. And I promise I will wean myself off in a few months.
Do you have any sleep tips that work for you? (Perhaps reading this post since it's super long?)
Have you noticed if you feel worse about yourself when you're tired?