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The key to a good night's rest for your children might be surprising, mama

Have you ever noticed how giggly and playful your children get in the evening? That at the moment you want to get them to wind down they start winding up?

Sleep advice often centers on getting children to calm down and relax at the end of the day. Sleep experts recommend everything from bedtime yoga, lavender candles or soothing meditation music. While relaxation is definitely key, most sleep advice is missing a key element: Laughter!

As parents, we've probably all battled with sleep problems at some point, and as a Hand in Hand Parenting instructor I've come to realize that a lot of our problems are due to a misunderstanding about how children's emotions work, and how they affect sleep.

There are two main ways that children naturally process and release their emotions. One is crying. Tears contain cortisol, the stress hormone, so when children cry they are literally releasing stress from their body. As Dr. Deborah Macnamara says, "Crying is not the hurt, but the process of becoming unhurt." Children often cry when they feel safe and connected to us, and want to let go of emotions from the times they weren't feeling so great.

The other way children release emotions is through play and laughter! When children get to cry, laugh and play freely, with lots of warmth and attention from the adults around them, they tend to sleep very well.

However, sometimes children's emotions get stuck. Difficult or traumatic experiences can be hard to process. A busy day at daycare or preschool means your child may need extra time to wind down. When children take a long time to fall asleep at night, wake regularly in the night, or too early in the morning, it's often a sign that they have emotions to process. When they get giggly in the evening, they are naturally doing what they need to do in order to sleep well.

Studies have shown that laughter lowers blood pressure, triggers the release of endorphins, and contributes to lowering stress hormones. Just like adults, children's sleep problems can be related to stress. So having a giggle-filled bedtime helps them de-stress and sleep well.

Laughter also builds connection. As comedian Victor Borges says, "Laughter is the shortest distance between two people." When we laugh and play with our children before sleep they feel closer to us. Children experience sleep as a separation from us, even if they co-sleep, so laughter helps them to internalize a sense of us close to them, so they can let go and sleep.

Laughter even helps with the release of the hormone responsible for inducing sleep, melatonin. In one study breastfeeding mothers were divided into two groups. One group watched a Charlie Chaplin movie, while the others watched a non-humorous film. More melatonin was found in the breastmilk of the mothers who watched the Chaplin movie. Laughter is nature's sleeping pill!

If you want your children to sleep well, then let the giggles flow freely at bedtime. Here are a few tips to optimize the sleepy power of laughter:

1. Let children be in the more powerful role

When children are in situations that are overwhelming or make them feel powerless, it can cause stress and upset. Laughter heals when the tables are turned and our child gets to have the power. So play pillow fights and let your child win and knock you over. Or play a game of 'pajama chase' where you try to put their pajamas on and they run away from you, and always manage to escape. Or read a bedtime story and add in the wrong words as if by accident.

Any situation where you are a bumbling adult making mistakes, and your child has the upper hand is bound to get them giggling.

2. Incorporate giggles throughout the bedtime routine

When children feel more connected to you they are more likely to cooperate, so laughter is a great way to get through bedtime tasks. With teeth cleaning you could try brushing their nose or ears instead of their teeth, or putting their pajamas on the wrong body parts, then you can act all confused and clueless at your 'mistake.'

Games to get the giggles started

Children will often naturally start their own giggly bedtime, running away when you mention it's time to clean teeth, or jumping on the bed. But just in case here are a few ways to get the giggle started:

1. Bedtime mix-up

Call a doll by your child's name, and make a big deal out of getting them all into bed, then act suddenly surprised when you realize it's not your child. Or take your child's hand, and tell them it's time for bed, and then lead them into the bathroom or kitchen instead of the bedtime. Act totally clueless and confused as you try to 'look' for the correct room.

2. I hope you don't…

In a playfully-serious tone, you can invite your child to do something that you pretend you don't want them to do. For example, jumping on the bed, or throwing their plush toys out of the bedroom. Then you can act all playfully 'annoyed' and frustrated, as you try to catch them, or put the toys back. Obviously, it should be something you don't really mind them doing so that you can turn it into a fun game.

Pro tip: If you are introducing play at bedtime for the first time, you may find that it seems like your child wants to play all night long! Children lap up this kind of laughter-filled attention because they instinctively know it's good for their bodies, minds and souls. As a giggly bedtime becomes part of their regular routine this will reduce with time, so bear with it. At first you might want to start the bedtime routine 10-15 minutes earlier so you can factor in extra giggle time and save the weekends for extra-long playtime.

When you've had some time to get all the giggles out, signal to your child that now it's time to calm down by taking a few deep breaths, reading a story and singing a song. Embrace the fun of bedtime, and the magic of childhood with your little one—and hopefully get some better sleep too.

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We've had some struggles, you and me. In my teens, we were just getting to know each other. It was a rocky road at times, like when people referred to you as "big boned." I was learning how to properly fuel you by giving you the right foods. How to be active, to keep you strong and in good shape. I wish I knew then what I do now about you and what a true blessing you are. But that's something that has come with the gift of motherhood.

In my 20's, we became more well-acquainted. I knew how to care for you. After I got engaged, we worked so hard together to get into "wedding shape." And, looking back now, I totally took that six pack—okay, four pack—for granted. (But I have the pictures to prove it.)

Now that I'm in my 30's (how did my 30's happen so fast, btw?) with two kids, I'm coming to terms with my new postpartum body.

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If there are two things a mama is guaranteed to love, it's Target plus adorable and functional baby products. Target's exclusive baby brand Cloud Island has been a favorite destination for cute and affordable baby clothing and décor for nearly two years and because of that success, they're now expanding into baby essentials. 🙌

The new collection features 30 affordable products starting at $0.99 and going up to $21.99 with most items priced under $10—that's about 30-40% less expensive than other products in the market. Mamas can now enjoy adding diapers, wipes, feeding products and toiletries to their cart alongside clothing and accessories from a brand they already know and love.

The best part? The Target team has ensured that the affordability factor doesn't cut down on durability by working with hundreds of parents to create and test the collection. The wipes are ultra-thick and made with 99% water and plant-based ingredients, while the toiletries are dermatologist-approved. With a Tri-Wrap fold, the diapers offer 12-hour leak protection and a snug fit so parents don't have to sacrifice safety or functionality.

So when can you start shopping? Starting on January 20, customers can shop the collection across all stores and online. We can't wait to see how this beloved brand expands in the future.

Motherly is your daily #momlife manual; we are here to help you easily find the best, most beautiful products for your life that actually work. We share what we love—and we may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

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Many people experience the "winter blues," which are often worst in northern climates from November to March, when people have less access to sunlight, the outdoors and their communities. Another 4% develops Seasonal Affective Disorder, which is a form of clinical depression that often requires formal treatment.

If you have the winter blues, you may feel “blah," sad, tired, anxious or be in a worse mood than usual. You may struggle with overeating, loss of libido, work or sleep issues. But fear not—it is possible to find your joy in the winter, mama.

Here are eight ways to feel better:

1. Take a walk

Research has shown that walking on your lunch break just three times per week can reduce tension, relax you and improve your enthusiasm. If you are working from 9 to 5, the only window you have to access natural sunlight may be your lunch hour, so head outside for a 20 minute brisk but energizing walk!

If you are home, bundle up with your kids midday—when the weather is often warmest—and play in the snow, go for a short walk, play soccer, race each other, or do something else to burn energy and keep you all warm. If you dress for the weather, you'll all feel refreshed after some fresh air.

2. Embrace light

Research suggests that a full-spectrum light box or lamp, which mimics sunlight, can significantly improve the symptoms of the winter blues and has a similar effect to an antidepressant. Bright light at a certain time every day activates a part of the brain that can help restore normal circadian rhythms. While light treatment may not be beneficial for everyone (such as people who have bipolar disorder), it may be a beneficial tool for some.

3. Plan a winter trip

It may be helpful to plan a getaway for January or February. Plan to take it very easy, as one research study found that passive vacation activities, including relaxing, "savoring," and sleeping had greater effects on health and well-being than other activities. Engaging in passive activities on vacation also makes it more likely that your health and well-being will remain improved for a longer duration after you go back to work.

Don't overschedule your trip. Relax at a beach, a pool, or a cabin instead of waiting in long roller coaster lines or visiting packed museums. Consider visiting or traveling with family to help with child care, build quiet time into your vacation routine, and build in a day of rest, recovery, and laundry catch-up when you return.

4. Give in to being cozy

Sometimes people mistake the natural slowness of winter as a problem within themselves. By making a concerted effort to savor the slowness, rest and retreat that complement winter, you can see your reduction in activity as a natural and needed phase.

Research suggests that naps help you release stress. Other research suggests that when your brain has time to rest, be idle, and daydream, you are better able to engage in "active, internally focused psychosocial mental processing," which is important for socioemotional health.

Make a "cozy basket" filled with your favorite DVDs, bubble bath or Epsom salts, lemon balm tea (which is great for “blues,") or chamomile tea (which is calming and comforting), citrus oils (which are good for boosting mood), a blanket or a favorite book or two. If you start to feel the blues, treat yourself.

If your child is napping or having quiet time in the early afternoon, rest for a full 30 minutes instead of racing around doing chores. If you're at work, keep a few mood-boosting items (like lavender spray, tea, lotion, or upbeat music) nearby and work them into your day. If you can't use them at work, claim the first 30 minutes after your kids are asleep to nurture yourself and re-energize before you tackle dishes, laundry, or other chores.

5. See your friends

Because of the complex demands of modern life, it can be hard to see or keep up with friends or family. The winter can make it even harder. While you interact with your kids throughout the day, human interaction with other adults (not just through social media!) can act as a protective layer to keep the winter blues at bay.

Plan a monthly dinner with friends, go on a monthly date night if you have a partner, go to a book club, get a drink after work with a coworker, visit a friend on Sunday nights, or plan get-togethers with extended family. Research suggests that social interactions are significantly related to well-being.

Realize that given most families' packed schedules, you may need to consistently take the lead in bringing people together. Your friends will probably thank you, too.

6. Get (at least) 10 minutes of fresh air

A number of research studies have shown positive effects of nature on well-being, including mental restoration, immune health, and memory. It works wonders for your mood to get outside in winter, even if it's just for 10 minutes 2 to 3 times per week. You might walk, snowshoe, shovel, go sledding or go ice-skating. If you can't get outside, you might try these specific yoga poses for the winter blues.

7. Add a ritual

Adding a ritual to your winter, such as movie night, game night, hot chocolate after playing outside, homemade soup on Sundays, or visiting with a different friend every Saturday morning for breakfast, can add beauty and flow to the seemingly long months of winter. Research has suggested that family rituals and traditions, such as Sunday dinner, provide times for togetherness and strengthening relationships.

8. Talk to a professional

Counseling, which helps you identify the connections between your thoughts, feelings and behaviors, can be extremely helpful for the winter blues (especially when you are also experiencing anxiety or stress). A counselor can assist you with identifying and honoring feelings, replacing negative messages with positive ones, or shifting behaviors. A counselor may also help you indulge into winter as a time of retreat, slowness, planning, and reflecting. You may choose to use the winter to get clear on what you'd like to manifest in spring.

The opposite of the winter blues is not the absence of the winter blues—it's taking great pleasure in the unique contribution of a time of cold, darkness, retreat, planning, reflecting, being cozy and hibernating. Nurturing yourself and your relationships can help you move toward winter joy.

Weary mama,

You are incredibly strong. You are so very capable.

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