Sleep Hacks + Top 5 Tips for Tired Moms
Posted on July 23 2018
Raise Your Hand if You’re Tired!
I think we all know that when the kids don’t sleep, mama doesn’t sleep. I don’t know about you, but a lack of sleep has led me to spend hundreds of dollars on sleep books, night lights, blackout curtains and white noise machines. And let’s not even mention the countless hours of Googling, researching, asking friends for tips, and desperately searching for solutions that have kept me up at night when my kids were babies. The problems is, there are so many ideas about how to get kids to sleep that it’s hard to know which ones to trust. I’m going to discuss a few simple solutions that I have personally used with success, and some tried-and-true tips from my tribe of mom friends.
Getting Babies to Sleep
A lot of this blog pertains to toddlers and older children, however, the advice sections on routines and sleep environments are especially helpful for babies as well. The best sleep advice that I got when I had a newborn was to use the book Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child by Marc Weissbluth, M.D. A friend and mother who I greatly respect recommended this book to me. A lot of my other friends also gave me books and made recommendations, but this one has always been my go-to source for how to get babies to sleep. I consulted this book very often during my children’s early years, and I have many friends who have used it and loved it as well.
The Importance of Routines
I don’t think I really realized how important routines are to kids until I had children that napped on a schedule. Holy cow, do not mess with a baby’s nap schedule unless you want to listen to crying for a few hours. Starting when children are babies, it helps to cue them in to nap and bed times by using a consistent routine. For example, you might want to start with a relaxing bath, then put on some pajamas and maybe some soothing music, and sit down to snuggle and read some books together. These simple routines tell the child’s body that it’s time to relax and get sleepy.
It’s also important to have a consistent bedtime whenever possible, and especially during the school years. Of course things happen in life, and it’s a lot of fun to stay up late on special occasions, but chronically putting kids to bed late or at inconsistent times can really mess up their sleep rhythms, which makes it harder on them and you to get to bed. You might also start to see some not-so-fun side effects of creating a sleep deficit if your kids are staying up too late. Studies have shown that kids have a harder time paying attention and regulating their moods when they’re tired….but I don’t think most of us needed a study to know that’s true.
A lot of children may also compensate for late bedtimes by sleeping-in, which is great if it works for you and you get to sleep-in too. However, if you need to get up early and would prefer them to go to bed earlier, you may want to consider having a set wake-up time as well. Otherwise, you have a kid who is sleeping-in until 10:00 a.m. and is not at all tired by 10:00 at night.
Sleep Environment Can Be the Key to Success
One time when my son was little we stayed in a really dark hotel room and my son slept three hours more than usual in the morning. A few days later we had a dark rainy morning at home and the same thing happened again. Aha! I went out that day and bought black out curtains for his bedroom, and an extra hour of sleeping-in became our new everyday routine. Creating a dark room and blocking out extra light can really help little ones have a great night of sleep, and stop waking up with the sunrise.
Around this same time, my son would wake up from his nap ALL THE TIME if he heard any tiny sound. It was like he was suddenly acutely aware of the world around him. I would creep around our house during his nap time, cringing every time a truck made a noise, or the mailman came by. I was even afraid to go into the bathroom because it was next to his bedroom. Then, one of my blessedly wonderful friends suggested a white noise machine. This little machine has changed our world. We have one for each of the kids’ bedrooms, we have taken them on trips with us, and we’ve even used them when camping in a tent. They are magical! I recommend getting one that can both plug-in and run on batteries so that it’s portable.
When Kids are Scared
This is such a tricky issue. I’m big on sticking to routines, but when kids are legitimately scared to sleep in their beds it can be SO difficult on an entire household, and all rules go out the window. I have tried quite a few ideas that I’ll share with you here, and I’ve sometimes tried a combination of most of these together.
Speaking of windows, I have one son who is terrified of his bedroom window. The first thing we tried was talking through his fears and showing him that his window was locked and he was safe. Next we bought a night light, which seemed to work well for about a month. Then we let him sleep on the floor of his room for a while so he couldn’t see the window as easily, and sometimes we let him sleep in his little kid tent.
My son often also likes to hold a flashlight, or keep one in bed with him nearby so he can shine it around the room and into dark corners if he’s scared. He will usually then go right back to sleep once he’s re-assured himself that the room is safe. I also have a good friend who puts water and lavender oil in a spray bottle and sprays this mystical “monster spray” around the room to banish monsters at bedtime. These ideas often work for a short-term fix, and soothe kids long enough to get them to sleep without more assistance.
Other Sleep Hacks That Work
My number one sleep hack is that you have to tire out your kids! Maybe this is because I have three energetic boys, but my friends who are moms of girls report the same thing. When my kids spend the day in the car, or on tablets, or indoors on a day that school recess is cancelled, they DO NOT sleep well. It’s especially tempting in the summer to let hours go by with my kids quietly reading or watching shows on TV, but this will not pay off at bedtime. So if you see me running by on the street chasing boys on bikes, or at the beach, at the park, at the pool, or at the discovery museum, it’s not because I like to post fun things on Instagram. It’s because I desperately try to spend a few hours every day making my wild active boys use up as much energy as possible.
Another sleep hack is to avoid screen time before bed. Research shows that bright screens should be turned off an hour or two before bedtime so that our brains don’t register the light on the screen as daylight hours. We need to get off of our screens and pay attention to the real environmental cues around us that daylight is turning into twilight, and it’s time for bed. I recommend playing a family game, having kids read quietly in bed, or reading to younger children before bedtime as a way to calm down and relax.
The exception to avoiding screen time is when one of my kids falls asleep fine, but is then wide awake in the middle of the night and I don’t want him to watch TV. I have recently used a relaxation/meditation app that shows a peaceful scene and makes nature sounds. I honestly didn’t think this would work at all when my son first tried it, but it turns out that my son loves to watch the scenes of falling rain or crashing waves and it usually puts him to sleep within five minutes.
When all else fails, we co-sleep for a while. My husband was really opposed to this idea at first because he thought it would create a permanent routine, but we tried it once out of desperation and it really does work. My husband moves to the couch and my little guys gets in bed with me. We have found that my son has a lot of nightmare for a few days in a row, and if he’s in bed with me I can comfort him quickly and get him back to sleep before he wakes up all the way, or wakes up everyone else in our house. After a few days of co-sleeping the nightmares usually go away and he is ready to go back to his own bed. Then we have a few peaceful months before the bad dreams are back again.
I hope these tips and hacks give you some inspiration if you’re feeling exhausted and desperate for a good night of sleep. Remember to ask for help if you feel like your health is suffering or you are too exhausted to think and make good decisions. I wish you sweet dreams, peaceful rest, and when all else fails, lots of coffee in the morning.