Having Kids Messes With Sleep: 5 Hacks For Parents Looking To Rest
When you have a little one at home, the opportunities to sleep quickly disappear as nightly wake-ups become a given (and the pandemic isn't making things any easier). It's no wonder that research shows the average parent has less-than-optimal sleep for six years after the birth of a child.
Here are a few of the best tips mbg has picked up from sleep experts, parents, and therapists to get you through those half-dozen sleepy years feeling a little bit better rested:
Stick to a wind-down routine (and keep some reinforcements on hand).
Getting the mind ready for bed takes time—something newer parents just don't have. But as functional medicine doctor Robert Rountree, M.D., reminded us during a virtual sleep summit with mbg, "We are not on-off devices. Humans are not digital—you don't just push a button to go to sleep. It takes the human mind a while to unwind."
So try as you might to fall asleep right after nursing or picking up around the house, you probably will need a sleep buffer to help your mind relax.
While more intricate wind-down routines like a warm bath or long reading session might be out the window, quicker rituals such as a three-minute relaxing meditation paired with a quick sniff of lavender oil can be enough to send a signal to the brain that it's time for bed.
For a little extra support, Rountree says that magnesium supplements like mbg's sleep support+ can be great: "Magnesium is one of the first things that you want to reach for when you're having trouble calming down. It's a calming agent... It's relaxing blood vessels; it's improving blood flow."*
In addition to being a relaxing supplement for bedtime, reviewers (yes, parents included!) say sleep support+, which is fortified with other relaxing ingredients like jujube and PharmaGABA®, can help them fall back asleep faster after waking up in the middle of the night.* This brings us to the next tip...
If you wake up in the middle of the night and can't fall back asleep, get out of bed.
For those nights when a screaming baby or toddler jolts you awake and you can't fall back asleep, Rountree says that staying in bed is one of the worst things you can do. "You might as well get up and do something else," he explains. "You're better off going and reading with a little bit of light, doing something that's non-stressful—meditating, listening to music."
Get some sun during the day and darkness at night.
Parenting duties can throw normal sleep schedules out the window, which, in turn, can send your body's internal clock out of whack.
To keep your circadian rhythm as regulated as possible, therapist Tilda Timmers has some advice: "During the day it's essential to get as much daylight as possible. It helps your body clock reset, and the sunlight will recharge you a bit," she shared with mbg.
Come nighttime, she recommends switching your phone to night mode, avoiding tech as much as possible, and dimming the lights in your living space to stimulate melatonin production so you fall asleep faster.
If you have little ones, make a midday sleep plan.
If you have a younger child, less than a year old, they are really the ones who are setting your sleep schedule—which is OK! "Sleeping when baby sleeps is one of the best ways to stop ourselves from spiraling into complete exhaustion," Beccy Hands and Alexis Stickland, co-authors of the book The Little Book of Support for New Moms, shared with mbg, "but it is easier said than done."
Hands and Strickland shared that quick little comforts like a lavender room spray or cup of calming tea can help your body relax on command. If your mind is the thing that's keeping you up, try writing down all your to-do's and worries on a piece of paper to symbolically let them go before your nap. They'll be there when you wake up!
If your kids are older, engage them in conversations around sleep.
Once your kids hit the 4- to 5-year mark, journalist and teacher Esther Wojcicki recommends starting some "collaborative parenting" and engaging them in conversations about the importance of sleep and sleep hygiene.
On her episode of the mbg podcast, Wojcicki detailed why involving children in the decision about what bedtime is appropriate for them—and why it's healthy to stick to it—can help them become less fussy during bedtime, which means better sleep for the whole fam.
Emma Loewe is the Senior Sustainability Editor at mindbodygreen and the author of Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us. She is also the co-author of The Spirit Almanac: A Modern Guide To Ancient Self Care, which she wrote alongside Lindsay Kellner.
Emma received her B.A. in Environmental Science & Policy with a specialty in environmental communications from Duke University. In addition to penning over 1,000 articles on mbg, her work has appeared on Bloomberg News, Marie Claire, Bustle, and Forbes. She has covered everything from the water crisis in California to the rise of urban beekeeping to a group of doctors prescribing binaural beats for anxiety. She's spoken about the intersection of self-care and sustainability on podcasts and live events alongside environmental thought leaders like Marci Zaroff, Gay Browne, and Summer Rayne Oakes.