Parents often stress about bedtimes for their children but do not do the same for themselves. Sleep becomes a luxury when trying to take care of multiple children while juggling work, household chores, and getting through the day. This can be especially true for new parents who are doing middle-of-the-night wake-ups. But I’ve realized that even as my children grow older, sleep is an ongoing challenge.
I often put off sleep in favor of other forms of self-care. I’d rather dig into a good book or binge-watch a show after my children go to bed because it’s easier to relax when I can focus on something else. Plus, it’s some of the only time I have to myself.
When I start to wind down for the night, brush my teeth, and turn the lights off, my body immediately tenses as I prepare to face hours of tossing and turning. Despite my ever-mounting exhaustion, at some point, bedtime for me stopped being a priority. It was almost easier to just accept the fact that I wasn’t going to sleep well instead of keep trying.
When I talked through my sleep concerns with my therapist, I had a heart-to-heart with her about how I was exhausted mentally and physically. She immediately asked me about my sleep habits since my health otherwise was stable and my medications were the same. She highlighted the importance of consistency in my bedtime routine to help me relax at night.
Why sleep is so important
According to the Mayo Clinic, adults who average less than seven hours of sleep a night are more likely to gain weight, have diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and/or depression. For many of us, it is not a surprise that sleep has such an impact on our overall health. Being a parent can make us neglect what used to be a priority when our children take so much of our focus and energy. This is why we need to put as much effort into our bedtime just as we do for our children’s bedtime.
For many of us, it is not a surprise that sleep has such an impact on our overall health. Being a parent can make us neglect what used to be a priority when our children take so much of our focus and energy.
Your bedtime routine doesn’t have to be elaborate or time consuming as long as you can identify what is disruptive and what helps you. And it can be different for everyone, so if listening to hard rock music relaxes you every evening before bed, keep that in your routine, but make sure you stay consistent.
In working with my own therapist, she shared helpful suggestions to improve my sleep that could be beneficial for any parent in need of a few tips for better sleep.
Try pink noise versus white noise
While white noise can be beneficial for many people, it sometimes can no longer do the trick for others. I was someone who used to have my Alexa play white noise every night to go to sleep, but over the past few months, it no longer was relaxing. It felt too loud. My therapist recommended pink noise, which is more of a flat consistent frequency like rain or waves on a beach, that filters out other distractors. It is sometimes referred to as ambient noise, and its lower waves can filter out higher sounds like a door slamming or even someone snoring. I use this every evening after I brush my teeth to help relax and drown out noises that would distract me.
Use all of your senses to relax
Using different methods that focus on different senses can be a beneficial way to spice up your normal bedtime routine. While using ambient noise and sleep masks are great tools, sometimes we get stuck on things that are supposed to work for us. Just like children go through sleep regressions and switch up what works for their bedtime, adults do the same. Try using an essential oil diffuser at night with lavender (or some other relaxing blend) or even taking a bath with some calming bath bombs.
If scents aren’t your thing, you can try adding massages with unscented lotion to your nightly routine. The feeling of lotion being massaged into your muscles by yourself—for your partner—can really help you drift off. The best part about this is that if you have never focused on different senses, you may find that catering to them can be more effective when you are sprucing up your bedtime routine.
Make a routine that’s easy to replicate and remember
You do not need an elaborate bedtime routine that includes a 10-minute face mask, a full yoga sequence, or counting backwards from 1,000. A bedtime routine that is easy to replicate every night and is easily adjustable if, for example, you run out of your favorite bath soak, is key. Make sure it works for you, with your schedule, and isn’t adding another “to-do” to your never-ending list.
Find compromises with your partner
If you find that you and your partner’s routines do not work together, try to come up with a compromise. For instance, my husband loves listening to music at night, and I cannot stand it because I find myself working out the harmonies and want to sing along. To make sure we both can adhere to our bedtime routines, he uses headphones and I do my puzzles on my phone so I don’t need a light, which would usually keep him awake. While this may not work for some, we’ve figured out what works for us.
Enforce sleep boundaries with your children
Boundaries are important in nearly every aspect of life, so why do parents so often throw out their needs when it comes to their children? For instance, once we moved to a new house, my eldest son started having nightmares and would sneak into our bed in the middle of the night. While it was OK in the beginning, it soon took a toll on the quality and quantity of sleep I was getting. I almost felt too guilty to tell him “no,” but then I realized that compromising was better for both of us. He is now allowed to come into my room and sleep in a cozy spot on the floor next to my bed if he is scared or can choose to go back to his room.
Sleep is a necessity that many of us need to remind ourselves to prioritize, and if that means we are no longer OK with cosleeping, that is OK! It may mean a transition time to get your kids used to a new sleep routine, but it’s a worthy time investment. Try to give yourself grace through the process and realize that it’s actually good for your family for you to prioritize your needs.