Sleep and I are not friends. We’re barely even acquaintances these days. Not that I’ve ever been a great sleeper, but now at 34 and having been massively sleep deprived for the past years, it’s time to face facts. I need to rebuild a healthy relationship with sleep.
I’m now going on 5-6 hours a night, and I manage, but I’m not happy with it. Even though it’s actually almost luxurious compared to when I was going through a phase where I was surviving on 2-4 hours of sleep a night and utterly exhausted. At that time, an acquaintance provided me with some advice: “You really need to talk to someone about not getting enough sleep.” I kept my cool and agreed, though in reality I was boiling inside. How on earth would talking to someone about lack of sleep allow me to sleep more?? As long as my kids are young restless sleepers and I’m a single parent most of the time, there’s not much help in talking about it. I need to rather act upon it.
Learning to sleep again is one of the most important goals I’ve set for myself for July.
Sleeping is a vital necessity.
Sleep is extremely important. It’s a key factor for both physical and mental health. The effects of long term sleep deprivation are alarming. If you know you’re not getting enough sleep, you need to act upon it. (Practice as you preach..)
Continuous sleep deficiency is linked to an increased risk of falling ill with several mental and physical conditions. A high risk for depression, anxiety, learning impairment and weight gain are just louring around the corner. Lack of concentration and attention span, sudden mood swings become a norm. Not to mention the increased risk for diabetes, stroke, different heart diseases, high blood pressure, etc. The list of things a long-term sleep deprived person is at a high risk for is immense.
The most common advice for better sleep
There are a lot of checklists and advice to follow for improving sleep. I did quite a bit of research on the topic of sleep, and no surprise, I’m failing with mastering the art of sleep. My biggest hurdle is I’m doing most of them wrong:
Stick to a sleep schedule.
Check. I’m in bed around midnight and up between five and six in the morning. There’s my schedule that I abide by all year round. Not an optimal sleep schedule, but that’s mine.
I most definitely do. Naps are a once a year thing for me. I’ve never been fond of naps, I always seem to have so many other things I prefer doing.
This is also another thing on my current to-do list. I used to be obsessed with exercise. It was literally my mommy fuel, and even before kids, my main source of energy. About 7-8 months ago I stopped with everything. I was overwhelmed by my master’s thesis and running the household by myself. There was simply not enough time in my day anymore to fit in regular exercise. (The lousiest of all excuses!! There are 1440 minutes in a day, and I’m trying to say I literally could not spare 30-60 minutes a day!?)
Avoid excessive amounts of caffeine.
Ahem. Coffee. I live off of coffee. It’s one of my most cherished things in life (aside the obvious family, health, etc..) My go-to coffee mug is more like a bucket. And I drink heaps of it. By 7am I’ll be on my third bucket. During an average day I’ll have anywhere between 5-8 huge strong coffees with 1/3 milk. My last one will be at around 5pm. I’m now however learning to substitute a part of my coffee buckets with herbal tea.
Make sure your sleep surroundings are dark and quiet.
Well. It’s summer in Finland, the land where the sun doesn’t set months on end. I could use blackout curtains, but that would entail a lot of rearrangements. And I don’t like sleeping in complete darkness. I enjoy waking up to natural light, and because I have young children, I also don’t want it to be pitch black. When it comes to noise, again, I have young children. And a husband who snores.
Ensure you have a good, attractive and comfortable bed.
My mattress and pillows are fine. I have a bedroom that I like. I’ve tried sleeping in dozens of beds during the past years. Now that sounds funny taken out of context, but it means I’ve slept in our master bed, guest room, kids’ beds, both at home and at my husband’s house in Thailand, on the couch, at my parent’s house, at the summer house, at hotels, etc. I’ve tried a lot of beds, and there’s no difference in my case. I’m still a lousy sleeper regardless of the bed. A lot of the time I’m also sharing my bed with up to four people, which trust me, is not ideal.
Abide by a relaxing bedtime ritual.
Another pointer that I have yet to figure out. My bedtime ritual is far from relaxing at the moment. It begins with battling the kids to bed, proceeds to decluttering and hanging up the laundry, finishing off chores for the day. Then a late night snack or sandwich while staring blindly at the TV, phone or my computer screen. When I finally decide it’s time to head to bed, I’ll usually spend a good 20-30 minutes doing crossword puzzles in bed.. (It makes me seem so old, hah, but I’ve been doing them since I was 14!)
I have two three year olds and a five year old. Potty training and getting rid of diapers for the twins was a great win, but it led to a new array of bedtime excuses. Lost sleepy toys, giggles, waking each other up, sudden pangs of hunger and thirst. The list of excuses my kids have for going to sleep these days is long. Long gone are the calm evenings where I would take the girls up to their room, sing a song and leave them to sleep.
On a bad day my activity bracelet can give me up to a whopping 2000 steps during bedtime. On the worst days, I can be running up and down the stairs twenty times. I might yell and threaten, move on to bribery and get a guilty conscious for being upset with my kids. And then we make up. I abide by always making truce with my kids before they fall asleep. However, doing this in a way that doesn’t allow for them to think that it’s okay to not behave or not go to bed when told to do so requires a huge effort.
Where I am at the moment
3-4 nights a week everyone will sleep contently in their own beds all night. The rest of the time I’ll be up at least once a night to take someone to the bathroom, sooth a bad dream away, make room for one, two or three of my daughters in my bed..
My husband will be leaving the country in a couple of weeks again, which always brings along a set of changes. It’s a true blessing to have another adult in the house to help out. This said though, Mom is who the kids want. If I’m around, the kids won’t be happy with dad’s help most of the time. Which in turn leads to frustration on both of our part. He wants to help, but it becomes nearly impossible. Hence the only way is that either I take care of getting the kids to bed, or I leave the house just before bed time.
What about when I’m alone?
The past few months have been very special in many ways. I’ve had more me-time than ever before since becoming a mother soon six years ago. My husband has spent a lot of time with the kids at our summer house for two reasons: One, so that he can spend time and really bond with the kids as he’s usually gone so much. Two, so I could get a break.
Being alone at home has been wonderful. I’ve genuinely needed it. The other day I was at home alone, sitting on the couch drinking coffee and staring out the window. I suddenly heard my own voice singing “Silence is golden”. One day I called out to the toaster when it was ready, “Mommy’s coming!”
I’ve relaxed, cleaned in peace, and pampered myself. I’ve binge watched Netflix and had days of doing nothing. Honestly just enjoyed the silence and the feeling of not constantly being needed by someone.. But. I still haven’t mastered sleep. Even with no one to wake me or deter me from a good night’s sleep, I’m still in bed at midnight and up at the crack of dawn. After years of short nights, I seem to be incapable of sleeping more.
Creating a master plan to sleep again
I’ve spilled my guts on the honest truth of what impacts sleep (or more so, the lack of) for me as a mother. But I also stated I’m going to make a change. It doesn’t make a difference who you are or what your life situation may be, if you’re struggling with sleep, I feel you. I’m setting up a master plan for tackling my sleep deprivation. It’s not going to be a “simple” do yoga every night or use a white noise machine. I’m on the look out for solutions that will work for me, and hopefully for someone else too.
What’s your best advice for learning to sleep again? Leave me a comment and check back soon to find out what kind of master plan I manage to comply!