I'm An MD & This Routine Helps Me Get Deep Sleep (Even With Young Kids)
My relationship with sleep has really come full circle. When I was younger, I didn't understand the importance or utility of sleep. In college and in medical school, I would pull all-nighters studying and can recall falling asleep during exams. When I was a resident and a junior attending, I would be on rotating shifts between days and nights and felt like I was always trying to catch up on sleep. I would nap as much as possible between shifts.
Looking back, I see that time was preparing me for the newborn stages of my two kids, who are now 5 and 2. We are still teaching my youngest to sleep independently in his own room, and most nights of the week he is successful. My husband and I trade off who goes to him if he wakes up in the middle of the night so at least one of us can sleep well.
I definitely do my best to prioritize sleep and focus on the things I can control when it comes to bedtime and daytime routines (for myself and the kids). Since I work from home, I can sleep in a bit longer or take a nap in the afternoon if it was a rough night with my son. I no longer intentionally pull all-nighters or work the night shift. I am happiest and most productive when I get quality sleep. I love teaching others about the benefits of sleep and how they can incorporate simple changes in their life to improve their sleep health.
- Average hours I sleep a night: 8 - 8.5 hours
- Ideal bedtime: 9:30 p.m. - 10 p.m.
- Ideal wake-up time: 6:30 a.m. - 7 a.m.
- Nightstand essentials: I like to keep it minimal: a glass of water and a plant in a pretty vase.
- Favorite place I've ever slept: My parents' house in the countryside of Northern California. It is exceptionally dark as there isn't much light pollution, and you can hear the crickets chirping and the frogs croaking at night. No need for white noise machines or blackout shades when I'm there!
- Sleep bad habit: Eating food that is too salty for dinner because I wake up so thirsty in the middle of the night. Also: Thinking about work right before bed and checking social media.
- Caffeine consumption: I usually have one matcha tea latte or hojicha (roasted green tea) latte with oat milk around 8:30 a.m. I love the taste of coffee but I can't handle the caffeine load, even if I drink it early in the morning. It lasts quite a long time in my system and keeps me from falling asleep.
- How I track my sleep: I don't use tech when it comes to sleep tracking. I do a self-check-in and notice my mood and how refreshed I feel in the morning. If I am grouchy or feel groggy, then I didn't get enough sleep.
- The last product or habit that changed my sleep for the better: I aim to drink at least 72 oz of water before dinner time. This keeps me hydrated enough at night so I don't feel too thirsty or have to wake up early in the morning to urinate.
- The first thing I do when I wake up: Say a prayer and meditate.
7 a.m.: I do my prayer and meditation in bed (because my bed is so comfortable!).
7:30 a.m.: I get out of bed to do my morning routine for the kids: help them change, brush their teeth, put my daughter's hair up in a ponytail, and get their breakfast and snacks for school ready.
8:30 a.m.: I enjoy my matcha or hojicha tea latte. If the weather is nice, I go outside for a 10- to 15-minute walk around the neighborhood. I also journal for five to 10 minutes.
9 a.m.: Work time! Three days a week, my tele-sleep integrative medicine practice is open, and I am seeing patients in Hawaii and California with a break for lunch. If it is a non-clinic day, I am writing blogs about sleep, being interviewed about women's sleep health topics, making educational videos for social media, and brainstorming topics that women want to hear about. I just purchased a treadmill desk so I can get more movement in my day even when at work.
7:30 p.m.: Bedtime routine for the kids involves a bath, dental hygiene, pajamas, books, and a kid's story from the Calm app.
9 p.m.: Ideally the kids are in their beds. One to two times a week, I'll use this time to write clinic notes, send patient messages, or read sleep study reports. The other days, I read or listen to a podcast until I feel sleepy. I admittedly also scroll social media prior to bedtime, but I am working on not making this a habit.
9:30 p.m.: Depending on how busy the day was, I can fall asleep pretty fast. If I have something on my mind such as a talk or an upcoming vacation, my mind takes longer to settle down. If this is the case, I practice some breathing exercises. The 4-7-8 breath by Andrew Weil is my go-to. I am also trained in hypnotherapy, so I guide myself through a self-hypnosis practice to calm my anxious mind and relax into sleep.
10 p.m.: I am asleep unless my daughter comes to my room because of a nightmare or my son wakes up crying for me.
Dr. Valerie Cacho is an integrative sleep physician, women's sleep expert, and the CEO of Sleephoria. Sleephoria is a resource promoting women’s sleep health and whole living that aims to create an uplifting community that helps women feel supported, confident, and engaged in their well-being.
Dr. Valerie Cacho was the first sleep guide for AthletaWell a women's wellness community by Gap Inc. Additionally she has been rated as a top sleep doctor and exceptional woman in medicine in Hawaii for the past several years. She is the co-editor of the first textbook on Integrative Sleep Medicine by Oxford University Press and has helped to create the sleep units for the Lifestyle Medicine Residency Curriculum by the American College of Lifestyle Medicine.