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3 sleep strategies for a well-rested mom

If there is one issue that every mother I know shares, it is the difficulty of getting adequate sleep. Feeling rested, energized and ready for the day is a wishful thought for most of us.

Because of the hours we sleep, and because the amount we’re wakened during the night feel out of our control, we don’t often think of ways we could improve the sleep we do get. Especially during our children’s younger years, sleep deprivation can truly cause havoc on a mom’s mental and physical well-being.

We know lack of sleep produces fatigue, irritablility, impatience, and may contribute to depression. Physically, not getting the rest we need impairs our body’s ability to repair and rebuild, and it weakens our immune system.

So how do we balance the reality of our lives with children, the daily needs of running a household or working outside the home, and our physiological need for ample and restorative rest? Here are a few ways we can make the most of the sleep we do get, while taking into account the unique demands most mothers face.

1.  Find your rhythm.

We all have an internal biological clock that sets our days and nights into a cyclical rhythm, and is controlled by a series of hormones and external cues. Often called the circadian rhythm, the energy of our waking times and restorative nature of our sleeping times are maximized when we work with this natural clock.

The thing is, habit and pattern will reset this clock, even if it varies from what the body ideally wants. This means we can condition ourselves to be night owls, even when our body may need us to sleep earlier — and it means we can condition ourselves back to a preferred internal rhythm by making new habits around sleeping and waking. Great news!

• Your best time

We’ve often heard that most adults need somewhere between eight to ten hours of sleep a night, but what may be even more important is the time we go to sleep and the time we wake. Imagine a night when you go to sleep at 2 am and wake at 10 am. Now imagine a night when you go to sleep at 10 pm and wake at 6 am. Most of us know intuitively that when we sleep  eight hours and wake at 6 am, we’ll have more energy and productivity to our day. Waking at 10 am will leave most of us dragging through the afternoon.

• The earlier, the better

Generally speaking, earlier to bed is better as it more naturally fits with our body’s preferred daily rhythm. How much earlier varies between each person, but a good rule of thumb is to shoot for a bedtime between 9 pm and 11 pm.

2.  Set yourself up for success.

Since becoming a mom, I’ve heard more advice on establishing a bedtime routine than any other part of child rearing. It seems common knowledge that children need external signals that cue them for bedtime to successfully usher in sleep.

• Routine is essential for adults, too

This is no less true for adults as well. I can recall far too many nights I’ve gone through an established and calm routine for my children and left them soundly to sleep, only to engage myself in work, conversation or activity right up until I plopped into bed, expecting to shut myself off like a light.

Give yourself a bedtime routine that includes cues to help you mentally and physically unwind and prepare for deep sleep. Intentionally transitioning into sleep with a nighttime routine may help with issues of insomnia when you first fade, which prevents middle-of-the-night insomnia bouts.  This allows more relaxed and restorative sleep and brings a calming closure on your day, which also prepares you to begin anew come morning.

milk bath with rose petals
Photo by Dennis Wong

Some things to consider for your routine are:

  • Dimming the lights around the house
  • Forgoing screen time late at night
  • Sipping a cup of calming herbal tea, like chamomile
  • Jotting down spinning thoughts with a timed journal writing session
  • Reading material that helps you tune out engaging thoughts and calms your mind
  • Listening to soft music or nature sounds
  • A warm towel scrub (see details below)
  • Acknowledging the blessings and gifts of the day

• Check your bedroom’s influence

In addition to your bedtime routine, the feeling of your bedroom may promote or prevent restfulness. One of the most neglected rooms in a home is the master bedroom. So often we focus our attention on the areas visitors will see and leave the behind-the-scenes rooms in disarray.

Put some thought into how you can create a place of retreat, renewal and comfort in your bedroom. Swap out the TV or computer for soft lighting and speakers for soft music.  Hang soothing pictures.

How comfortable is your bed?  Do you enjoy the feel of your sheets, your pillow, the blanket or comforter?

Close your eyes, and imagine walking into a room at a retreat or a bed and breakfast that completely delights you.  The elements in that room might be surprisingly easy to duplicate.  Could it be the tidiness of its space, the color on the wall, the style of decor? Use this as a guide to making your bedroom a room that replicates those feelings.

• Watch the energy crutches

Check your amount of caffeine and sugar intake. How we each respond to these things varies, but think of caffeine and sugar as energy loans.

coffee and apron
Photo by Ali Edwards

We that financially, it’s not wise to rely on loaned money day in and day out, because it will set us up for financial ruin. Similarly, when we rely on caffeine and sugar day in and day out to meet our energy needs, our body is going to pay the price.  This is often in the form of burnout, sickness, sleep disruptions, and mental stress.

• Go for a warm towel scrub

Here are simple instructions for a warm towel scrub, one of the best sleepy time remedies I know.

Before heading to your bedroom, take a few moments to unwind in the bathroom:
• Fill the sink with hot tap water.
• If you want, add a couple drops of an essential oil like roman chamomile, lavender, or rose.
• Take a washcloth, dip it in the hot water, and then wring it out.
• Gently rub your skin from head to toe with the washcloth, rewetting the cloth as necessary to keep it as warm as possible yet still comfortable.
• Loosen the tension in your neck, jaw, shoulders, lower back, or legs.
• Finish with a light coating of natural oil to calm and soothe your nervous system. The warmth of the towel rub and the moisture of the oil or lotion are powerful cues for your body and mind to slow down and prepare for restful sleep.

3.  Work with what you’ve got.

Let’s face it, there is no strategy that will guarantee the rest you truly need every night.  While navigating the waters of raising young children, most of us will have many days when we are more tired than energized and need to cope with inadequate sleep.

When that happens, it is imperative to compensate by being gentle with ourselves and to creatively find ways to rest.

• The power of napping

The advice to sleep when your children sleep is as old as it is true. Too many of us feel we need to use our children’s nap times to do household or work chores. If you are home with your children during the day, and you are fatigued from lack of sleep, then make napping a priority.

Even if you nap for half the time your children do, you will be more productive, focused and prepared than if you trudged through, never giving yourself a mid-day rest.

• Give yourself a break

Some nights we will get better sleep than other nights — it’s just part of the parenting gig. When you have a rough night and you feel the impact the next day, choose to slow down, reduce expectations in every way possible, and resist the urge to take on too much.

There are many things we simply can’t take off our plates, but it’s important to identify the essential tasks from the nonessentials, and to give ourselves permission to go through the day slower and calmer.

In which ways do you manage the issue of sleep deprivation and fatigue while still performing all the essential mom duties? Have you found your own ways to maximize your quality of the sleep?

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  1. Angela Mills

    Decluttering my bedroom and taking our TV and computer out a couple of years ago, and cutting off caffeine by noon has helped me to fall asleep faster. My next step is to get a more comfortable mattress! I love that warm towel scrub idea, I am SO trying that tonight!

  2. Kacie

    I’m a chronic bad-sleeper and a life-long insomniac. It’s 2 a.m. as I write this. I don’t want my son to catch my bad habits, and at 9 months, his sleep leaves much to be desired.

    I know that I *should* go to bed at a decent time, but I’m not tired enough and I just plain don’t want to. It’s finally quiet in my house and I finally have time to read, putter around online, or just sit.

    I can’t make myself get up early, because if I wake up early, my son does too, and there goes that.

    I’m contributing to my own problem, and I don’t really see a way out until he gets a little older. It’s frustrating.

    I like your tips and I might give them a try.
    .-= Kacie´s last blog ..Making the rounds at area thrift stores =-.

  3. se7en

    Here is my sleep hint in a nutshell: Get disciplined!!! Really set yourself a limit and get to bed. It is so easy to read one more article or link one more post. Get off your computer, stop chores and get to bed… I know it sounds mad but chores will catch up and the internet will be there another time.

    My first born really out performed in the “sleep deprivation experiment” department and still never ever sleeps much longer than two hours at a stretch. Now he is old enough to read quietly but there were years when he was awake he needed real stimulation, none of this contented watching a mobile for him thank-you very much!!! Needless to say just as he was a prison interrogator – every time I fell asleep he woke me up… I learnt to be just as disciplined as he was with his sleep – every time he fell asleep I did too… it worked for me and thank-goodness I was at home so that I could survive this!!!
    .-= se7en´s last blog ..Se7en’s Birthday and these are a few of my Favorite Things… =-.

    • Lisa

      se7en: so true– much comes from making the firm decision to put sleep before the many other things we could be doing!

  4. Angie

    thanks so much for this post! i consistently nap when my son does and get lots of sideways looks when i tell people that i do. i’ve always felt a twinge of guilt, like i should be doing housework or other things, but this solidifies that i actually NEED it.

    .-= Angie´s last blog ..Ward Campout =-.

  5. Satakieli

    We recently redecorated our bedroom, I changed a lot of things out for a nice calming space. It has helped both me and my husband sleep so much better!

    Our 2 year old still wakes 3 times per night, so I totally agree with you on the naps. I make it a priority to take a 30 minute nap while he is sleeping, if I don’t then I can barely make it through the afternoon!
    .-= Satakieli´s last blog ..Random Tuesday Thoughts 2 =-.

  6. Micha

    A wonderful post! When my youngest daughter was in her early months I often recover with a small nap in the afternoon.
    .-= Micha´s last blog ..Babys und Geld / babys and money =-.

  7. Shannon

    I have read somewhere that every hour of sleep you get before midnight counts as two because of how our bodies were designed to need sleep. Since having children I have been forced to wake up before 6 to get any quiet time and it has been a blessing in disguise. Now I go to bed between 9 & 10 and feel a lot better than my college days when I was in bed after midnight and didn’t get up until 8.
    .-= Shannon´s last blog ..Eat More Coconut: Indian-Style Chicken Curry =-.

  8. prerna

    As always, I love this post and am SO trying out the warm towel scrub. For me, unwinding with a good book and listening to soothing music works really well. Since my daughter turned 1, she’s been sleeping 8-9 hours through the night and that has really helped to reduce my sleep debt!!
    .-= prerna´s last blog ..Being a Mom: Starting to Potty Train. =-.

  9. steadymom

    Great post, and I need it today! Especially since my youngest ran into my bedroom at 4 am shouting, “Mommy, I see a skunk. It’s a skunk. The skunk! Mommy!”

    (Okay, there was an actual skunk in our backyard – but why was my son looking out the window at 4 am?!!!)

    .-= steadymom´s last blog ..Four Favorite Parenting Books =-.

    • Lisa

      So funny, Jamie– I can *kinda* remember a time when given the chance at 4 am I may choose to gaze out the window into the backyard to see what was lurking there instead of rolling over and falling back to sleep 🙂
      .-= Lisa´s last blog ..Five Things to Share =-.

  10. The Secret Life of Kat

    Ah! Great tips. Sleep and adequate rest are a foundation for the rest of motherhood. If we get enough sleep, we’re more patient, fun and creative.

    Right now I only get about 7 hours of sleep a night, but it’s an improvement over the 6 that used to be my norm.

    Thanks for the ideas!
    .-= The Secret Life of Kat´s last blog ..20+ Books From The Mom-iversity Syllabus =-.

  11. L.

    Just a little typo: “We that financially” should probably be “We know that financially”.

  12. Becca

    I read the comment of aiming between 9 and 11 pm and laughed. If I don’t try to be in bed (even if I am not asleep) by 9, I am so tired and worn out the next day. I blame the toddler that likes to be awake with the sun.
    .-= Becca´s last blog ..T – 15 weeks and counting =-.

  13. LaToya

    These tips sound great!! I wish my boys would nap at the same time but they don’t so I rarely get a nap during the day. I do keep a book by the bed to read for about 20 minutes to wind my mind down and I also make myself go to bed by 11:30 whether I’m done with what I need to do or not.
    .-= LaToya´s last blog ..Bible Story Sundays-Adam & Eve =-.

  14. sarah

    I am having a terrible time with sleep right now. In fact, last night I came down with a sore throat! Guessing it’s just a cold, but I’m exhausted. My husband is exhausted. My little boy is probably exhausted, too.

    My husband regularly goes to sleep at 3 or 4 am, and I tend to stay up until 12 or 1. No matter what I do during the day I tend to revert to this pattern! I could be exhausted, not have had coffee at all, etc – but I’ll ALWAYS end up staying up too late (must be that habit thing? haven’t broken it in 2 decades). Then there’s the problem that I can’t get any any any chores done when my son is awake – he’ll just get INTO whatever I’m doing. Or he’ll scream. Very little cleaning has gotten done in the last month. I can’t eat without him hanging all over me and crying that he wants some (so I rarely eat meals, especially lunch). And I can’t figure out how to shower unless he’s asleep (and he keeps waking up at crazy hours – one day 9, one day 5 or 6 am, so I rarely can get one in before he gets up in the morning; he goes to sleep between 9 and 11 pm). So how do you manage to convince yourself that sleep is more important than getting a shower this week or cleaning the toilet once this month or maybe getting lunch once in a blue moon? How on earth do you do it all with two little kids??

    • Lisa

      Oh Sarah, I really understand your struggles…I have really been there where the idea of getting consistent sleep felt so far away. And I know that there is always a balance. I can remember reading advice to sleep whenever you can and not to do the housework, but on the other hand sometimes the stress over having a home that was feeling totally out of control was worse than being tired…so its always a play by play decision.
      Maybe sometimes it is essential to your mental health to get the dishes done so the sink is cleared, and sometimes maybe taking that quick cat nap is what is more essential to get you through the afternoon…getting these early years is a day by day balancing act!
      .-= Lisa´s last blog ..Five Things to Share =-.

    • Lisa

      Leigh Ann– These are fantastic! I think I’ll be “stealing” your idea– especially making the cards actual pictures of your children doing these things- great reinforcement!

    • Diana

      Leigh Ann,
      I am just now reading your comment, and I think your routine cards are brilliant! I would like to use your template, if you offer is still available.
      Best wishes! – Diana

  15. Parenting Ink

    I like what you write–I’m so psycho about my children’s bedtime routines, it’s high time I be better about my own.
    Hate to say it, but one glass of red wine in the early evening hours can really relax ME!
    And my husband may laugh at me, but a warm bath BY MYSELF with the lights off and candles lit works wonders as well.
    Thanks for the other suggestions.
    .-= Parenting Ink´s last blog ..Dreaming of Outer Space =-.

  16. Tashia

    When my kids were smaller, I was always up late working on this or that and then up early in the morning, but lately I’m just so tired at night I can’t do it! Maybe I’m just getting old:)
    I am usually in bed by 9:30 – 10:00 ( I usually read until I can’t keep my eyes open) and sleep til 6:00-6:30 and I feel pretty good, I’m not tired during the day. I am a much happier and more fun person when I’m getting my beauty sleep!
    .-= Tashia´s last blog ..Get Your Kid’s Winter Gear on eBay Right Now! =-.

  17. Lynnette

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! My second is almost eight months old and it is crazy how light of a sleeper she is. I have become more of a night owl but hate it and want my mornings back! I am not fond of napping ( never have ) but I am excited to see the other ideas. The towel rub sounds delightful.

  18. from the desk of

    thanks for the tips. i am a night owl by nature but now that i’m committed to working out early in the morning (i.e. getting up between 4:30 a.m. – 5 a.m.) i have to go to bed earlier. i am usually in by 10:30 p.m. or 11. however, i love the point you made about what time we go to bed and get up. i definitely feel more engergize when i awake early. thanks for sharing such great ideas.
    .-= from the desk of …me´s last blog ..All About Me =-.

  19. The Blushing Hostess

    I cannpt tell you how desperately I need this advice. Even as I sit here I am wishing I could have some time tot do things I enjoy and still sleep – I vhose to give up sleep always and the whole house pays the tab…
    .-= The Blushing Hostess´s last blog ..John Loring’s Palm Beach tables =-.

  20. Megan at Simple Kids

    Oooooh, great article, Lisa! I am one of those who *knows* I should go to bed earlier, but ohmygosh, I just have so much work to do. And then I stay up too late and then I am so unproductive during the day the next day and so then I have to stay up late again . . . bad cycle.

    Such helpful and approachable advice for us mamas. Thank you, ma’am!
    .-= Megan at Simple Kids´s last blog ..What We’re Reading Wednesday: September 23rd =-.

  21. Elizabeth

    Great reminders for the night owl in me. I’ve found that when I force myself to go to bed early I always have a calmer, more productive day. Now if I could only get my master bedroom clean, maybe I’d sleep great every night!
    .-= Elizabeth´s last blog ..Simple Kids Book Review: September =-.

  22. Christie

    Loving the Warm Towel Scrub idea.

    I am a day napper from way back! Nothing like a Nanna Nap to restore some sanity.

    Thanks for the tips,
    .-= Christie´s last blog ..Krrunching my way to Uniquely Singapore =-.

  23. Audra

    Oh – thank you for this timely post! We finally got Baby to sleep fairly well last week (he’s nearly a year and finally down to around 2 nursing sessions a night) but then I disrupted his rhythm with an ill-timed doctors appointment. We’ve been struggling to get back on track. We were awake for the day at 4:30 am today! This post was such a gentle reminder to allow myself to put aside other worries and make sure I get the sleep I need!
    .-= Audra´s last blog ..Ultimate Fall Recipe Swap! =-.

  24. Rana

    These are great ideas! I had a goal for the beginning of fall to be in bed by 10:30 asleep by 11. Well it’s almost October and it’s 11:30 pm now. I’m failing miserably. I’m going to try some of your tips. Thanks!
    .-= Rana´s last blog ..Looking back… =-.

  25. Jenn @ Beautiful Calling

    Thanks for sharing. I love the idea of journalling down your thoughts. I often drive DH crazy because he can fall asleep instantly and I have a million things rolling around on my mind.

    Though we agreed when we first got married that we wouldn’t have a TV in our room, we do have problem with laundry. I fold all our laundry in the MB since the laundry room is too small and we have a 1 and 2 year old. Often, I get distracted and end up leaving the piles needing folding in various spots in the room for a day or two. Though I didn’t think it bothered DH and I too much, upon further reflection, I realize it steals the peace and tranquility of the room. Something to work on for sure!!

  26. TRM

    Hi there, I’ve been reading along for a while but haven’t had the occasion to leave a comment yet. So, first of all, I wanted to say thank you for all the excellent suggestions! I think you are absolutely right about the importance of taking our sleep seriously. But, I also wanted to respectfully say that, in my experience, sleep is not a one-size-fits-all type of thing. The truth is, I do feel much better rested when I go to bed at 2am and wake up at 10. When I get up before 7, I feel off all day, regardless of how many hours I’ve slept. There’s a mounting body of research about the genetics of sleep, and it has shown that the onset of sleep is often hard-wired. I spent many, many nights in frustrated tears trying to impose on myself the kind of sleep discipline I thought I needed. I finally realized that respecting my body’s own rhythm is paramount. Of course, with young children, there is no sleeping in, but I have adjusted our family’s schedule to allow for getting up at 8, rather than 6, and so on. I am never asleep by 11. But I feel well-rested most of the time, and am able to give my best self to my son, I hope – most days anyway!

  27. Tired Mom

    Moms usually experience fatigue, sleep deprivation and stress; especially working moms who need to attend to the needs of the family after work. The ideas shared here are great ways to help cope up with daily stresses. Thanks.

  28. natalie Anthony

    Sleep time around our house is a sacred thing. I have a 2.5 y/o night owl that knows she must stay in her bed and rest during nap time if she doesn’t want to sleep. I have a 1 y/o that is an incredibly light sleeper who goes to bed early and rises with the sun. I try my best to keep them on the same nap schedule so my 7 months pregnant self can get rest each day as well. I find, on more difficult days, a tylenol PM is delightful among other things!

  29. Ann

    Thanks for this timely read. I want to dip in that tub, it seems so relaxing just looking at it. Thanks for giving inspiring tips 🙂

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