This piece is written by Elizabeth King. Elizabeth is a mom of three boys, a wife, and the owner of Sleep Baby Consulting.
We don’t get sleep
I hate to say it but our beloved Dolly Parton had it wrong. If you’re a mom, a 9-5 workday sounds like a dream! Instead we are often up before the sun working at home, getting kids where they can be cared for during the day and then facing major mental whiplash to put our energy into work all before 9 am! As the day goes on, we have to suddenly switch gears again at the end of “work” into mom mode for hours again until our children are (hopefully) asleep for the night. Then “me time” begins! I don’t know about you but, these days, that looks a lot less like a long bath and a lot more like laundry, cleaning, packing lunches, and maybe getting a bite to eat before I fall into bed exhausted, setting my alarm for way too early to start it all again the next day.
Does this day sound like yours? My name is Elizabeth King and I am a mom of 3 boys, a wife, and the owner of Sleep Baby Sleep Consulting. As a working mom, my calendar is only slightly less full than my heart and hands these days. And, even as a sleep consultant, I struggle figuring out how to get enough sleep. In the past several years, I’ve been confronted with the reality that ignoring my own biological need for sleep doesn’t serve my family, my job, or myself. When I’m tired I’m not the mom or wife I want to be, I’m not able to perform at work in the way I know I can, and, if I’m honest, I’m pretty miserable. If you’re anything like me, you might feel the same way. Your sleep and your needs always come last but it also feels like a ride you kind of want to exit. Grab a cup or two of coffee and let’s chat about how to end the cycle and why you should prioritize getting the rest your body needs!
Why sleep is important
We hear all the time that we need to get 8 hours of sleep but it’s easy to push that aside and think that we can just have an extra cup of coffee and be fine! I’m here to try and convince you that caffeine is not a good replacement for a full night’s sleep and your own sleep should be a priority. I’m also going to give you some proven tips to help make it happen. To me, there are three compelling reasons moms should get good rest: your health, your happiness, and your kids.
Did you know that sleep is one of the best ways to reduce anxiety and depression? While it’s no substitute for qualified mental healthcare, it is one of those things that you can do right now to help improve your mental health. We are all stressed to our limits these days and there comes a point where our bodies just can’t take it. Sleep also strengthens your immune system and promotes healing in your body. As Daniel Tiger’s mom says – rest is best! It really is amazing how just a few nights of 7-8 hours of sleep can heal so much in our bodies. As moms, if we go down, the whole ship goes down. If nothing else, protect your body by prioritizing 6-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep each night.
For so long, as Americans, exhaustion, stress, or how many hours we’ve worked has been worn as a “badge of honor” somehow proving we are the best. It shouldn’t be this way! When we are exhausted our body goes into emergency mode, pumping us full of adrenaline to stay afloat. Operating on adrenaline for long periods of time damages our body, increases our risk of a heart attack or stroke, and creates anxiety, among other things. There are absolutely seasons of life that are going to come with less sleep (hello the newborn days!) but those should be the exception, not our norm. When you are in those seasons, I highly encourage you to say no in places where you can in order to keep your load lighter and find pockets where you can rest. More on this to come!
Let’s be real, when I’m tired, I’m grumpy. I am most certainly not the mom that I desire to be, I don’t perform at work in the ways I know I can, and my spouse gets some pretty terrible leftovers. After a particularly exhausting period in our family, I looked up and realized that something had to change. This wasn’t the life I wanted us to have or the mom and wife I wanted my kids and husband experiencing. Exhaustion creeps up on us but, once you start to reduce your sleep debt and build back rest, your life changes quickly. Even a short nap can start to make a difference in your attitude, patience, and abilities.
As a mom, your life doesn’t stop if something disrupts your sleep. Whether that’s a sick child, a late night football game, or needing to catch up on the latest season of your favorite show, the next day marches on with the same expectations no matter the reason for your sleepiness. I’ve learned that having it all is a myth. We have to learn to say no in some areas so that we can flourish in others. In my opinion, and I believe science agrees, sleep should not be one of those areas. We need it to function and have gone too long thinking it can be pushed to the side. So how can we get good sleep while being a busy mom? Read on.
Practical tips for getting more sleep as a working mom
If there is an article out there about sleep, I’ve read it. I work with families every day teaching their children how to sleep and need quite a bit of it myself in order to function. I’ve studied the science behind our sleep and seen first hand what happens to families when they are exhausted. I’ve seen plenty of platitudes and tips that really weren’t that helpful so my goal is to give you something you really can use. Even if you’re skeptical, I’d encourage you to try 2-3 of these tips and keep a journal of your sleep while you do. Sometimes we need to see the actual data written down to realize what a difference small changes are making. Also, if you’ve been running on adrenaline for awhile, know that feeling even more tired after a good night of sleep is your body’s response to the absence of that adrenaline. It’s normal to feel like you need a nap the next day and that’s ok! Listen to what your body is telling you and, after a few days, you’ll be rested and thriving.
- Take a Technology Break. I know this advice has been stated many times by now but it is very important. Our devices might make us more productive but they also inhibit our sleep in many ways. The blue light stimulates our brain, the constant sound and motion overwhelms our senses, and the dopamine hit we often experience watching them stirs us up. This even applies to clocks and nightlights that emit blue light! Try setting some boundaries around device time and switch them off at least 1 hour before bed.
- Use a regular alarm clock. It’s also not healthy to start our day with devices. Try to give yourself a break by using a standard alarm clock rather than your phone and skip the 15 minute scroll to start your day. Instead, set your alarm for 15 minutes later and get more sleep!
- Teach your kids how to sleep independently. OK, this is a soapbox for me but I’m going to hop up there because I feel so passionately that a healthy mom equals a healthy baby and you just can’t get there if you are exhausted. Hear me say – there are seasons where your baby cannot sleep through the night but toddlerhood is not one of them. (Barring medical reasons of course). Teach your (age appropriate) babies and children how to sleep through the night soundly without you so that you all can get the rest your bodies need. Yes, they need sound sleep too!
My team and I work with families every day teaching them about the importance of healthy sleep boundaries. Boundaries (like sleeping in their own bed all night, a consistent bedtime, or falling asleep independently) are like a fence. Our kids are going to bump up against that fence frequently but the fence staying firm is actually comforting and reduces stress and anxiety for them. If you’re struggling with how to achieve this, or wondering what is age appropriate for your little one, we’d love to help! You can follow us on Instagram @sleepbabyconsulting or learn more on our website.
Also, I can’t move past this point without saying that the narrative that “what your baby needs most is to be held to sleep” promotes unsafe sleep and is damaging to moms. For some families, that works but, if you love your baby and are tired of rocking them to sleep, you are not alone! And you are still an incredible parent. It is loving, safe, and wonderful to teach your baby how to sleep independently at an appropriate age and when it feels right for your family.
- Get to bed earlier. Set a timer or alarm for bedtime and stick to it! If you have to get up at 6 am, aim for a bedtime 7-8 hours earlier. I’m just as guilty of staying up late watching one more episode but save it for the next day and head to bed earlier so you can get a full night’s rest.
- Try a nap! On days you are able, try to grab a 15-20 minute power nap. It’s incredible what this sleep does for your body over time. The trick is, don’t waste the 15 minutes scrolling. Instead, set a timer, and lay down in silence (or white noise). Even if you don’t fall asleep the rest and lack of stimulation will act like a reset button for your body. If that doesn’t work or on days a nap isn’t possible, try reading a book or just sitting outside (sans phone) for 15 minutes. It’s amazing what an activity that is truly restful can do for your body. The laundry, dishes, and emails will still be waiting for you but you’ll be able to tackle them with a refreshed perspective.
- Skip the long term OTC sleep aids. If your doctor has prescribed a sleep aid for you, ignore this one but, if you’re one of the millions of people taking melatonin or Benadryl to fall asleep every night, try to work off of it. While this can be helpful short term, over time they actually inhibit our body’s ability to fall asleep naturally!
I hope these tips feel empowering, not overwhelming. It’s important to realize that we are getting far less sleep than our bodies need and take steps to remedy it. As working moms, we have so many jobs each day and they need us at our best! Your body’s needs should not fall to the bottom of the list. Ignoring sleep can feel more productive in the short term but, as that sleep debt builds, lots of things are going to suffer. Getting yourself and your family the rest you all need is one of the best gifts you can give them.
If you ever need ideas for how to make that happen or a sympathetic ear, I’m always happy to chat! You can find me on Instagram at @sleepbabyconsulting or through our website: www.sleepbabyconsulting.com.