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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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The temperatures are dropping and that can only mean one thing. Whether we like it or not, winter's cold chilly months are upon us. As a born-and-raised Alaskan, and mama of three, I've got a lot of cold weather experience under my belt, and staying inside half the year just isn't an option for us. As my husband likes to say, "There's no bad weather, just bad gear."

Here are some of my favorite picks to keep your family toasty warm this winter.


1. Bear bunting

This sherpa bear bunting wins winter wear MVP for being a comfy snowsuit for your littlest babe, or base-layer under another snowsuit for the chilliest of winter outings. Bonus: your baby bear will never look cuter!

Sherpa Hooded Bunting, Carter's, $15.20

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2. Patagonia Capilene base-layers

Speaking of base-layers, for any prolonged winter activity outside in the cold, it's best to layer up to create air pockets of warmth. These moisture wicking base-layers are a family favorite.

Baby Capilene Bottoms, Back Country, $29.00

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3. Arctix Kids limitless overall bib

These adjustable snow pants keep kids warm and the bib style keeps snow from going down the back of their pants. Bonus: the price is excellent for the quality and they can grow with your child. The Velcro strap also makes bathroom breaks for kids so much easier.

Arctix Kids Limitless Overall Bib, Amazon, $14.99-$49.99

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4. Hooded frost-free long jacket

Keep your little one warm and stylish in this long puffer jacket. Great for everyday outings.

Hooded Frost-Free Long Jacket, Old Navy, $35.00

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5. Patagonia reversible jacket

This jacket is windproof, waterproof and the built-in hood means one less piece of gear to worry about (or one more layer for your little one's head). It's a best buy if you live with cold winter temperatures for many months of the year and still love to get outside to play. It also stays in great condition for hand-me-downs to your next kid.

Reversible Down Sweater Hoodie, Nordstrom, $119.00

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6. Under Armour Decatur water repellent jacket

Made of waterproof fabric and lined with great insulation, kids will no doubt stay warm—and dry—in this. It features plenty of pockets, too, so mama doesn't always have to hold onto their items. We love that the UGrow system allows sleeves to grow a couple inches.

UA Decatur Water Repellent Jacket, Nordstrom, $155.00

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7. Stonz mittens

Ever tried to keep gloves on a 1-year-old? It's a tough task, but these gloves make it a breeze with a wide opening and two adjustable toggles for a snug fit they can't pull off! Warm and waterproof, and come in sizes from infant to big kids.

Stonz Mittz, Amazon, $39.99

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8. Sorel toot pack boot

Keep their little toes warm with these cozy boots from Sorel. With insulated uppers and waterproof bottoms their feet are sure to stay warm. They're well constructed and hold up over time, making them a great hand-me-down option for your family.

Sorel Kids' Yoot Boot, Amazon, $48.73-$175.63

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9. Stonz baby boots

These Stonz stay-on-baby booties do just as their name says and stay on their feet. No more searching for one boot in the grocery store parking lot!

Stonz Three Season Stay-On Baby Booties, Amazon, $29.99-$50.29

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We make a lot of things this time of year. Gingerbread houses. Christmas cards. New traditions. Babies.

Yes, December is peak baby making season. It's a month filled with togetherness and all the love felt in December is what makes September the most statistically popular month for American birthdays.

According to data journalist Matt Stiles, mid-September is the most popular time to give birth in America. He did a deep dive into the birth stats from the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics and the U.S. Social Security Administration collected between 1994 and 2014 and found that the most common American birthdays fall on September 9, 19 and 12. In fact, 9 of the 10 most popular days to give birth fall in September.

If we turn the calendar back, we're looking at Christmas time conceptions. Stiles illustrated his findings via a heat map, which presents the data in a visual form. The darker the square, the more common the birthday.

The square for August 30 is pretty dark as it is the 34th most common birthday in America. It's also 40 weeks after November 23, and the unofficial beginning of the United States' seasonal baby boom.


And while the Christmas holidays are common times to conceive, they're not common days to give birth, for obvious reasons. Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year's Day and the fourth of July are all represented by light squares on Stiles's data map, meaning they're among the least popular days to welcome a little one into the world (Boxing Day is just a smidge darker, still a pretty rare birthday).

OB-GYNs are not likely to schedule C-sections on major holidays, so that might point to the low birth rates on these special days.

As for the September baby boom, it probably has less to do with the magic of the holiday season and more to do with the fact that many Americans take time off work during the holiday season. It's not that mistletoe is some magic aphrodisiac, but just that making babies takes time, and at this time of year we have some to spare.

This Christmas be thankful for the time you have with your loved ones and your partner. That time could give you a gift come September.

[A version of this article was originally posted November 21, 2018]

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When I gave birth the first time, I had two doulas—one for me, and one for my husband. (I wasn't messing around!) They worked hard to support me in what ended up being a long labor. About 20 hours in, I remember hearing my doulas whisper to my exhausted, hard-working husband, “Go lie down. We can take care of her."

This was absolutely true. They were more than capable of helping me through contractions, which up to this point I'd been handling really well. So upon their urging, my husband walked about three feet away and lay down on the daybed in the labor and delivery room. And then the strangest thing happened—

I completely lost my rhythm and my ability to breathe through contractions. It was as though I'd lost my way. The next handful of contractions were unbearable and caused me to cry out in anguish. My husband hurried to my side and held my hand once more.

And then, just as quickly, I found my rhythm, my breathing returned, and I was able to to handle my contractions until I gave birth several hours later.

In a recent study published in Nature, it was discovered that when a partner held the hand of a woman during labor, the couple would begin to synchronize their breathing and heart rate patterns, otherwise known as physiological coupling.

In addition, the women reported that their pain lessened while holding hands with their partners. If they were just sitting next to one another, but not holding hands, their pain levels weren't affected.

This study has obvious implications for the families I teach in my Childbirth Preparation classes, and it's important to share this news far and wide:

Everything you do for your partner while she's in labor makes a difference. Even if all you do is hold her hand.

Labor is not just something that a birthing woman experiences. Her partner experiences labor too, just in a very different way. For far too long, we've either diminished or ignored the partner's experience of labor—to everyone's detriment.

I realize that it makes sense to pay close attention to how a woman moves through her pregnancy, labor and birth. But if we're not paying equal attention to her partner's experience, we're not setting this new family up for success. In fact, we might be doing the exact opposite.

If partners don't realize the importance their words, actions and touch can have on the laboring woman's experience, many may freeze up and feel helpless as they witness the power and intensity of labor and birth. They may end up feeling as though all of their efforts and suggestions for comfort measures are without any effect. But this couldn't be further from the truth!

Every little thing a partner does to make the laboring woman more comfortable matters immensely. Every sip of water offered, every new position suggested, every word of encouragement, every reminder to breathe, every single touch, provides comfort to the laboring woman. And partners need to know this and believe in the power that their undivided attention and connection can bring to the laboring woman.

Here's why I think the findings from this latest study are so important—it's that feeling of shared empathy between the laboring woman and her partner that causes the physiological coupling and pain relieving effects that help a woman when she's experiencing pain.

That's why I've always told the partners in my classes that even if they hired an army of the world's greatest labor doulas, their unwavering, focused and empathetic attention during birth, is the reason why she'll tell everyone that she couldn't have made it through labor without her partner! Even if all they did was hold her hand.

It's a conundrum many parents wrestle with: We don't want to lie to our kids, but when it comes to Santa, sometimes we're not exactly giving them the full truth either.

For Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard, lying to daughters Lincoln, 5, and Delta, 3 just isn't an option, so everyone in the Bell-Shepard household knows the truth about Santa.

"This is going to be very controversial," Shepard told Us Weekly earlier this month. "I have a fundamental rule that I will never lie to them, which is challenging at times. Our 5-year-old started asking questions like, 'Well, this doesn't make sense, and that doesn't make sense.' I'm like, 'You know what? This is just a fun thing we pretend while it's Christmas.'"

According to Shepard, this has not diminished the magic of Christmas in their home. "They love watching movies about Santa, they love talking about Santa," Shepard told Us. "They don't think he exists, but they're super happy and everything's fine."

Research indicates that Shepard is right—kids can be totally happy and into Christmas even after figuring out the truth and that most kids do start to untangle the Santa myth on their own, as Lincoln did.

Studies suggest that for many kids, the myth fades around age seven, but for some kids, it's sooner, and that's okay.


Writing for The Conversation, Kristen Dunfield, an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Concordia University, suggests that when kids come to parents with the hard questions about Santa, parents may feel a bit sad, but can take some comfort in "recognizing these challenging questions for what they are—cognitive development in action."

Kids aren't usually the ones who are upset when they figure it out, researchers note. Typically, kids are kind of proud of themselves for being such great detectives. It's the parents who feel sadness.

Some parents may not choose to be as blunt as Shepard, and that's okay, too. According to Dunfield, if you don't want to answer questions about Santa with 100% truth, you can answer a question with a question.

"If instead you want to let your child take the lead, you can simply direct the question back to them, allowing your child to come up with explanations for themselves: "I don't know, how do you think the sleigh flies?" Dunfield writes.

While Dax Shepard acknowledges that telling a 3-year-old that Santa is pretend might be controversial, he's hardly the first parent to present Santa this way. There are plenty of healthy, happy adults whose parents told them the truth.

LeAnne Shepard is one of them. Now a mother herself, LeAnne's parents clued her into the Santa myth early, for religious reasons that were common in her community.

"In the small Texas town where I grew up, I wasn't alone in my disbelief. Many parents, including mine, presented Santa Claus as a game that other families played," she previously wrote. "That approach allowed us to get a picture on Santa's lap, watch the Christmas classics, and enjoy all the holiday festivities so long as we remembered the actual reason for the season. It was much like when I visited Disney World and met Minnie Mouse; I was both over the moon excited and somewhat aware that she was not actually real."

No matter why you want to tell your children the truth about Santa, know that it's okay to let the kids know that he's pretend. Kristen Bell's kids prove that knowing the truth about Santa doesn't have to make Christmas any less exciting. Pretending can be magical, too.

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