Sleep Training for Moms is Not Only Possible, but Incredibly Effective — If you Plan It Right
Sleep deprivation and motherhood go hand in hand. In fact, moms lose an average of 700 hours of sleep during their newborn’s first year of life![note]Maas, J.B. & Robbins, R.S. Sleep for Success! Everything You Must Know About Sleep But Are Too Tired to Ask[/note]
As mentioned in earlier posts, sleep is incredibly important because our brains do passive work as we rest.
I figured if I’m going to talk to the talk, then I better be able to walk the walk. So I committed to one week of early bedtimes as a “Sleep Training for Moms” experiment to see if it would increase my productivity during the day.
This would entail making a couple of changes:
- being in bed by 8 p.m. so I could be asleep by 9 p.m.
- letting my body sleep without an alarm clock (within reason) to see how many hours I actually needed to finish all my REM cycles
- recording my sleep times in a log book
- keeping a sleep diary
- finding new ways to unwind before bed that didn’t involve my smart phone
How Did I Do?
I managed to get 9 hours of sleep three nights in a row. Needless to say, this felt pretty freakin amazing! I learned that I need about 9 hours to wake up feeling refreshed and not in the middle of a dream. No wonder I’ve been feeling so tired!!!
Nine hours is pretty good, considering a couple of factors:
- I sleep on a Queen-size air mattress (with my husband) in my parents’ basement
- My 19-month old son woke us up 5 out of 7 nights of this challenge
- My depression makes me prone to insomnia, which reared its ugly head on Day 6
- I still managed to squeeze in a date with my husband on Friday. This means I didn’t have to give up my life to do this challenge.
Here are the handy dandy bullet journal pages I created to log my hours:
Here’s a basic run down of my night logs:
Monday night: 8.5 hours total
Tuesday night: 8.15 hours
Wednesday, Thursday and Friday night: 9 hours
Saturday night: 5.5 hours (womp womp)
Sunday night: 7.5 hours
Average: 8.09 hours.
How I Did It
I didn’t use any fancy gimmicks or sleep machines, just a few items I already owned. As I learned during my night shift days, a sleep mask is essential for blocking out morning light. I also own ear plugs to block my husband’s occasional snoring 🙂
I wear a mouth guard because I’m prone to clenching. Surprisingly enough, I found myself clenching less during this challenge. I call this combination of mask, plugs and mouth guard my holy triumvirate of sleep.
Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil.
My nightstand is overflowing with books I want to read, so relaxing with a good book at night wasn’t too hard.
Sleep experts suggest sticking to light, humorous genres before bed, so I was reading Marissa Ross’s WINE. all the time. If you’re not averse to swearing, I highly recommend this book. You’ll find yourself suppressing giggles while your child sleeps in the adjacent room.
I noticed my iphone has a Bedtime feature under the Clock function. It will send you a friendly reminder once you’re getting close to your pre-determined bedtime.
I had every intention of enjoying a bubble bath with lavender oil, but unfortunately the stop plug doesn’t work in my parents’ basement bathtub. I put a few drops of oil on my pillow instead and enjoyed the lavender scent all night long. Note: essential oil drops are very concentrated and will rub off on your bedding, sleep mask, etc!
I already had a gym membership. I only exercised 2 out of the 7 days, so it’s not like I made a huge push to start a new regimen. It was easier to fall asleep on the days I had exercised.
When it was hard to relax, I used Guided Meditation channels on YouTube. I like any meditation videos by Michael Sealey or Lauren Ostrowski Fenton. Their soothing Australian accents help me drift to sleep every time.
Benefits and Challenges
Quality sleep helped me think clearer, write better and stay awake during the day. My dreams were quite vivid, and my husband said I was talking in my sleep more than usual.
Sticking to a schedule made it a lot easier to get up in the morning and a lot harder to ignore my body signals when I was tired at night. Giving myself a bedtime helped me stick to a routine the next day, since I had a lot more energy and motivation to get going.
My biggest challenge, by far, was achieving quality pre-sleep. Pre-sleep is the wind down period before actually falling asleep. A couple of times I put off going to bed right up until 9 p.m., meaning I was lying there for another 30 minutes trying to force the events of the day out of my mind.
Another challenge for me is my addiction to my phone. I find it really hard to leave my device alone during pre-sleep. Part of the problem is I use my phone as an alarm clock (in airplane mode) and for meditation videos, so I’m used to having it near me during bedtime.
Leaving my phone alone during pre-sleep will be my “opportunity for improvement” note on my grading sheet for this challenge.
You Can Do It, Too!
Much like sleep training for babies, consistency and routine are key. Also, sleep needs vary from person to person. Whereas one person may need 8 hours to function, I need a good 8.5-9 solid hours.
Note how long you sleep when you let yourself sleep in. This is about the length of time you’ll need to get adequate rest.
Following a consistent sleep schedule may help you decipher which times of the day you’re most productive. This will help you tweak your sleep window. For example, I’m most productive from 6 a.m. – 8 a.m., so if I can be asleep by 9 p.m., I’m golden. I know trying to push myself to stay up late isn’t going to lead to quality work on my part.
Night owls will have a much different sleep pattern, and that’s okay!
Most people use their productive window to “eat the frog,” or accomplish the hardest tasks of their day. You’ll want to be well rested in order to make most of this window!
How to Work Around Sleep Variables Beyond Your Control
I’m probably stating the obvious when I say our children’s schedules dictate our routine. I lucked out, because my son is asleep during my productive window. Make a mental note of how long your kids sleep, so you can starting planning around these times.
When it comes to our bodies, self-awareness is another key step to sleep success.
“Who looks outside, dreams. Who looks inside, awakes.” -Carl Jung
Every day is a little bit different. Traffic jams, car accidents, fights with your spouse, you name it. Shit happens. If your day was especially bad, give yourself an extra 15 minutes of distraction-free meditation (Headspace is a great app for this).
Dr. James Maas, sleep expert and author of Sleep for Success! says women need more sleep than men. And yet, our bodies are more susceptible to sleep disturbances due to our constantly changing hormones.
In the late phases of your menstrual cycle, dropping hormone levels cause frequent night time wakings. In the early luteal phase (Days 15-17), our body temperature is higher, making it more difficult to fall asleep.
The ideal temperature for sleep is 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Be sure to wear loose, light clothing and use breathable bedding material such as cotton or linen.
The quality of your pre-sleep is very important when you’re under emotional or biological stress. Deep breathing, comforting oils, a glass of wine…use whatever is going to help you leave those ruminating thoughts outside your dreams.
I summarized my entire process in a three-page checklist, Sleep Training for Moms, available to subscribers.
It’s incredibly difficult to go to bed at the same time when you’re a busy mom juggling multiple competing demands.
But if you can make quality sleep a top priority, you’ll reap many benefits from having a regular sleep schedule.