When was the last time you woke up feeling refreshed and ready for the day? If you’re a mom, I’m willing to bet it was probably sometime before your first pregnancy. My own struggles with sleep started during my first pregnancy 9 years ago. The constant daytime sleepiness actually progressed to a point a couple of years ago when I was convinced I had a sleep disorder. It was at this point when I started getting serious about how to get better sleep at night.
A sleep disorder seemed the only logical explanation for why I dozed off minutes after sitting or even a few times while standing. The sleepiness I experienced on a daily basis was excruciating. All I wanted to do in any given moment was lie down and take a nap.
Testing for the particular sleep disorder I was absolutely certain was to blame for my daytime sleepiness involves an overnight in a sleep lab. The test continues with a series of timed naps the following day. And then the waiting for test interpretation by neurology. It seemed to take forever to finally get the answer I was waiting for.
The call came in the middle of one of my graduate nursing classes one day. I quietly stepped out and listened as the nurse told me that I in fact did not have a sleep disorder. Everything was perfectly normal. Great news, right?
Wrong. I was devastated by the news. Although it sounds terrible, I desperately wanted something to blame for how awful I felt on a daily basis. I was looking for an easy, cut and dried solution to my sleep deprived existence and this was definitely not it!
The nurse asked whether I had any questions and fueled by the injustice and hopelessness of it all, I immediately demanded an appointment with the neurologist. Surely, there had been some type of mistake. An honest, human error perhaps. Or maybe my results were actually borderline. Either way, I would get to the bottom of this.
Finally the day of my appointment arrived. At that point in time, I was still honestly expecting some type of explanation or retraction of normal results from the neurologist. I desperately wanted to feel like a normal person again. Instead, I felt like some type of demented zombie, aimlessly wandering the earth looking for its next meal. In fact, “painfully tired” was the word I would use to describe my daily existence.
After what seemed like an eternity, the neurogist entered the room. He brought up my test interpretation and described the perfectly normal results. A fact that was tough to dispute in the face of graphs and pie charts. There was clearly nothing borderline here. Still desperate for some relief, I asked for his best advice on how to combat my constant fatigue.
We spent the next 15 minutes discussing a variety of contributors to my constant sleepiness. Below are a series of questions based upon this conversation. Take a few minutes to answer these questions for yourself and you will discover areas where you can improve to get better sleep at night.
Using Routine to Get Better Sleep
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1) Do you stick to a regular sleep schedule even on the weekends? Going to bed and waking up at the same time each day sets up a strong routine. It sends a message to your body that this is either a time to sleep or a time to be awake. No more in between times of dozing off during the day or nighttime sleeplessness.
Setting up a regular sleep routine is also incredibly beneficial for your kids! Instilling these skills in them while they are young ensures better sleep habits as they grow older.
If you have an infant, establishing a sleep routine at this point in your parenting journey may not be a feasible option. If this is you, I can completely relate! None of my 3 children actually slept through an entire night until they were at least a year. I felt as if this stage would last forever! Try to be patient … your little one will be sleeping through the night before you know it!
2) Do you nap during the day? Napping disrupts your body’s natural rhythm and can actually make it tougher to sleep at night. It may seem counterintuitive but try to avoid daytime napping if possible.
Although it’s best to avoid napping altogether, there are two major rules to follow if you absolutely must take a nap. The first involves the amount of time you should spend napping. Limit the nap to between 15 and 20 minutes. It may not seem like enough time but it’s actually the perfect amount of time for a mid-day recharge.
The second rule is to get the short nap in before 2 in the afternoon. Any later than 2 and you risk not being sleepy enough when bedtime rolls around. If you are used to taking long weekend naps, it may take a bit to incorporate these rules. But I promise that if you follow through, it will allow you to get better sleep at night!
3) Are you getting regular aerobic exercise? Exercise triggers the release of adrenaline among other hormones which in turn promotes wakefulness. This means that although you should aim for at least 30 minutes of exercise on most days, aim for earlier in the day. When performed too close to bed, the hormones produced by exercise can interfere with your body’s ability to wind down and fall asleep.
Getting regular exercise has been a game-changer for me! I have found that I sleep much deeper on days when I get my run in. Although it can be tough to get up early enough to hit the gym, knowing that I’ll sleep better that night is often the only motivation required.
You may also enjoy reading How to Find More Time in Your Day.
4) Do you have a regular bedtime relaxation routine? Consider activities such as journaling with a gratitude practice, a warm bath, reading (an actual book, not a tablet), yoga, or gentle stretching. Meditation can also help to clear your mind of distraction.
Developing a regular bedtime routine with activities designed for relaxation sends a message to your brain that it’s time to wind down. Set a daily alarm on your phone to signal you that it’s time to shut down and get into bedtime mode. This tip is also extremely beneficial for kids. My weeknights go incredibly fast and I have found that if I don’t set an alarm, the night gets away from me. Before I know it, the clock hits 9:30 p.m. and the kids are still awake. Yikes … the perfect recipe for a cranky morning!
5) Are you getting outside during the day? Exposure to sunlight early in the day alerts your body that it’s time to wake up. If possible, go for a run or walk outside early in the day to easily incorporate both tips into your daily routine. Gradually decreasing your exposure to bright light, including artificial lighting, as the day progresses encourages your body’s natural sleep rhythms to activate. Incorporate this tip into your bedtime routine by dimming the lights in your house in the hour or so prior to bed.
6) Do you keep your bedroom temperature cool? Ideally, this temperature should be between 68-70 degrees to promote more restful sleep. Studies have shown that keeping a cooler temperature at night minimizes unnecessary awakenings due to being excessively warm.
7) Do you spend time on your phone or watching television right before bed? Screens from cell phones, televisions, and other electronics emit a blue light which interferes with your body’s natural sleep hormone production. The light interferes by sending a message to your body to wake up instead of to wind down.
Consider incorporating this tip into your bedtime routine to get better sleep at night. If possible, sleep in a completely different room than your phone to avoid being mindlessly pulled in to using it. Social media is designed to suck you right in and significantly contributes to anxiety, depression, and feelings of overwhelm. Even aside from the biological impact of the blue light on sleep hormones, the stress caused by social media in itself is enough to interfere with sleep. If you are interested in learning more about how to stop the mindless scrolling, check out this book.
You may also enjoy reading Mom Guilt.
8) Is your bedroom a dark, quiet and peaceful atmosphere which invites you to fall gently asleep at night? Excessive light can cause you to wake frequently at night. Pets and kids should optimally be out of your bed to promote your best sleep. Although I am currently struggling with the kid situation, I do aspire to have all 3 children in their own room at some point.
Unfortunately after years of being a mom I sleep very lightly and easily awaken to even the quietest of noises. Psychologically I always feel the need to be alert to attend to the needs of my kids even though they are well past the stage where they can’t tell me what they need. I have found that periodically giving the responsibility of listening for the kids at night to my husband is helpful in releasing the psychological burden and getting better sleep at night. Sleeping in a completely different room is also helpful in achieving better sleep at night.
Food and Drink Modifications to Get Better Sleep
9) Are you consuming caffeine within a few hours of bedtime? If so, consider reducing or stopping intake altogether at least 4-6 hours before bedtime. Caffeine hides in a variety of foods and drinks but can seriously impair sleep quality. If you are struggling with either falling or staying asleep, carefully examine your afternoon and evening intakes for caffeine.
10) Do you generally eat supper right before bedtime? The work involved in digesting fatty or spicy foods is enough to keep you wide awake at night. Not to mention the risk you run of acid reflux if you lie down too soon after eating. I have found that eating heavy meals right before bed also results in crazy dreams!
If possible, try to have your evening meal in the late afternoon. If you find that you need a snack before bed, focus on lighter foods. Eating foods with dairy and protein can help promote a restful night of sleep. Examples include yogurt, cheese or half a turkey sandwich on whole wheat bread. Avoid foods with lots of sugar because when your body’s blood sugar level drops later on in the night, your sleep will be interrupted.
11) Is your sleep interrupted by getting up to use the bathroom at night? You may consider stopping fluid intake a couple of hours prior to bed to reduce the need to interrupt your sleep at night. Although alcohol can initially make you sleepy, it interferes with your ability to stay asleep all night long. When you want to get better sleep at night, avoid alcohol altogether before bedtime.
12) Do you generally wake up with back and/or neck pain? After my third pregnancy, I began noticing that I was consistently waking up with lower back pain. It was also at that time when I began attending physical therapy to get my abdominal muscles back. My therapist recommended that I sleep with a pillow between my legs to provide better low back support. I have slept with a pillow between my legs since that time and have not once woken up with lower back pain. It’s an incredibly easy fix which gets your day off to a much better start!
13) When was the last time you replaced your pillow or even your mattress? If you are consistently waking up with headaches or generalized discomfort, your pillows and/or mattress may be to blame. These items are not designed to last forever and do wear out with time. Although a new matress is a financial investment, the return will be improved alertness and productivity during the day.
Still Can’t Sleep? Try This.
14) What is your next move when you don’t fall asleep within 5-10 minutes of lying down? Do you continue to lie in bed, thinking about how late it is and how tired you will be the next day? Or do you turn to your phone or late night television? Hopefully you don’t do either of the last two options after reading #7 above! Your best bet is to actually get up and do a quiet activity until you feel sleepy once again. You may consider keeping a notebook and pen next to your bed for those times when your mind is racing. The act of transforming your thoughts to black and white on the page can be extremely liberating.
Another option is to read a book. Lastly, consider meditation or an app designed to help you fall asleep. Although I have not personally tried the app option, I have had several people tell me that listening to a monotonous voice reading a dull description of landscape is quite soothing. I will have to keep you posted on this option the next time I am looking for assistance on getting to sleep!
15) Do you take any type of medication to help you sleep at night? Even certain types of over-the-counter medications can have a rebound effect and actually make it more difficult to sleep after a period of time. Sleep medications can also be extremely habit-forming and may create issues for you down the road. Consult your primary care provider for advice on using medication for sleep as they are able to provide a treatment plan individualized for you.
Time to See a Professional
16) Have you considered counseling for management of underlying anxiety and/or depression? The stress of being a mom is real regardless of your individual situation. If stress continues to run rampant in your life, your sleep will be negatively impacted. In many cases, anxiety or depression left unmanaged significantly contributes to poor sleep, zaps your energy, and leaves you feeling fatigued during the day. Either one can make falling or staying asleep challenging. Counselors can help you sort out your feelings by providing non-biased perspective on your individual situation. If you find your racing thoughts and negative feelings are keeping you awake, please seek assistance in this area!
17) Have you tried all of the above and are still waking up exhausted? Then it’s time to see your primary care provider. This is especially true if you’ve been told that you snore or have trouble staying awake during the day despite adequate sleep at night. You may have a sleep disorder and left untreated, sleep disorders can contribute to high blood pressure, depression, and other significant health concerns. But with treatment, sleep disorders can be managed and you can start to feel more rested and productive during the day.
I sincerely hope you have found helpful advice within this post! Discovering how to get better sleep at night is an invaluable part of your overall health and wellbeing. Each of the above tips has contributed to my own journey toward feeling more rested during the day. Although there are areas that I continue to work on, my sleep quality has dramatically improved.
Now it’s your turn! Please let me know which of the above tips were most helpful for you in the comment section below. Are there areas which are particularly challenging for you? Also, does anyone know how to get a 3-year-old to sleep in their own room??? Any helpful advice on this topic would be greatly appreciated!