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This Routine Helps Me Wake Up Energized (Even As A New Mom Who Co-Sleeps)

Leah Santa Cruz
March 22, 2023
Leah Santa Cruz
Meditation Coach
By Leah Santa Cruz
Meditation Coach
Leah Santa Cruz is an expert meditation coach with a background in neuroscience and psychology. She's the Co-Head of Meditation for the award-winning Balance app and the co-host of the Well Balanced podcast.
the wind down
Image by spacejoy / unsplash
March 22, 2023
Our sleep series, The Wind Down, provides a minute-by-minute peek into the wind-down routines that get well-being experts ready for bed. Today, we're relaxing with Leah Santa Cruz, a meditation coach and new mom who is finding ways to embrace nights of interrupted rest.
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When I was a child, falling asleep was a challenge for me. So I instinctively began to relax my jaw, perform a body scan meditation, and imagine positive symbols. Every time, I'd drift into sleep within minutes, successfully curing my insomnia. But as I entered my 20s, I'd often pull all-nighters for work and school, leading to burnout and adrenal fatigue. After that, I began to value sleep more and learned I need at least eight hours to feel my best. For me, this is easiest when I exercise regularly and check in with my mood each day during my meditation, allowing me to process and release the thoughts and worries that might keep me up at night. Meditation also helps me release physical tension—a prerequisite for deeper sleep. 

When I became a mother, waking up at night to tend to my baby became inevitable. At first, I dreaded these wake-ups, but resisting my reality only led to anxiety, thus more difficulty relaxing and sleeping. A vicious cycle. So I learned to shift my perspective and view my sleep as shifts or naps instead. One way I released the attitude of anxiety was learning that for millennia, our ancestors actually slept in two shifts, once in the evening and again in the early morning, with a one- to three-hour wake period during the night. From our prehistoric ancestors all the way until the industrial revolution, "double sleeping" was the norm! When artificial lighting was introduced, we stayed up late but still had to wake up early, leading to truncated sleep that shifted our circadian rhythms and sleep practices.

Now we think of a solid night's sleep as one continuous shift, but back in 1992, a sleep study showed that our hormones and circadian rhythms will adjust back to a double-sleep pattern when we're deprived of artificial lighting for several weeks. This helped me see that my biological rhythms could adapt to being a new mother and that by dimming the lighting in my home at sundown and limiting my screen time, I can still get all the sleep I need—even with the baby wakings. This relaxed mindset, along with good sleep hygiene and a meditation practice, allow me to fall back asleep easily. 

When my son is older and sleeping "through the night," I'll again enjoy the luxury of uninterrupted sleep. But in the meantime, I know the most important thing I need to feel energized and present for the people I care for during the day is having a positive and accepting attitude toward my sleep at night. I also give myself permission to be human. I'm not always going to do things perfectly, and there's going to be an occasional night when I don't get great rest because I stayed up too late watching a movie with my husband after my son fell asleep, but I find that every trade-off still leads to something beautiful. 

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  • Average hours I sleep a night: 8-9 hours, in multiple sleep shifts
  • Ideal bedtime: 9 p.m.
  • Ideal wake-up time: 6:30 a.m.
  • Nightstand essentials: A glass of water, an old-school alarm clock (I keep my phone in the living room at night), and my memory foam pillow with silk cover (I even travel with it)
  • Favorite place I've ever slept: My grandmother's house growing up. She had the softest pillow-top bed—I'd imagine I was a princess waking up there. 
  • Sleep bad habit: On occasion, staying up too late or screen time at night.  
  • Caffeine consumption: 1 cup of chai tea every morning, or the occasional 1 cup of coffee. I noticed chai tea, although still caffeinated, is far less taxing on my adrenals than coffee. I also have the occasional piece of dark chocolate after dinner too. 
  • How I track my sleep: No tracker, just my sensibilities about how I feel and what I need.
  • The last product or habit that changed my sleep for the better: The Balance app's sleep meditations. When I listen to my own voice lulling me back to sleep, it's like the voice in my head is calming me. Since the meditations download to my phone, I can turn my phone on airplane mode and eliminate Wi-Fi signals, notifications, or urges to check my phone when I awake.
  • The first thing I do when I wake up: I cuddle and kiss my husband and my 2-year-old son (we all co-sleep), then I meditate. 
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5:30 p.m.: It's a Friday night and my family and I have early dinners to give our bodies enough time to digest the food before sleep.

6:30 p.m.: Before my bedtime routine, I respond to a couple of emails. I make sure to use screen shaders and nighttime tinting settings to avoid too much stimulating light from my laptop and phone.

7 p.m.: As darkness falls in Bali, I dim the lights and encourage my 2-year-old son to wind down with quiet playtime with his papa while I meditate and journal using the Balance app. 

7:45 p.m.: I read for a bit before asking my son to pick out a book so my husband and I can read to him before bed. 

8 p.m.: Now it's time to take a bath with my son. Bali is quite a hot and humid climate so it feels great to wash the sweat away and feel squeaky clean before jumping into PJs. We do a fair bit of playing in the water before washing off together in the shower. 

8:15 p.m.: Time to get dry, which turns into a game of me chasing him around the bedroom with a towel while he giggles and runs away from me dripping wet. I finally catch him and wrap him up like a burrito and toss him on the bed while he squeals in delight. 

8:18 p.m.: We go back into the living room, where my husband is, and we put our son on the potty before dressing him up in PJs.

8:23 p.m.: I finish a tall glass of coconut water, and my husband makes a sippy cup of it for our son before getting the room ready for us, by turning on the stargazer night light and AC to cool the room down from 81 degrees Fahrenheit to 67 degrees—much more suitable for sleeping. 

8:25 p.m.: I start to tidy up the living room that's now full of my son's toys. I encourage him to help me put his cars in a basket. 

8:30 p.m.: We have our son brush his teeth with us, while we do a little song and dance together. It's much easier to get him to brush his teeth when he sees us doing it, and we make a fun game out of it. I use charcoal toothpaste, which is strange because it makes my mouth look black while brushing them, and my son uses a cake-batter flavored toothpaste that he loves. 

8:35 p.m.: I pick up my son in my arms, grab his sippy cup, and we give my husband a kiss good night. I bring him upstairs with me to bed as he's waving and saying a sweet, "bye-bye" to his papa in the living room. We co-share in the same bed, and by now it's already cool and has stars floating around the room and mosquito net over the bed.

8:37 p.m.: We spend a few minutes cuddling in bed and looking at the stars on the walls while I sing him a lullaby and rock him to sleep on his pillow. 

8:45 p.m.: The gentle, continuous swaying motion lulls him into sleep, I can feel his muscles twitching as I move into a trance-like, hypnagogic state. A deep meditation. 

9:07 p.m.: Barely able to stay awake now, I give him a little kiss while he's peacefully sleeping, so cute, and dive my head into my memory foam pillow that has a luxurious silk cover. The stargazer night light turns off on its own, and I fall asleep immediately. 

10:30 p.m.: My husband comes into the room to go to bed, but we don't even hear him or stir a bit. 

1:32 a.m.: My son wakes me up to the sound of him groaning, pointing at the side of the bed for his sippy cup. Luckily it only wakes me up, not my husband, who's in a deep sleep. I hand my son his sippy, and he takes a few chugs before handing it back to me to put on the nightstand again. He then hands me a pillow, and I know that means he wants me to rock him a bit back to sleep. I lay him next to me and put my arm under the pillow as I rock his head gently until he falls back asleep. 

1:45 a.m.: My son is back asleep now, and I fall effortlessly back to sleep next to him. Time for my second sleep shift. 

4 a.m.: My son wakes me up again in a half-awake, half-asleep state; it's still dark out, but he's thirsty once more. We repeat the same things as last time, giving him a sippy cup for a moment and putting it back. Only this time he doesn't need me to rock him; he just crashes to the pillow—down for the count. And so do I. Sleep shift No. 3 is here. 

6:27 a.m.: Almost like clockwork, the roosters outside are crowing while the sparrows and pigeons around our house start singing. Bali is fully awake, and the sun is peaking in brightly through the gaps in our blackout drapes. My son wakes up with the birds and then touches my face gently. I open my eyes to his wide smile and loving gaze. It's one of the best moments of my day. I give him an Eskimo kiss, rubbing noses before a big smooch on the cheek. The three of us share kisses and cuddles together for a few minutes before getting out of bed and sharing the love with our two Bali dogs and starting our morning routine.  

Leah Santa Cruz author page.
Leah Santa Cruz
Meditation Coach

Leah Santa Cruz is an expert meditation coach with a background in neuroscience and psychology. She's the Co-Head of Meditation for the award-winning Balance app and the co-host of the Well Balanced podcast.

Leah spent the early part of her career in tech, working for various startups and Microsoft. After personally experiencing burnout and anxiety, she pivoted to meditation as a healing tool. She’s now a seasoned meditation and yoga teacher, having taught more than 5,000 meditation classes around the world. As a teacher, she likes to combine ancient techniques with modern science, offering practical tools to help busy people lead less stressful lives. She currently lives in Bali with her husband and two-year-old son, where she teaches meditation at the world-famous Yoga Barn.