25 ways to improve every parent’s sleep habits

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By Shelley Hopper


We’ve all been there; falling asleep all day long, barely hanging onto the day by a thread, but when we finally get the babes tucked in and asleep, we catch a second wind.

Did I just down two shots of espresso? Did I just go for a rollercoaster ride? Did I just run a marathon? Why in the world am I wired when all I want to do is SLEEP?!

Parenthood is real, and so is society’s increase in sleep deprivation.

Lack of sleep definitely plays a role on our bodies, like nodding off during the day, trying to live off caffeine, immune systems spiraling, increase in headaches, lack of appetite, loss of interest in activities, and having a difficult time concentrating. It can even lead to chronic health problems, like hypertension, obesity, and depression.

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In today’s society, it’s a go-go-go mindset—everyone is constantly busy, always going from one place to the next, checking social media and work emails 12,397 times a day, or surviving off caffeine or bad habits (ahem, I see your nightly glass of wine, craft cocktail, or nicotine addiction and am talking to YOU).

So, what can you do to improve your sleep habits, thus the quality of life?

As a working mom, I’m definitely guilty of dark circles and bags under my eyes as a result of lack of sleep over the years. I mean, what mom isn’t through the newborn and toddler stages, to be honest? But this past year, late bedtimes, interrupted chunks of sleep, and early mornings had my health spiraling. Out of nowhere, I suddenly experienced daily anxiety, lack of concentration, panic attacks and chronic health problems.

I was overwhelmed with the sudden onset of symptoms that were taking over my body and my mind. And you know what caused it? Lack of self-care and non-existing quality sleep, so things had to change.

I sought out specialists to get to the root of my sleep issues, and by trying the following tips and recommendations, I hope you’ll be on your way to better sleep in no time.

Here are 25 tips and tricks to improve your sleep habits and your overall quality of life:

1. Meditate

I really love using the Pranayama app, as it tunes in my breathing and is a natural way to calm muscle tension, heart rate, and the mind by tuning into your breath and your consciousness. I found out about it from attending a biofeedback session, and my ideal breathing rate was 6.5 breaths set for 15 minutes. Play with your breathing rate and see which relaxes you best. Meditating for 15-20 minutes per day can change. your. life.

iTunes’ current top five meditation apps are below:

  • Sattva
  • Calm
  • Headspace
  • The Mindfulness App
  • Buddhify

2. Avoid large meals before bedtime

Ever heard the saying, “Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper?” Do that.

3. Avoid caffeine after 3 pm

This includes more than just coffee and tea—foods high in sugar can also be a culprit! So also cut back on alcohol, desserts, fruits, and processed foods before bedtime.

4. Just like you do for your toddler, set a bedtime routine for yourself

Try to go to bed at the same time each night and wake up the same time each day. Sticking to a sleep schedule can significantly improve your body’s natural sleep habits and help your mind relax.

5. Set emotional boundaries for yourself

Get off social media and anything with a screen at least 1-2 hours before bedtime. Instead, grab a journal and write an entry, read a book, or snuggle up with a pet.

6. Cozy up

Don’t go to sleep too cold or too hot. Wear socks if your feet are chilly, or turn on a fan if you’re uncomfortably warm. Get comfortable.

7. Try a white noise machine

8. Use a diffuser with essential oils that may help calm your spirit and help you relax

Although essential oils and their effectiveness is debatable via science, the most commonly used oils to relax and calm anxiety are Lavender, Rose, Vetiver , Ylang Ylang, Bergamot, Chamomile, Frankincense . You can also look for “anti-anxiety” or “sleep” blends to diffuse. Be sure to follow the maker’s instructions for usage.

10. Avoid nicotine or other addictive habits before bedtime and whenever possible

11. Brew a glass of calming herbal/decaf tea

But not right before bed, or too many liquids will keep you up at night running to the restroom!

12. Create a calm, tranquil, relaxing environment in your bedroom

Why do we only think we can have clean, relaxing, dream bedrooms at hotels? Bring the hotel vibe to your own room. Invest in nice sheets, a calming paint color for the walls, a throw rug…bring cozy chic into your everyday.

13. Try adding a Himalayan salt lamp and air purifying plants into your bedroom

Dust, declutter, and stay organized so your bedroom is a sanctuary.

14. Invest in blackout blinds and limit lights where you sleep

Cover up electronic lights, turn off lights in your hallway, and embrace the relaxing darkness of nighttime.

15. Take time for relaxing activities before bedtime

Try yoga sequences targeted for bedtime relaxation, take a warm bath, or try a detoxing and calming face mask.

16. Listen to calming music

My fav? “Chakra Suite: Music for Meditation, Healing and Inner Peace” by Steven Halpern, which was referred to me by Kathleen Jordan, who has 27 years of private practice experience as a licensed marriage and family therapist specializing in hypnotherapy, Cognitive Behavioral (CBT), and Mindfulness-Based Therapy (MBCT). It’s magic for relaxation!

17. Invest in an old-school alarm clock rather than depending on your phone

Set it up across the room from you so you physically have to get up and out of bed

18. Turn your cell phone OFF or to do not disturb or airplane mode at least an hour before bed

This is so you’re not tempted to keep using it, checking it, or getting texts throughout the night you can’t resist reading and responding to. If you can, even try charging your phone in a different room so you’re not reaching for it (or even just staring at it in curiosity).

19. Relax or calm your muscles

By taking a warm bath, using an ice pack, heating pad (make sure it has an auto shut-off feature), hand-held massage tool, or calming creams and/or lotions or oils. Taking warm baths can literally suck anxiety out of your body, help you relax and make you feel less lonely, actually.

20. If you take rests during the day, limit naps to 20 minutes so they don’t affect your nightly sleep patterns

21. Expose yourself to daily sunlight, and spend time outside in nature before it’s dark

Also, let as much natural light into your home or work environment as possible. You can also use a light-therapy box for dim environments or days filled with dreary weather.

22. Stay hydrated throughout the day and drink plenty of water

Drinking fluids throughout the day can help relieve anxiety, keeps your digestive system moving, help flush waste products, improve mood and help fight fatigue. All of this can help contribute to a more peaceful and restful night’s sleep.

23. Try sleep hypnosis

You can seek a licensed professional near you who can make you personal recordings or sessions, or you can also Google “hypnosis for sleep” and find some generic sleep hypnosis options via YouTube.

24. Go for a brisk walk before bedtime

Fresh air and light exercise can do wonders for the soul.

25. Try to unwind and clear your head

Anxiety or chronic worry can make it impossible to feel calm, thus, sleep. Invest in yourself to get the help you need to learn how to deal with stress management, how to limit worry and how to avoid feeling overstimulated.

The Help Guide says it best: “Worrying can be helpful when it spurs you to take action and solve a problem. But if you’re preoccupied with ‘what ifs’ and worst-case scenarios, worry becomes a problem [and becomes anxiety]. Unrelenting doubts and fears can be paralyzing. They can sap your emotional energy, send your anxiety levels soaring and interfere with your daily life. But chronic worrying is a mental habit that can be broken. You can train your brain to stay calm and look at life from a more positive perspective.”

HelpGuide.org also has great tips that can help you feel less anxious and train your brain to stay calm, and it can also be extremely beneficial to see a therapist that specializes in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).

  • Ask yourself if the problem is solvable.
  • Challenge the reality of anxious thoughts.
  • Accept uncertainty.
  • Be aware of how others affect you.
  • Focus on the present rather than the past or future.
  • Confine your worrying to one time period during the day.

Wishing you the sweetest dreams and a nighttime filled with peace, love, and calm.

Originally posted on FIT4MOM.

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Things We're Loving

There is so much joy in the world right now, even if our news feeds and the headlines in the paper don't always show it. Babies are being born, mothers are harnessing their power and children (yes, little children) are changing this big world.

That's why we are always on the lookout for the stories that are going to make us smile, because there are certainly things in this world that are upsetting and worth worrying about, but there is also so much joy, so much resilience and an amazing future ahead of us.

These are the stories that made us smile this week:

Mom's post goes viral after she gives baby advice meant for goats 😂

Have you ever replied to a post in an online group thinking you're in another one? It's happened to a lot of us, but never quite as hilariously as it happened to Hailey McHone.

McHone is a member of multiple Facebook groups, including a mom's group and a group for goat owners. When someone needed advice about an ill kid (which, to be fair, can mean a young human or a young goat) McHone replied with goat advice, thinking she was in that group.

"Put the kids in a plastic bag in a warm bath. 103-104 degree water is the best. Rub honey and cayenne on their gums," she wrote.

When one of the Facebook group members asked why a parent would want to raise an infant's temperature, McHone realized her mistake.

"[O]h my god," she wrote. "I thought this was in my goat emergency group. Normal goat temperature is 102. All this advice is for baby goats. Please do not follow any of it."

McHone's advice may not have been what OP was looking for, but it sure made the rest of the group (and now the whole internet) crack up.

2-year-old sees himself reflected in Target display and his reaction went viral 

Representation matters for kids with disabilities, as nearly 2-year-old Oliver Garza-Pena and his mom demonstrated with their now-viral post about a trip to Target.

"Oliver stopped me dead in his tracks and turned back around to see this picture that he spotted! He just stared at it in awe! He recognized another boy like him, smiling and laughing on a display at Target. Oliver sees kids every day, but he never gets to see kids like him. This was amazing!" his mom, Demi Garza-Pena, wrote on Facebook, in a post that has been shared more than 34,000 times.

Oliver's experience is similar to one writer Jamie Sumner had with her then 6-year-old son Charlie at Target back in 2018.

"But when we rolled past the Cat and Jack sign with the little boy in the walker, it became a different kind of day. For Charlie, who has cerebral palsy, it was the moment he saw his own lifestyle reflected in the world."

Thank you, Target, for including kids who move through the world a little differently.

This little girl is going viral and providing 'more than peach' crayons

When Bellen Woodard was in third grade she began to wonder why classmates would refer to the peach crayon as "skin-color" when skin comes in so many colors besides peach. That's why she launched the "More Than Peach" project, aiming to celebrate and highlight diversity by giving kids the art supplies they need to draw what they see in the mirror, at home and in the classroom.

Multicultural crayon and marker packs do exist thanks to Crayola and the company is now helping Bellen put diverse art supplies in the hands of her elementary school peers in Loudoun County, Virgina.

Thank you, Bellen!

Sisters go viral after giving birth on the same day, in the same hospital 

What's better than having twin? Having a "cousin-twin"! That's what sisters Charell Anthony and Cierra Anthony of Indianapolis call their little ones, Terry Valentino (Charell's newborn son) and Dream Monique (Cierra's newborn daughter).

Terry and Dream were born on February 12 at Community Hospital East in Indianapolis, Good Morning America reports. "They're going to be really close," Charell told GMA. "Being born on the same day, that's going to be really special for them."

It was a special memory for the extended family, who were going back and forth between the two hospital rooms and could not believe the timing. "They were so excited," said Cierra.

Viral Instagram photo series shows surrogacy birth creating a family + a friendship

Olatz Mendiola Marinas of San Sebastian, Spain, wanted so badly to be a mother and Celeste Remediz of Texas made her one. Now the two women are connected by a bond most can't conceive of, one that was documented by photographer Stephanie Cabrera of Reborn From Within, who was there for the birth of baby Kala and posted her photos on Instagram.

"I feel so lucky to get to witness how amazing the love between people can be. Surrogacy is something I've always admired, to provide someone with the gift of love, a gift more precious than any other gift in the world is incredibly special," Cabrera, the photographer, tells Motherly.

The surrogate, Celeste Remediz, a former Dallas police officer, told Good Morning America that she found out about her own third pregnancy a bit late in the game, around 5 months along, and felt a bit robbed of the pregnancy experience because of that. Three kids were enough for Remediz and her husband, but she wanted to be pregnant again.

"After the birth of our daughter, I told my husband that if she was to be our last child, I felt I had missed out on half of the pregnancy and didn't get to fully enjoy it and take it all in. I love being pregnant and enjoyed all my pregnancies," Remediz told GMA.

Credit: Stephanie Cabrera/ Reborn From Within

Remediz continues: "I realized then, that if my husband and I were done growing our family, I could be pregnant again and help someone else grow theirs through surrogacy. My husband agreed to support me and we found the agency who did an amazing job matching us to Olatz."

The two women became super close.

"Since I knew Celeste was going to be the surrogate mother, we started to talk regularly on the phone and got along well very quickly," said Marinas, the intended mother. "I had the chance to live with Celeste three weeks before giving birth and to be fully involved in her family['s] daily life, which really allowed me to get to know her well, support her and share her feelings on a daily basis."

Remediz says she was elated when the baby she'd just given birth to was placed in Marinas's arms. "I felt like the baby's aunt or something but never like her mother. This journey has been one of the most fulfilling things I have ever done and has taught me so much," she explains.

Credit: Stephanie Cabrera/ Reborn From Within

Cabrera says she was inspired by the two mothers who shared a birth and shared their story, and plans to continue capturing birth stories like this one to show the world that there are so many ways to become a mother, and so many ways to support mothers.

"My family and I will be traveling full-time the next few years in our old restored Volkswagen bus and by plane. During this time I will be documenting various individuals during their prenatal, birth and postpartum process. One of my biggest goals is to highlight all of the inspiring birth workers and organizations that greatly improve birth outcomes for everyone especially for people of color and low-income communities that are so often marginalized and at higher risk for maternal and infant mortality. This documentation will also take me across borders to document birthing traditions in other countries and cultures," Cabrera tells Motherly.

These are three incredible women and such incredible pictures.

News

My husband and I dreamed about our future child for years before actually embarking on our pregnancy journey in earnest. We are not unique, of course: That dream we had is shared by so many expectant parents and is part of what makes pregnancy so magical.

And getting pregnant for the first time is truly a magical experience. My husband and I were lucky enough to get pregnant on the second try. While I had nausea my entire pregnancy, I was otherwise gliding through it like it was the easiest thing I'd ever done.

By the time we got to my 20-week anatomy scan, the oh-so-exciting moment when you get to see all of your new baby, we already knew we were having a baby girl and were so excited to get to know her even more. I still remember what I wore that day: a black embroidered shift dress and little sandals, with a brand-new handbag I bought myself as my own push present. I dressed up for the occasion because I felt like I should.

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Toward the end of my scan, the technician said she had to show the doctor my results. It threw up a red flag in the sense that we knew this was not always customary, but not knowing much myself, I was more confused than scared.

I will never for the rest of my life forget what happened next. When the doctor came in and started her own scan, she looked at me and said, "Your baby has a hole in her heart." My reaction was immediate: tears that vowed to never stop. I couldn't breathe.

The obstetrician sent us to see a pediatric cardiologist immediately to do a fetal echocardiogram, a test similar to an ultrasound that can determine the severity of the Congenital Heart Defect (CHD). Our unborn child had what is called a tetralogy of fallot with pulmonary atresia, in which she was missing a wall between her heart chambers and had small pulmonary arteries and one of the more complex defects. We were told that based on the severity, we should consider termination — at 20 weeks, exactly half of a full-term pregnancy.

Technically, I had four weeks to decide: in New York State, 24 weeks is the legal cut off for early termination. I had four weeks to decide the fate of that child my husband and I had spent years dreaming about.

It ultimately took me only that night to make a decision. We found a team of doctors who were, and are, true angels in the face of something otherworldly terrible. They showed us the kind of empathy and care we needed as scared new parents, while also being the best high-risk OBGYN and cardio team in the country to handle this kind of case.

On Nov. 4, 2018, I went in for my induction, and on Nov. 5th, 2018 at 8:13 p.m., our daughter was born. She was whisked off almost immediately, and I didnt get to see her again until the next morning in the Cardiac NICU.

Babies do "breathe" while in utero, but once they are born, there is a chemical released that closes a particular valve in the heart that is no longer needed. Due to her defect, she actually needed that value to stay open so she needed to get medication immediately to keep the valve from closing. That meant I held her post delivery for about 15 seconds before she was taken away; I didn't get to really, truly hold her until three days later.

Once I got to my room, I finally had a minute to breathe — and I just started crying. I wanted my baby. I wanted to hold her, to get to know her, and I just couldn't. The silver lining was that I had that easy pregnancy and a very easy vaginal delivery; I think God cut me a break knowing what I was in for once our daughter was born. The next morning, I was up with the sun and upstairs in the NICU to see my daughter where she would be for the next three weeks.

She had open heart surgery seven days after she was born, a second surgery at month five and a less invasive procedure at month nine. She is now 15 months old and a tornado of a toddler. She is smarter than she should be and a total comedian who knows she's the boss, who loves to climb and dance, who is affectionate and loving. She has filled my heart with so much joy, I could burst at the seams.

Someone asked me recently what was the bravest thing I had done in my life. After some reflection, I realized it was choosing to have my baby — and getting myself prepared for whatever would come once she was born. It was knowing fully that we could only know so much about what her heart may be like when she arrived, and what the course of care would be upon that potential outcome. But I knew in my own heart that she was meant to be here, and I was wiling to endure whatever came my way.

If she was here for a day, a week or a lifetime, that was her choice, not mine, and I would be the mother she needed for as long as she was alive.

Life

I admit it: We struggle with screen time in my house. My 4-year-old is a rambunctious consumer of entertainment and most of his beloved forms come in the mini screen of my cell phone. I do, however, do my best to fill that screen with the most educational kid's apps that exist, and one of his favorites is the world of Sago Mini. Their apps are fun, playful, and yes, help him learn something too.

So imagine our excitement when we found out that Sago Mini is bringing that experience offline with an IRL kid's toy subscription service that sends open-ended toys to you about once a month. The service officially launches today and it's perfect for kids aged 3-5. It costs about $19 a month or $15 a month if you pay for an annual subscription.

The Sago Mini box

The first set of boxes will have planes, road trip and fairy tales themes. ✨The box we tried was road-trip themed and it came with everything your little needs to get off the phone and into their imagination. I loved that even the box itself can be turned into a toy by disassembling it and rebuilding it inside out. Because we all know that sometimes our kid's favorite toy ends up being the box it was shipped in!

The kit comes with three make and play activities, all designed to build off each other. For example, our road trip box came with a felt "road" that my son loved draping all over the furniture, and a cardboard car with wooden wheels in one activity pack. Then the second activity pack had destinations your child can "drive" their car to like Grandma's house, school and a gas station.

I especially appreciated that they kept an eye on sustainability (and cute design!) when creating these play materials. All the paper materials that come in the box are made from recycled goods or sourced from the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC certified). The best part? My son played with his set for a good few hours—and never asked for my phone once.

$15
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When you're in the middle of the school year and managing a family, each minute of time becomes very precious. Sometimes that means healthy food choices in the household can take a backseat. But don't stress it, mama. Prepping delicious and nutritious choices for the kids to munch on doesn't need to take all day.

Remember to keep it fun, simple and interactive! Here are tips for simplifying after-school snacks once and for all:

1. Prep snacks on Sunday

This simple trick can make the rest of the week a breeze. Tupperware is your friend here, you can even write different days of the week on each container to give the kids a little surprise every day. I really like storage with compartments for snack prep. Personally, I slice apples, carrots or cucumbers to pair with almond butter and hummus—all great to grab and go for when you're out all day and need some fresh variety.

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2. When in doubt, go for fruit

Fruit is always a quick and easy option. I suggest blueberries, clementine oranges, apples, frozen grapes or even unsweetened apple sauce and dried fruit, like mixed fruit. It's fun to put together a fruit salad, too. Simply cut up all the fruit options and let the kids decide how they'd like to compile. Prepped fruit is also great to have on hand for smoothies, especially when it's been sitting in the fridge for a few days—throw it in the blender with some nut milk and voila.

3. Pair snacks with a dip

Hummus is a great dip to keep on hand with lots of versatility or you can grab a yogurt-based dip. Easy and healthy dippers include pre-sliced veggies, baby carrots and multigrain tortilla chips. Plain hummus is a great way to introduce seasonings and spices too—shake a little turmeric, add fresh basil and you'd be surprised what your kids will take to.

4. Have high-protein options readily available

Snacks with high protein, like cottage cheese, Greek yogurt, hard boiled eggs and jerky will fuel kids for hours. One of my favorites is a turkey stick, which is a fun addition to the hummus platter. Just slice into bite-sized pieces. I love cottage cheese because it can go savory or sweet, use as a dip with your prepped veggies, or drizzle pure maple syrup and sprinkle with berries.

5. Always keep the pantry stocked

Monthly deliveries keeps the pantry updated without a trip to grocery store. Many kids are big fans of popcorn, granola and pretzels. We like to DIY our own snack packs with a little popcorn, pretzels, nuts and whatever else is in the pantry so there's always something different!

6. Make cracker tartines

I love the idea of replicating popular restaurant dishes for kids. Here are some of my favorite snack-sized tartines using any crisp bread, or favorite flat cracker of your choice as the base. There are no rules and kids love adding toppings and finding new combinations they love.

  • Avocado crackers: Use a cracker and then layer with thinly sliced avocado, a dollop of fresh ricotta cheese topped with roasted pepitas or sunflower seeds.
  • Tacos: The base for this is a black bean spread—just drain a can of black beans, rinse and place into a wide bowl. With a fork or potato masher, lightly smush the beans until chunky. Spread onto your cracker and top with tomato, cheddar cheese and black olives. Try out a dollop of super mild salsa or some lime zest to introduce some new flavor profiles.
  • A play on PB&J: Smear peanut butter, almond or a favorite sun butter on the cracker. I like to get a mix it up a bit and put fresh fruit (strawberries, blueberries and tiny diced apples) and a little bit of dried fruit sprinkled on top.

7. Pre-make smoothie pops

The easy part about meal prep is the prep itself, but knowing exactly how much to make ahead is tricky. Freeze a smoothie in popsicle molds to have a healthy treat ready-to-go snack. They're super simple to make: Add any fruit (I like apples, berries, pineapples and mangoes) and veggies (carrots, steamed beet and wilted kale) to a blender with your favorite nut milk until you have consistency just a bit thinner than a smoothie. Pour into your trusty reusable popsicle molds and then into the freezer to make an ice pop so good they could eat them for breakfast.

Lifestyle
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