I took a nap instead of writing this blog post.
Well, obviously I got around to it eventually. But, when I first sat down to write this post, I was overcome with exhaustion – that kind of I-can’t-keep-my-eyes-open tired that makes it impossible to go on without a hit of caffeine or a nap. I chose the nap.
Prioritizing sleep is one of the most basic building blocks of self-care. Most adults need 7-9 hours of sleep per night. Sleep is our body’s way of restoring itself and protecting our health. Adequate sleep is essential for brain function.*
Good Sleep Hygiene
Did you know that the act of prioritizing sleep and setting up a bedtime routine is known as “sleep hygiene”? Just as we want to prioritize personal hygiene and maintain a certain level of personal cleanliness, we need to do the same with our sleep!
There are some basics to falling asleep and getting adequate sleep.
- Set a reasonable bedtime and stick with it.
- Wake up at the same time every day.
- Create a simple bedtime routine. Repeated frequently over time, this routine will begin to signal to your brain and body that it’s time to go to sleep.
- Limit your screen time for 1-2 hours before bed, especially if you struggle to fall asleep.
It’s a simple list that will help you in prioritizing sleep, but some things are easier said than done, right? Putting ourselves to bed as adults is one of those things.
Why Can’t We Just Go to Bed?
Although I am a morning person, I have friends who simply aren’t. They get their second wind at night, and after their kids are in bed is some of the most productive and life-giving time of their day. A lot of adults struggle in prioritizing sleep for themselves because late nights are the only time they get to themselves. And I recognize that the world is really tailored to early birds. (Sorry, night owls!)
If you struggle with going to bed early enough, it might help you to reframe sleep as a gift to yourself. Also consider this: Are the things you’re staying up late to do worth sacrificing the restorative sleep that your body needs?
Things That Help Me & My Family Prioritize Sleep
I’m not an affiliate marketer; these are actual products, apps, and practices that help me and my family to get adequate sleep.
Preparing to Sleep
- Exercise. There are lots of benefits of movement, and better sleep is one. Cardio that causes you to break a sweat is also proven to help you deal with stress, which might also lead to a better night’s sleep. (Look for a future blog post about stress!)
- Blue Light Blocking Glasses. If your job requires you to stare at a screen for much of the day, using these glasses might help protect your brain from the blue light that makes it difficult to fall asleep. (If you read on your phone or tablet at night, they can help then, too.)
- AppDetox. I’ve mentioned this app before. Deciding in advance when I’m going to stop using certain apps (the ones most likely to keep me up past my bedtime) means I don’t have to exert willpower (which is in short supply by bedtime) to shut down my phone.
Falling Asleep & Staying Asleep
- Quit the caffeine. In certain high-stress seasons, my husband has found that even a little bit of caffeine first thing in the morning has made sleep difficult at night. Cutting back or eliminating it entirely can help.
- Melatonin gummies. We save melatonin for when we need it most, but it’s an important part of our sleep toolkit. We do occasionally give our kids a very small dose to help them fall asleep. For our family, it’s been especially helpful when we need to reset our schedules – at the beginning of the school year and around Daylight Savings Time in the spring are the common times we might give our kids melatonin for a few nights in a row. (Please consult your family physician before taking melatonin or giving it to your children. Be cautious about dosage, especially in children.)
- Blackout curtains. This has been another essential for sleep since my kids were infants.
- Sound machine. Especially if you have kids, you NEED a sound machine. As tiny children, our kids slept so much better with a sound machine. I don’t personally use one when I’m at home, because I’m afraid I won’t hear my kids if they call for me in the night. However, when I stayed in a hotel by myself recently, I used the white noise app on my phone to drown out the noise of my neighbors’ late-night returns.
- Sleep mask. My husband and I usually go to bed at the same time, but we rarely turn the light out at the same time. We also live in town, so there’s a lot of ambient light. This mask is so comfortable, and I’m amazed at how such a simple thing helps me sleep so much better. I try to remember to pack it when I travel, too.
- Sleeping Meditations. These meditations on Netflix from Headspace have helped me fall asleep a few times. There are also sleep podcasts that can serve a similar purpose.
- Ready-to-wake clock. Sometimes it’s not falling asleep at night that’s the problem – it’s getting up. And if you have small children, they might become your alarm clock. This alarm clock can help you train your children to stay in bed until a decent hour.
- Happy Light. When I use my therapy lamp regularly in the fall and winter, I feel more energized and usually avoid that post-lunch slump. (It also really helped me with my seasonal depression this past year!)
A Note on Kids & Sleep
Prioritizing sleep can be really difficult when you have small children. If you’re the mother of a newborn, just give yourself lots of grace and get as much help as you can.
I have two philosophies when it comes to small children and sleep. First, do whatever you need to do to get as much sleep as possible for as many people in your house as possible. If that means your kid sleeps in your bed (or on a mattress on the floor of your room) because it’s the only way to avoid a bedtime battle that lasts for hours – then do it, man.
My second sleep philosophy is related – and actually relates to all parenting situations. You will do whatever you need to do to survive a situation until that solution is no longer working for you – and then you’ll figure out something else. Your kid sleeping in your bed might not be your ideal solution, for a variety of reasons. However, if it’s kinda working okay for now, you might just stick with it (because you’re so darn tired) until that solution becomes untenable for whatever reason. When that day comes, you will find another workable solution, because it’s your only option.
One More Note on Sleep
If you find yourself struggling to fall asleep or stay asleep – or to stay awake during the day – and the tools and tips I’ve shared here aren’t helping, it might be time to talk to your doctor. A simple vitamin deficiency could be the culprit if you’re tired during the day. If there’s a medical reason that you’re not sleeping, your doctor can help you get to the bottom of it.