Children are like sponges. They pick up on what we do or don't do, what we say, how we say it, what our attitudes are, etc. Your relationship with sleep and self-care is no exception.
Do you have a good relationship with your sleep? If you show your children that your own sleep is important to you, they are more likely to develop the same attitude.
If you are not sleeping well or could use some adjustments, below are some tips on how to improve your own sleep.
FIGURE OUT YOUR BEDTIME
According to the National Sleep Foundation, adults need seven to nine hours of sleep on average. Thus, one of the steps in improving your sleep must be making sure that you get the optimal amount of sleep that your body requires. In order to do this, you will need to figure out that number. One easy way to do so is to to allow yourself to consistently go to bed at the same time and wake up on your own for a few weeks.
First, evaluate the earliest time during the week that you must be up for the day. This will be your designated, consistent wake time. If your children are usually your alarm clock, set your wake time for about fifteen minutes prior to their wake time.
Once you know what time you need to be awake, count back nine hours from that time. This will when you want to be falling asleep. Even if you are normally a night owl, you will want to do this as I am guessing, since you are reading this post, you have a child that requires you to wake up early. Since most adults need nine hours or less, this allows you to gradually figure out the amount of sleep you need without waking due to an alarm clock unless you reach that longer duration.
At the time that I figured out my sleep needs, I needed to be up by 7AM at the latest two days a week. I counted back nine hours from 7AM. I set an alarm for 7AM to make sure I didn't end up being late for work but giving myself nine hours of sleep at the most. With my calculations, I found that I needed to be asleep by 10PM. Not in bed by 10PM, but asleep by 10PM. So every night, I started going upstairs to prep for bed by 9:30PM at the latest in order to allow myself to be in bed and falling asleep by 10PM.
Once you know your bedtime, consistently try being asleep at that time for a few weeks. Pay attention to your mood and your energy the following day. Keep track of what you did before bed, the time you got in bed, the time you actually went to sleep, etc.
I discovered that I need the longer duration of sleep. I was ready to get out of bed after nine hours of sleep. If I got in bed and was out before 10PM, I was usually up before my 7AM alarm. It ended up being exactly nine hours almost every time. If I missed my opportunity to get to bed before 10PM and was woken up by my 7AM alarm, I was tired the following day.
CONSISTENTLY GET THE SLEEP YOUR BODY NEEDS
Once you know how much sleep you need, do your best not to deviate from a consistent bedtime and wake time. Try to stick to a routine all seven days of the weekend.
Yes. This means even on weekends.
If you have a big weekend coming up, expect to be tired the following week and allow yourself to get back on track. Deviating by about an hour occasionally won't effect you too much. However, being up until midnight every weekend or several nights a week can definitely throw your entire routine off for the following day and week as you create a snowball effect of over-tiredness. When we are over-tired, we don't get the quality sleep that we need because it causes fragmented sleep, a harder time falling asleep, and early wakings.
Sound familiar?! *cough* Your child. *cough*
What I have found is that if I want to stay up later on a weekend, staying up until about 11PM is ok for me. However, I will still need my full nine hours of sleep. Therefore, I change my alarm to 8AM instead of 7am. If am awake even later, I allow myself to sleep when possible and expect an exhausting couple of days.
CREATE A BEDTIME ROUTINE
Just like we use a bedtime routine with our children, we adults also benefit from having one. Create a consistent and calm routine prior to getting into bed that cues to your brain it is time to sleep. Give yourself enough time to finish your routine and be in bed prior to your designated bedtime as you will want to take into consideration how long it takes for you to fall asleep once in bed. It is normal for us to need five to thirty minutes to relax in bed before falling asleep.
TAKE ADVANTAGE OF DARKNESS
Our circadian rhythm heavily relies on light. When it is dark, our bodies naturally secrete the hormone melatonin which relaxes our minds and muscles causing us to feel sleepy. However, exposure to lights (especially unnatural lights) right before bed can prevent this secretion and keep us awake longer. Hence, about an hour or more before you are getting into bed, do the following.
Dim the lights in the house.
Avoid bright bulbs that emit blue light. If you have a bright light, use a different bulb that has a red/amber tint to it as this type of light is less intrusive to the release of melatonin.
Turn off all screens, especially close-range, hand-held devices.
Make your bedroom as dark as possible for sleep. Use blackout curtains to block any rays of sunlight. Any chargers that light up, move them outside the room and get rid of any nightlight.
GET RID OF DISTRACTIONS
Turn your phone on "Do Not Disturb" (DND) when sleeping. If someone needs you, your phone most likely has an emergency option for when it is on DND. For example, I have an iPhone. When my phone is set in the DND mode, someone can call me three times within one minute in order for it to go out of that mode and ring.
Place any work or other potential stressors out of sight.
Keep a pad of paper and pen next to your bed in case you have a list of to-do's running through your head. This allows you to write them down and then let them go until the morning.
Create a bedroom that is calming by keeping it decluttered and decorating with colors, smells, sights that help you relax.
TAKE TIME FOR YOURSELF DURING THE DAY
Allow yourself time during the day to destress. Time to get away from the noise, from devices, from people. You might have something that works specifically for you. If you don't get much time to yourself, find time when you can take even five to ten minutes. Focus on your breathing or the moment instead of your to-do list.
Exercise! However, exercise four hours or more prior to bedtime. Exercising too closely to bedtime can cause us to stay up later due to the endorphins that get pumped throughout our body.
Running, swimming, and sometimes reading are my ways to calm down and have me-time. I find that when I've been too busy or around people too much, focusing on some me-time really allows me to be more calm. When I don't get that, I feel stressed and have a harder time relaxing.
AVOID HAVING TOO MUCH ALCOHOL AND/OR CAFFEINE
Pay attention to your alcohol and caffeine consumption as they both contribute to how well or badly you sleep.
Avoid having too much alcohol. Although alcohol seems to help us fall asleep, it interrupts our sleep cycles. It causes sleep to be more fragmented and prevents us from getting the deep restorative sleep that completes our sleep cycles. Hence, we wake up tired.
Avoid having too much caffeine and having caffeine to late into the day. Caffeine blocks the certain receptors in our brains that absorb a chemical called adenosine. Adenosine builds up while we are awake. The longer that we are awake, the more adenosine is present. Thus, increasing our sleep pressure and making us feel sleepy. When we go to sleep, our brain disposes of the adenosine. Hence, decreasing our sleep pressure.
However, if we have caffeine in our system, adenosine continues to build up without our brain telling us that we are tired. If we are able to fall asleep regardless of the caffeine in our system, our brain is not able to absorb the adenosine properly. Hence, we either go to bed too late or wake up feeling tired since we still have sleep pressure built up.
I am NOT a medical professional. If you have tried to change your behavior but still have issues with your sleep, I highly suggest contacting your doctor. If you snore or mouth breath at night, PLEASE, contact your doctor as these are signs of medical issues. It is not normal for someone to constantly feel tired. Unless you have a newborn or something that you are aware of that prevents good sleep (and I don't mean staying up late to watch a show or get work done), feeling tired is a reason to dig deeper. If not for you, then for your family as sleep is very important for your overall and long-term health.