It’s 2:17 a.m. and your child’s voice is ringing loudly through the hallway. You sneak a peek at the clock to figure out how much sleep opportunity is left tonight, then you lurch out of bed and trudge toward your child’s bedroom to take care of business.
You knew you were in for some parent sleep deprivation when you had a child, but … the struggle is real right now.
As an adult sleep coach, I have to take into account that some of my clients are struggling with children who aren’t sleeping well. It’s my job to create sleep strategies that help these clients maintain their energy and mood through better sleep, while acknowledging the realities of parenthood.
Through this article, I intend to gift you with a few pearls of wisdom that will help you navigate this trying phase with your child.
Keep reading for suggestions to help you maintain your energy, mood, sleep and sanity if your child’s sleep challenges are leaving you feeling overwhelmed.
1. Hire a pediatric sleep consultant
Working with a pediatric sleep consultant is my first suggestion because it goes straight to the root of the problem. If your sleep troubles are likely to subside when your child’s sleep improves, then let’s get to work with your child! Once your little one is sleeping through the night, your mind won’t be on alert as you wait for the next 2 a.m. callout.
2. Keep calm and carry on during wakings
Let’s not sugarcoat things — waking up in the wee hours of the morning can feel like someone is prying your eyelids open with a toothpick. But getting worked up about it gives your stress hormones the opportunity to start flowing, and stimulates your mind to depart from its restful state.
During wake-ups, keep the lights dim and breathe in a slow, controlled manner. Practicing meditation and breathing exercises during the day can prepare you to stay in control of your emotions during the night. If you learn to remain relaxed during these evening events, your chances of falling back asleep in a short time improve greatly.
3. Don’t let parent sleep deprivation affect your health
Speaking from personal experience, it can be easy to let nutrition and fitness go by the wayside during a rough stretch of parent sleep deprivation. But letting yourself wander down this slippery slope is only going to make things worse. Exercising and eating healthy support your sleep and energy, so you’re setting yourself up for a repeating cycle of poor sleep, low energy, decreased mood and more if you let yourself slip too much.
Learn to quickly recognize when you’re neglecting your health, and make a conscious plan to turn things around before you’re really stuck in a rut.
4. Make time to soak in the sunlight
Sunlight is an amazing ally when it comes to helping your body maintain its natural rhythms. Exposing yourself to sunlight during the day tells your body and mind when it’s time to be awake, and when it’s time to begin preparing for sleep.
Depending on your occupation and schedule, getting outside during the day may not be a simple matter. But if you can squeeze in a morning stroll or a lunchtime walk, it will benefit both your daytime energy and your ability to sleep at night.
5. Let go of negative thoughts
“I’m going to be a complete zombie once the sun rises.”
“I’m not going to be able to fall back asleep after I get her down.”
Negative sleep thoughts like these are a pothole on the road to insomnia. Harboring these thoughts can dramatically affect how your mind and body behave when it’s time to sleep.
It won’t happen overnight (pun intended), but you can work to replace these negative sleep thoughts with positive ones such as, “In most cases, the worst thing that may happen if I don’t sleep well is that my mood will be impaired during the day.” The key here is to work on reducing worry about how tonight will go, or about how missed sleep will affect you the following day.
6. Embrace the occasional nap
If you can spare 15-30 minutes during the day, a nap can give you a much-needed energy boost after a rough night. Even if you have to set up a nap station in your car during your work lunch break, it’s very worth it. Just make sure you limit your nap to under 40 minutes or else you risk making it harder to sleep that night.
7. Enhance your evenings
Use your evenings to relax and store up positive feelings before bedtime. After your child falls asleep, indulge in a bath, a good book, a conversation with your partner,
or whatever else makes you feel fantastic. And as much as possible, try to turn out the lights around the same time every night.
Creating this comfortable pre-bedtime routine will help you de-stress and unwind, which is a great state of mind to be in if your child does call out at night.
Just remember, your child’s poor sleep won’t last forever. There are things you can do to lessen the toll of parent sleep deprivation, whether it’s resolving your child’s sleep issues or improving your own sleep (ideally you’ll do both)!
As important as it is to help your child sleep better, it’s also vital that you practice self-care and ensure that you’re well-rested enough to be a superstar with your child and in all other important aspects of your life.