Too Tired To Be A Good Mama? 7 Good Sleep Habits To Improve Your Parenting

Too Tired To Be A Good Mama? 7 Good Sleep Habits To Improve Your Parenting

Parenting young babies and toddlers can be exhausting.

Your baby might be waking frequently to nurse, or your toddler might regularly need help getting back to sleep.

These night wakings are hard work for mamas, but for our little ones, they’re the biological norm.

Too Tired To Be A Good Mama? 7 Good Sleep Habits To Improve Your Parenting

You might often feel you’re too tired to be a good mama. Perhaps you think it’s because your baby or toddler is waking frequently throughout the night.

But your lack of good sleep hygiene could be more responsible for your tiredness than you realise.

‘Sleep hygiene’ refers to the habits that help you have a good night’s sleep, regardless of what happens during the night.

At this point in your life, while you’re trying to respond to your child’s night time needs, you might even wonder what a ‘good night’s sleep’ looks like.

Today’s culture focuses on a child’s night waking as a problem to be fixed, rather than accepting it is normal for children to wake and need their parents at night.

It might help if you shift your focus away from your child’s night waking. Instead, refocus on what is really making you tired, and what can be done to address it.

A good first step is to look at your own sleep hygiene. You might find your ‘sleep problems’ have developed from habits you’ve reinforced over the years – long before your baby arrived on the scene.

Here are 7 good sleep habits to help you get a good night’s sleep while parenting your child responsively:

#1: Listen To Your Body Clock

Our bodies are governed by two powerful sleep regulators: the sleep-wake homeostasis, or sleep pressure, and the circadian clock.

These physiological clocks work best when they are in sync with each other. Sleep inducing hormones, governed by the sleep-wake homeostasis, should reach their peak at roughly the same time the circadian clock tells the body it is time for sleep.

Getting a good sleep means working with your body’s sleep regulators, not against them.

To work with your body, here are some things you can do:

  • Get up at (roughly) the same  time every day. This helps your body to feel sleepy at about the same time each night.
  • Don’t ignore tiredness. Go to bed when your body tells you it is tired.
  • Don’t go to bed unless you are tired. Lying in bed awake reinforces bad habits.
  • Get out in the morning sun. This early exposure to the sun helps to realign your circadian clock.

How this applies while you’re responding to your child

By living your life with plenty of daylight and activity during the day, you also help establish a healthy circadian clock for your baby.

Working with your natural sleep regulators will also help you to maximise the quality of your own sleep each night.

To read more about your baby’s sleep and these biological sleep regulators read Catnapping Could Be The Answer To Better Baby Sleep.

#2: Sleeping Environment Matters

You are more likely to get good sleep if you are comfortable. Here are some things to consider:

  • Invest in a high-quality mattress that is neither too hard nor too soft.
  • Darken your room.
  • Make sure the room is cool enough to feel comfortable.
  • If noise is an issue, earplugs might help.
  • Use your bedroom for sleeping and intimacy. All other activities should remain part of your active life outside the bedroom. This includes watching television, using smartphones or screens.

How this applies while you’re responding to your child

Your sleeping environment is an essential part of finding the best quality sleep you can, as a family.

How is your current sleeping arrangement working for the comfort of everyone in your family? If people are uncomfortable, what changes could you make that will still allow you to respond to your baby?

Creating a floor bed, or upsizing to a bigger mattress? Side-carring a cot, or placing a comfortable single mattress next to the cot in the nursery? These are options to get you thinking.

When you are tending to your baby’s needs at night, are you compromising your sleep hygiene by looking at your phone, logging feeds, or watching a bright clock display?

Find ways to meet your baby’s needs without bringing light and activity into your sleep environment.

For more information on co-sleeping read Babies and Sleep: The Benefits of Co-Sleeping.

#3: Avoid Cigarettes, Alcohol, Sleeping Pills And Other Drugs

Contrary to what many believe, drugs, alcohol and cigarettes are not relaxing. They can make sleep harder to find and maintain.

Cigarettes are stimulants, and increase heart rate and blood pressure. This works against your physiological sleep regulators.

Alcohol is a depressant, and although it might help you drift off more easily, your sleep will be disturbed and less restful. Other drawbacks include frequent toilet trips, and a hangover the next day.

Prescription sleeping pills should be used only under strict medical guidance. They might fail to address the underlying cause of the sleeplessness and, after a time, you could find it even harder to fall asleep without them.

It’s also advisable to avoiding caffeinated drinks later in the day.

How this applies while you’re responding to your child

If you or another person in the bed are under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or if you smoke cigarettes, it is unsafe to bedshare with your baby or toddler. It will also be more difficult for you to respond to your child in the night. And, with a decrease in the quality of sleep, it will also be more challenging for you to meet your child’s needs during the day.

#4: Calm Your Mind

Having things on your mind can often interfere with getting to sleep. You might find you are anxious, and focusing on worries and concerns as soon as you turn out the light.

These things might help:

  • Try talking through some of your worries in the early evening, to get them out before it’s close to bedtime.
  • In the hour leading up to bed, do an activity you find relaxing but not too mentally stimulating, such as guided relaxation, guided meditation, yoga, reading a familiar book, having sex, or enjoying a cuddle or a chat.
  • If you have a clock in your room, turn it away so you can’t see the time. Watching it will make you feel anxious about how much sleep you will or won’t have.
  • Take a warm bath or shower. The cooling that happens afterwards sends your body sleep-time messages.

How this applies while you’re responding to your child

As a parent, you can easily let worry become a routine part of your days and nights. Anxiety about sleep is quite common. It’s important to understand the sleep paradox. This means the more you focus on sleep, and trying to fall asleep (or make your baby fall asleep), the less likely it is to happen.

I could tell you to clap your hands, and you could easily follow that instruction. If I told you to fall asleep, it is highly unlikely you could do so, on cue. Sleep isn’t within our conscious control. The more you relax and relinquish control over your ability to fall asleep, as well as your baby’s, the more likely you are to find sleep.

Clock watching, counting wake ups, monitoring how long a feed/settle takes, working out how long you’ve been awake or how long it will be until your baby is likely to wake again… all this focus on sleep just adds unnecessary stress and tension to your mind. Remember, not one of these things is within your control.

Instead, try to work out what helps you to be calm. Consider ways to keep yourself as drowsy, and relaxed as possible. Try to be oblivious to the exact quantity of sleep you achieve, or lose. That’s a great place to start.

Guided relaxation, meditation, bedtime stories, cuddles, massage, and nursing are also fabulous techniques to teach children healthy sleep hygiene habits. Don’t feel these things need to be done separately from your own relaxation process.

#5: Exercise

Exercise is fabulous for your sleep hygiene. It might be as basic as a play in the park with your toddler, or a daily gym routine. What you do is up to you.

Exercise improves your mood and lowers stress. It can also help you to feel sleepy. During exercise your body temperature goes up; afterwards, it drops again. This post-exercise fall in temperature signals to your body it’s time to feel sleepy.

Make sure you don’t exercise too vigorously, too close to bedtime. The extra body heat generated can interfere with your body’s sleep regulators.

How this applies while you’re responding to your child

There are many options for how this could look in your setting. You might like to attend a gym with a creche, join a mums and bubs exercise class, walk to the park, or ride a bike with the kids (or without if you can).

If those aren’t easy options, organise to tag team with your partner or friend so you both have the chance to do a sport or activity you enjoy. Even a gentle evening stroll, with your baby in the pram or carrier, can be a soothing way to wind down at the end of the day.

Read more about this in Sleep or Exercise – What Should New Parents Choose?.

#6: Stop Trying To Fall Asleep

If you haven’t fallen asleep after about 20 minutes of trying to, it’s a good idea to get up. Do something calm, quiet and boring until you feel sleepy.

Keep the lights low and avoid anything too exciting or stimulating, as this will wake you up further. Try to avoid screens and smartphones; they can interfere with your body’s ability to sleep.

How this applies while you’re responding to your child

If you are finding it difficult to fall asleep when you first go to bed, then try the step above.

When it’s difficult to fall back to sleep after tending to your baby, try getting up to go to the toilet, have a sip of water, or use some guided meditations. This might help you slip back into sleep.

#7: Seek Advice From Your Care Provider

If you’ve had a lengthy period of poor quality sleep and are trying to improve your sleep hygiene, it’s a good idea to stick at it for at least 14-21 days.

After this time, if you still see no improvement in your sleep quality, the next step is to speak to your care provider.

Healthy sleep hygiene is achievable while you’re responding to your child’s night time needs. Everyone experiences those times when sleep is less than perfect. It’s normal.

While there are young babies and toddlers in your life, goals for sleep are always best focussed on the best quality sleep you can achieve, rather than fixating on the sometimes-elusive quantity.

It’s also normal to access support and respite at these times in your life when sleep is particularly challenging. If you are feeling overwhelmed by the sleep challenges you are facing, reaching out for help and relief is highly recommended.

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Carly Grubb B.Ed (Primary) Hons. CONTRIBUTOR

Carly Grubb is a primary school teacher by trade, and the mama of two young boys who have helped reignite her love of writing. She has a particular passion for advocating for a gentler path for very tired mothers as they navigate infant and toddler sleep.

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