Get Better Sleep for Better Parenting

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cute little girl on morningI’ve read a million parenting articles on how to get your child to bed, but what about how to get parents to bed?

Are you tired? I don’t think there is a more widely expressed parental exclamation after a tough parenting day than, “I’m exhausted!”

Whether you’re feeling physical fatigue or simply mental and emotional exhaustion, sometimes it’s not that we need another parenting technique. Sometimes, we just need a little sleep or better sleep.

Moms and Dads alike are always talking about how tired they are. Being a parent brings a whole list of new challenges that can often lead to negative cycles of sleep deprivation that, if unchecked, can affect everything we do.

We think about our children’s need for sleep, but rarely consider our own.

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When my kids are struggling to manage their emotions, having trouble getting along with siblings, or when the tone of their voices goes up an octave, I have made the statement many times that, “They really need a nap!”

I recently met with a little girl in counseling that, like other kids her age, didn’t always want to fall in line with her mother’s orders to clean her room. It was a constant battle for them. It came up over and over again in our counseling sessions. One evening, as I met with them in a session together, this little seven year old girl’s mom had a bit of a tantrum, complete with a raised voice, and a little bit of something I would consider “parental whining.” My young client did not bat an eye at this, but as soon as there was a lull in the conversation, she stated very matter of factly, “Mom needs a nap.”

Sometimes we need sleep just as badly as the kids do, sometimes, more. Any good parenting information these days encourages us as parents to “keep our cool” and learn to stay in the reasoning parts of our brains when we are interacting with our kids. That becomes much more difficult when we are not rested and often leads to irrational responses to their behavior.

We’ve got a lot going on.

We get up in the middle of the night with our infants and toddlers.

We’re the first ones up and the last ones to bed.

We are go, go, go all day. Long hours at the office run into extracurricular activities and then it’s on to dinner and housework.

We exert loads of physical energy wiping tables and bums, chasing kids here and there and folding endless piles of laundry. We drain our emotional and mental capacities fielding our children’s big feelings and interpersonal crisis.

I never fell asleep reading a book before I became a Dad, but cannot count the times my kids have had to wake me to finish their stories. I know I’m not the only parent that has gotten whiplash from the aggressive nodding off that happens during nap or bedtime books. I’ve gotten many good laughs from watching my wife’s head droop and her words slur as she reads to the kids.

Let’s face it, we have a lot going on. The importance and impact of regular, healthy rest and sleep patterns cannot be exaggerated. Too often, we fail to see this as an important aspect of being a productive and loving parent.

Why is sleep so important?

There are a lot of theories about the many functions of sleep. Among them are the essential functions of cell repair and regeneration, release of important hormones and regulation of hormones, emotional release and relaxation, as well as organization, structuring and restructuring of information in the brain. Many experts and researchers have said that the time that we spend asleep is probably more important to our physical, mental and emotional health than anything we do while we are awake.

Many people suffer from sleep deprivation, insomnia and other sleep disorders some of which are strictly biological or medical in nature, but a lot of sleep problems can be remedied by simply practicing better sleep hygiene. This one change in our lives can have a huge impact on how we feel and how we interact with our children. When we are rested, it opens our minds and hearts to a new level of connection with our kids.

What can we do?

The following elements of good sleep hygiene are things that are often overlooked but can greatly enhance our sleep cycles and help us to feel better and be better.

1. Routine:

  • Have bedtime rituals. Do things in the 1-2 hours before bed that help you wind down and relax. Take a warm bath or shower. Read a book. Do relaxation or meditation Do gentle exercise, like Yoga.
  • Have a regular sleep schedule; what time you go to bed and get up. Try to be consistent in your sleep schedule. Stages of sleep generally run in 90 minute cycles and so it is often best to wake near the beginning of that 90 minute cycle. This means around 7.5 hours or 9 hours of sleep is usually best for most people. Avoid napping regularly during the day, especially for long periods of time.
  • Manage your daily responsibilities so you can manage these routines and schedules.

2. Environment: Your sleep environment is important to the depth and quality of your sleep.

  • Designate your bed as a place for sleep. That means that it is best to keep TV, and other electronics out of the bedroom. The light from electronic devices can inhibit and negatively affect your sleep.
  • Make the room as dark as you can and try to wake slowly rather than to an abrupt alarm.
  • Have a mattress and bedding that are comfortable and provide you with a comfortable temperature.

3. Exercise:

  • Even short daily exercise can help with sleep patterns and health.
  • Get outside during the day, as much as you can. Natural light helps to set your sleep-wake cycle.

4. Nutrition/Input:

  • Eat healthy foods that provide energy you need during the day. These include things like whole grains and healthy proteins and fats.
  • Don’t drink alcohol or caffeine within 4-6 hours of your bedtime. Refrain from nicotine as well before bed.
  • Avoid eating large amounts or high calorie, high sugar foods before bed.

Even if you are feeling pretty good and you don’t find yourself struggling to stay awake and have the energy you need with your kids, evaluating our sleep habits can be extremely helpful. These few suggestions above can help us to get us more and better sleep so we can function at our best. We can catch bad habits before they lead to chronic sleep problem. If you ever feel like Oscar the Grouch, think about your words to your toddler, “you need some sleep.” Let’s take our own advice and improve our own sleep hygiene so we can provide this model for healthy living to our kids and cope more effectively with the struggles of everyday life.

Sweet Dreams.

Question: How many hours of sleep do you usually get each night? What aspect of your sleep hygiene do you think you need the most? Have you experienced the importance of sleep in your parenting?

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