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5 Science-Backed Ways to Improve Your Sleep Cycle (and Decrease Depression)

It’s no secret that kids who don’t sleep well at night don’t perform well during the day, but a recent article in Science Daily reported that “children who experience inadequate or disrupted sleep are more likely to develop depression and anxiety disorders later in life.” This finding reinforces the urgent need for a child’s sleep cycle to be healthy and balanced


In our household, that can be a challenge because I don’t have a healthy sleep cycle myself. 

My body clock is perpetually in flux. Nights with little to no sleep are common, and that’s not because of a new baby in the house. Nope, that’s sheer, unadulterated anxiety. Oversleeping on the weekends is, of course, a no-go, because that’s life. Although I try to maintain a traditional schedule, my neurological pathways beg to differ.

I know that the disruption of natural biological rhythm aggravates my depression and anxiety symptoms, and the same goes for kids. Insomnia reinforces or creates states of increased worry, stress, or anxiety, and the cycle just perpetuates. 

Oversleeping and depression are correlated. It’s not just how many or how few hours I spend sleeping – it’s when I’m sleeping. For the better part of last year during a major depressive episode, when I did sleep, my body desperately wanted to sleep through the day and be awake during the night, all night. 

When kids’ sleep cycles become disrupted, they become more anxious and depressed, and their school performance can take a dip. They become moody and disrespectful at home. It can escalate quickly.

It’s already back-to-school time, so I’m thinking in terms of a proactive approach. I want to take steps to establish a healthy sleep cycle schedule for the household, and I’ve been researching natural ways to do it.

Melatonin supplements

Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone that our bodies make. Normally, children and adults will get a surge of melatonin about 30 minutes before they begin to feel drowsy. This change happens with a change in light, so when it gets dark, we begin to feel sleepy. This feeling can get knocked out of whack easily with missed naps, jet lag, or a change in sleep routines. This is where using melatonin supplements could be helpful to “reprogram” the body’s internal clock. 

In practical application, both children and adults have found that using natural melatonin supplements has helped significantly. However, while this is a nice short-term solution, (one to five days, as needed) it’s not something that we will be doing indefinitely.

If you choose to try this for yourself or your child, please consult your doctor first.   

Blue-blocking glasses

According to a recent article in Newsweek, if you have bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, or insomnia for any other reason it could help to wear amber-tinted glasses after the sun has set.

The idea is that the orange shades block blue light, a major component of sunlight, which the body uses to control our biological clock’s internal sense of time and other important functions.  The article goes on to say that’s why exposure to the morning sun, and that blue light, is good for “resetting” your internal clock if you have jet lag. And it’s why the absence of the blue light – a.k.a. darkness – is the brain and body’s cue to get ready for sleep.

Clearly, my household was not copied on this memo.

Here’s why: Screen time. The article reported that a hindrance for many people was exposure to the blue light given off by electronics before sleep. 

I don’t own a smartphone and we don’t do a lot of show-watching in the house, but I am writing (or staring at my computer screen) until I fall asleep. If this blue light theory holds true, then this habit cannot be advantageous for my traditional sleep cycle goal. Likewise, think about how much screen time kids get in the evening with that blue light signaling their brains to stay awake. 

Because I spend so much time writing in the evening, I decided to give the amber-tinted safety glasses a go, to “normalize” the sleep cycle disturbance as best I can by donning them after dusk. And yes, I look fabulous.    

After wearing them while typing on my computer screen for about 20 minutes (I’m a hunt-and-peck typist), I took them off for a moment to look at the screen, and it did, in fact, appear incredibly blue to my readjusted eyes!

The study referenced in the Newsweek article had outstanding results with no changes to psychotropic medications.

“In a small Norwegian study of 23 people hospitalized for bipolar disorder, scientists assigned 12 to wear “blue-blocking” amber glasses for one week, and 11 not to.”

“The paper found an enormous difference between the two groups. Those wearing the amber-tinted glasses for only one week scored on average 14 points lower on a test used to measure mania known as the Young Mania Rating Scale. That’s more than twice what doctors consider to be a ‘clinically significant difference’ and is a ‘remarkably high effect size,’ according to a commentary accompanying the study, both of which were published in the journal Bipolar Disorders. Improvements were noticeable after only three nights of wearing the sunglasses.”

Reduce screen time in the evening

This one is simple and straightforward. The less screen time you have at night, the less exposure to the blue light that signals the brain to be awake. No need for glasses, gizmos, gadgets, or what-its galore.

Hydrate during the day, not right before bed

Make sure to drink plenty of water during the day and not just before bedtime. This is a guarantee for sleep interruption because it’s going to lead to either a wet bed or a trip to the bathroom. No water before bed time. Period. We can all have water first thing in the morning and we’ll learn our lesson to hydrate very well the next day. This, of course, is not a guarantee that there will be no sleep interruption, but it will certainly help in reducing the chances.       

Establish pre-bedtime relaxation routines

Creating pre-bedtime routines for the household can be a critical part of repairing sleep cycles.  Practicing deep breathing exercises and putting on calming music is free, easy, and a great pre-bedtime routine to establish. Using lavender can be soothing and it’s proven effective in helping babies, children, and adults fall asleep.

Other ideas for a bedtime routine include:

  • Taking a warm bath or shower within an hour before bedtime.
  • Make it routine. Head to bed at the same time daily. With babies, a faded bedtime often works because it’s consistent and you can work your way towards the desired designated bedtime. 
  • Read something reassuring, relaxing, or soothing. 
  • Manage your stress: Practice meditation, progressive muscle relaxation and guided imagery, prayer, counting your blessings, or the stress management techniques listed above such as deep breathing exercises

*Speaking with your family doctor about changes in routines or adding supplements is critical for your family’s safety. Do not make changes on your own without first consulting a medical health professional.

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Starting your child on solids can be a daunting process. Between the mixed advice that seems to come from every angle ("Thanks, Grandma, but pretty sure one dessert is enough…") to the at-times picky palates of our little ones, it can be tough on a mama trying to raise a kid with a sophisticated palate.

But raising an adventurous eater doesn't have to be a chore. In partnership with our friends at Raised Real, here are eight tips to naturally encourage your child to nibble and taste with courage.

1. Keep an open mind. 

As the parent, you set the tone for every bite. So stay positive! Raised Real makes it easy to work new and exciting ingredients into every meal, so you'll have plenty of opportunities to practice modeling open-minded eating. Instead of saying, "You might not like this" or "It's okay if you don't like it" from the start, keep your tone upbeat—or simply serve new dishes without any fanfare at all. (Toddlers can smell a tough sell from a mile away.) Either way, let your child decide for themselves how they feel about new dishes.

2. Show mealtime some respect. 

Spend less time in the kitchen and more time together at the table with Raised Real meals, which come prepped and ready to steam and blend. They're even delivered to your door—because they know how busy you are, mama. Think about it: Do you enjoy a meal you've had to rush through? Keep meals relaxed and let your child savor and taste one bite at a time to take any potential anxiety out of the equation. (This may mean you need to set aside more time than you think for dinner.)

3. Serve the same (vibrant) dish to the whole family.

Don't fall into the "short-order cook" trap. Instead of cooking a different meal for every family member, serve one dish that everyone can enjoy. Seeing his parents eating a dish can be a simple way to encourage your little one to take a bite, even if he's never tried it before. Since Raised Real meals are made with real, whole ingredients, they can be the perfect inspiration for a meal you serve to the whole family.

4. Get kids involved in prepping the meal.

Raised Real's ingredients are simple to prepare, meaning even little hands can help with steaming and blending. When children help you cook, they feel more ownership over the food—and less like they're being forced into eating something unfamiliar. As they grow, have your children help with washing and stirring, while bigger kids can peel, season, and even chop with supervision. Oftentimes, they'll be so proud of what they've made they won't be able to wait to try it.

5. Minimize snacking and calorie-laden drinks before meals. 

Serving a new ingredient? Skip the snacks. Hungry kids are less picky kids, so make sure they're not coming to the table full when you're introducing a new flavor. It's also a good idea to serve in courses and start with the unfamiliar food when they're hungriest to temper any potential resistance.

6. Don’t be afraid to introduce seasoning!  

Raised Real meals come with fresh seasonings already added in so you can easily turn up the flavor. Cinnamon, basil, turmeric, and cumin are all great flavors to pique the palate from an early age, and adding a dash or two to your recipes can spice up an otherwise simple dish.

7. Make “just one bite” the goal. 

Don't stress if your toddler isn't cleaning their plate—if he's hungry, he'll eat. Raised Real meals are designed to train the palate, so even a bite or two can get the job done. Right now the most important thing is to broaden their horizons with new flavors.

8. Try and try and try again. 

Kids won't always like things the first time. (It can take up to 20 tries!) If your child turns up her nose at tikka masala the first time, that doesn't mean she'll never care for Indian food. So don't worry. And be sure to try every ingredient again another day—or the next time you get it in your Raised Real meal box!

Still not sure where to start? Raised Real takes the guesswork out of introducing a variety of solids by delivering dietician-designed, professionally prepped ingredients you simply steam, blend, and serve (or skip the blending for toddlers who are ready for finger foods)—that's why they're our favorite healthy meal hack for kids.

Raising an adventurous eating just got a whole lot simpler, mama.

This article is sponsored by Raised Real. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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I wasn't supposed to be a stay-at-home mom.

Or, to put it another way, I wasn't supposed to be a year-round, stay-at-home mom. My husband and I live in Los Angeles, and our rent and monthly bills require two paychecks.

By the time our son Ryan was born, I had been teaching for seven years. And there was no question that I'd continue to teach. Other teacher-moms told me that teaching was the "perfect" career for parents.

"Once he starts school, you and your son will have the same hours each day."

"You'll always be available when he's got a random day off from school."

"You'll spend vacations together."

"You know what your schedule is year-round. It's not like other jobs, where your schedule changes on a weekly basis."

Like my husband's schedule. Paul's retail career didn't provide the same consistent schedule, week after week, that my teaching career did. While Paul's schedule could be erratic, I would provide Ryan with a reliable, fixed routine.

And my colleagues were right.

Aside from a few exceptions, such as Parent-Teacher Conferences and Back-to-School Night, Ryan and I would have dinner together each night. I imagined us doing "homework" together each afternoon—Ryan doing actual homework, me grading my students' homework.

Because there are 180 school days, theoretically, that means that the other half of the year, I'd spend with Ryan. But again, there were some exceptions. I usually spent quite a bit of time each summer attending conferences, workshops, and professional developments. I always returned to my classroom several days before the start of the new school year to get everything ready.

Still, teaching would continue to provide our family with a needed second income, feed my passion for teaching, and allow me the opportunity to spend considerable time with my son each day, all year long.

If Ryan attended the same small, local elementary school where I taught, I'd never have to choose between my students and my son. We'd come and go to school together, I'd watch him walk with his class in our school's Halloween Parade, and he'd watch me walk with mine. I'd hear him and his class sing holiday songs during our winter performance, and he'd hear my class.

That was the plan.

But while Ryan was a preschooler, the plan changed.

I got sick with a "mystery illness" that took doctors almost a year and a half to diagnose. Eventually, my rheumatologist determined I suffered from Undifferentiated Connective Tissue Disease, an autoimmune disease. I tried to pretend that my disease didn't impact my life or require any major lifestyle changes. But I couldn't keep up the pretense. So, in 2013, after a 12-year teaching career, I retired due to a disability.

I wasn't merely forced to give up my career. I had to give up my passion. I was now thrust into the role of year-round, stay-at-home mom, and I wasn't completely sure how to do it.

Thankfully, my disability check would continue to provide us with some income and the matching schedules Ryan had grown accustomed to would continue as well. But there were a lot of changes.

I had never before been the person to take Ryan to preschool. That job had always fallen to either our nanny or Paul. Now, I had to learn the timetable for breakfast, and the morning routine of getting washed, dressed, and out of the house.

I also had to figure out what to do after preschool. When I was teaching, I came home in the late afternoon. Ryan and I had some play time and shortly after that, we would begin our nightly evening routine. Now, with preschool ending at two o'clock each afternoon, we would have hours together before it was time for dinner.

How would I fill that time?

I knew how to lesson plan for a class of 30-plus students. I knew how to fill school days with a mix of whole-group instruction, independent work, and cooperative group work. I had a pacing plan to adhere to, standards and concepts that I was mandated to teach on a

timetable to prepare my students for periodic assessments and yearly standardized testing. But how would I organize a single day that involved just Ryan and me?

Many colleagues told me to find the silver lining. I had a disability, but I had also been given a gift—the opportunity to be a full-time, stay-at-home mom. While that was true, it came at a price.

I felt confused because I wasn't accepting my new role with complete enthusiasm and pure delight. I alternated between feelings of guilt, anger, and frustration because it wasn't my choice. My doctor and the state of California told me I could no longer teach. And when someone tells you that you can or cannot do something, it means something entirely different than when the choice is your own.

While I love my son and am honored to be his mother, I didn't know how to reconcile the fact that mothering had now become my primary job every day. I wasn't sure how to accept and make sense of my new identity. Disabled woman. Former Teacher. Stay-at-home mom.

I've slowly come to realize that I'm still a teacher, but now my student roster consists of one, my son, and my classroom isn't always a room. Sometimes it's the library. Sometimes it's our kitchen. Sometimes it's our backyard.

Sometimes it's enough. Sometimes it isn't. But it is always an adventure.

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In the moments after we give birth, we desperately want to hear our baby cry. In the middle of the night a few months later it's no longer exactly music to our ears, but those cries aren't just telling us that baby needs a night feeding: They're also giving us a hint at what our children may sound like as kindergarteners, and adults.

New research published in the journal Biology Letters suggests the pitch of a 4-month-old's cry predicts the pitch they'll use to ask for more cookies at age five and maybe even later on as adults.

The study saw 2 to 5-month olds recorded while crying. Five years later, the researchers hit record again and chatted with the now speaking children. Their findings, combined with previous work on the subject, suggest it's possible to figure out what a baby's voice will sound like later in life, and that the pitch of our adult voices may be traceable back to the time we spend in utero. Further studies are needed, but scientists are very interested in how factors before birth can impact decades later.

"In utero, you have a lot of different things that can alter and impact your life — not only as a baby, but also at an adult stage," one of the authors of the study, Nicolas Mathevon, told the New York Times.

The New York Times also spoke with Carolyn Hodges, an assistant professor of anthropology at Boston University who was not involved in the study. According to Hodges, while voice pitch may not seem like a big deal, it impacts how we perceive people in very real ways.

Voice pitch is a factor in how attractive we think people are, how trustworthy. But why we find certain pitches more or less appealing isn't known. "There aren't many studies that address these questions, so that makes this research especially intriguing," Hodges said, adding that it "suggests that individual differences in voice pitch may have their origins very, very early in development."

So the pitch of that midnight cry may have been determined months ago, and it may determine part of your child's future, too. There are still so many things we don't know, but as parents we do know one thing: Our babies cries (as much as we don't want to hear them all the time) really are something special.

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Jessica Simpson will soon join the mom of three club! The singer-turned-fashion mogul announced on Instagram today that she is expecting a baby girl.

"This little baby girl will make us a family of five," said Simpson, who shares 6-year-old Maxwell and 5-year-old Ace with husband Eric Johnson. "We couldn't be happier to announce this precious blessing of life."

The news may come as a surprise to Simpson's fans, considering she's been pretty vocal about feeling as though her family was complete. "I have two beautiful children, and I'm not having a third," she told Ellen DeGeneres in 2017. "They're too cute. You can't top that."

Earlier this year, Simpson revealed to Entertainment Tonight she had developed a case of baby fever, but said it would "definitely have to be a miracle" to have a third baby. Today's joyful announcement is proof that plans can change and that's part of the fun of life. All that really matters is that Simpson's family—including the two big siblings—certainly seem excited.

Besides, the designer of a line for Motherhood Maternity shouldn't have any problem with being just as fashionable as ever through her third pregnancy. 😉

Congrats to the growing family!

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Pumpkin spice lattes are here and the weather is getting chillier. That can only mean one thing—Halloween is near! Whether you're a fan of the holiday or not, there's simply nothing more precious than dressing up your baby or toddler in an adorable costume.

Today only, Target has up to 40% off Halloween costumes for the entire family. We rounded up the cutest picks from the baby + toddler departments—check 'em out. 😍

Toddler Halloween Costumes: Shark

Shark costume, $15.00 (was $25.00)

BUY

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