Most articles are about getting the CHILD to sleep. Getting kids to have a peaceful night’s sleep is important (and I’ll talk a little about that), but I haven’t found much emphasis on if the PARENT has good sleeping habits. I’ve had enough disturbed sleep over the past 7 years of parent hood and what I found is that I was the one who actually had to discipline MYSELF to make sure I was getting enough sleep. I had to break a lot of bad habits and drop unrealistic expectations because I just wasn’t getting the sleep I needed. I also learned to look for signals of unmet needs in my children when they weren’t sleeping well. When we sleep better, our parenting is better. Our decision making is better. Even if our babies and children do wake up a little here and there, when the mother (or father) gets a good night sleep, the whole show runs a lot smoother.
If your child is disrupting your sleep…
Staying Connected to Your Children At Night
Babies and young children want to feel safe at night. Their need for comfort and closeness does not end when the lights go out. Some possible reasons for children having trouble falling and staying to sleep is simply the fear of being alone. If your child wants to share your bed, or your room, it’s ok to let them. It’s not weird or unusual for kids to want to be near you. My 7 year old still likes for me to lay down with her while she falls to sleep and usually we all go to bed at the same time. We have a family bed, with me, my husband, a 7, a 5 year old and a 10 month old baby, all in the same big bed. Family beds and family bedrooms are the way many families around the world spend the night.
With a baby especially, bed and/or room sharing is ideal because you don’t have to wake up and walk to your baby to pick him up. So, you both get less disturbed at night. They’re right next to you. Of course, if you bed share, be sure to make sure that it feels right for you and that you’re doing it safely. I know that I sleep way better when my babies and children are right next to me. I would actually have anxiety if my babies weren’t near me! If the opposite is true for you, and having your child near you at night makes you anxious, perhaps, if your partner is a light enough sleeper, they can sleep near your child. There are lots of room sharing/bed sharing options.
Baby Wakes Up All Night/Restless Sleep
A little night waking is completely normal, but if your baby is waking up all night long and is having restless sleeps, it’s often the sign of an accumulation of stress and overstimulation. Babies and children have an inborn mechanism to relieve that stress and they do it through raging and crying. If your baby or child is allowed and able to cry and rage freely and is supported to do so in the presence of a loving carer, they will often sleep much much better.
A baby that uses a control pattern to fall back to sleep, the breast, a dummy/pacifer/thumb sucking, often represses these emotions and wakes up more frequently. If your baby is not in the room, you may not even know that he or she is waking. But, if you’re the cosleeping, breastfeeding type, you will definitely know! I wrote a blog post here on breastfeeding cosleeping babies that wake all night and there is also a book called ‘The Aware Baby” by Aletha Solter, and she addresses control patterns and how they affect your child’s sleep. Also, young babies almost never eliminate in a deep sleep. Young babies stir to pee and are bothered by a wet nappies (even a wet disposable can annoy them). If you notice that they’re wet, you can do a nappy change in the dark, or I even take my babies to the toilet at night, which sounds a little crazy, but it’s actually easier than you think. Here’s a blog post on how to do elimination communication.
And for the parents…
Be in Bed NO LATER than 10pm
Going to bed early is the biggest thing of all. I actually aim between 8:30 and 9. They say that the hours of sleep you get before midnight are worth twice as much as the hours after midnight. By 10, that means actually be in bed by 10, not start heading to bed at 10! If you follow ayurveda, the science of life, they say it’s ideal to fall asleep before 10pm. The hours between 10pm-2am are when the body is making repairs. If you’re not asleep during that time, your body is not recovering well enough.
Also, what happens after 10pm, if you’re awake, is that you start to wake back up! Then, 10 turns into 11 and 11 turns into 12 and before you know it, you’re going to bed at midnight. Compound that if your baby or child wakes up a lot or they wake up early, then you’re screwed. I wrote a more in depth article on when it’s important to fall asleep before 10, you can read here. I don’t always go to bed by 10, but on the days I don’t, the next day, there’s hell to pay and I’m a miserable grump!
If you feel like you’re missing out on quiet time with your partner by doing this, maybe only stay up late once a week? Sometimes my husband and I wake up early, before the kids, and have some quiet time or do something, like meditate together or take turns going surfing. If we stay up late to get peace and quiet, we just end up sleeping until the kids wake up and then I feel like I spend the whole day chasing my tail.
Be Careful Who You Complain To!
If you complain about lack of sleep to the wrong people, they’ll probably start telling you things that are not necessary and even counter productive in the long run. They might tell you to stop doing the intuitive things that you’re doing. You might end up trying cry it out, or giving solids before the baby is ready, or forming some short term solution for sleep, that contributes to a long term problem of broken connection and later behaviour problems.
Avoid Screens Before Bed
This seems like an obvious one, but really hard to follow! Just a reminder… as what you’re viewing on the screen has the potential make the mind very active and make it harder to settle. You might have weird dreams as the consciousness tries to process what you’ve just looked at before you fell to sleep. Avoid leaving your phone in your room at night, so that you’ll be able to resist looking at it, should you wake up.
Busy Mind, Can’t Sleep?
If you know a meditation technique, before bed can be a good time to do it! You can’t calm the mind with the mind, you need something else. A really awesome technique is called alternate nostril breathing. Here’s the link on how to do it. You can just sit up in bed any time and do it for a few minutes if you’re having trouble going to sleep.
Another Trick For ‘Can’t fall back to sleep’.
I learned this last year on a meditation course and it really works. So, if your mind is really busy, it means you have too much prana (energy) in the head. So, if you put your awareness on your feet and on the EXHALATION of your breath, then you help to move all the energy back down. You’ll notice that your mind wanders a lot, but just keep brining back to your breath and your feet and you’ll hopefully be asleep in no time.
Unless you’re really depleted or you’re in the days of post partum, avoid taking day sleeps. Having a day sleep will make you want to go to bed later and then might make it harder for you to fall back to sleep if you wake up at night. Also, taking a day sleep, according to ayurveda, can make things in your body, like your digestion, run a big more sluggish than usual. So, better to avoid it unless you’re really zonked. It is important to rest while your kids sleep. So their rest time can be a good time for you to do something rejuvenating, like have a cup of tea, do some yoga and meditation or even stare a a wall if it’s been one of *those* days. Hopping on the phone to check social media is fine, but I noticed I often feel that my ‘rest quota‘ is unfulfilled when I do that too much during the kid’s sleep time.
Anyway, these are things that I’ve found have worked for making sure the parent has enough rest! It’s so important for us and for our families to be well rested. So, nighty night, sleep tight!