You know that sleep is one of the best things for your health, but especially if you’re a mom of young kids, trying to get more sleep can seem laughable.
When my daughter was a baby, she only slept in 2-3 hour increments until she was two years old. Even though I would fall asleep at a decent time, after her first feeding, I would lie awake, mind racing, anticipating her next feeding.
Needless to say, I was exhausted, cranky, and could barely function at work the next day. I was always sick because my poor immune system couldn’t fight anything without sleep, which just made sleeping even more difficult.
I knew that I needed to get more sleep, and I tried everything to get it. After a lot of trial and error, these are my top 15 tips to get more sleep.
1. Track your sleep
You might be surprised by how much sleep you’re getting, the quality of sleep, and even your awake and restless periods during the night.
But even if the results aren’t what you expected, they still can help you get better sleep.
For example, if you notice that you get your deep sleep early in the night but you’re restless from 2 a.m. to 5 a.m., try to figure out why you’re restless. Does your furnace kick on at 4 a.m. every day? Or does your baby wake for a nighttime feeding at 2 a.m., leaving you wide awake afterward?
To track my sleep, I wear my FitBit Blaze. The feedback was eye-opening, with data like the amount of time I spent in each sleep stage, including REM, light, deep, and even time awake. It also gives you a benchmark, so you know if you’re spending more or less time in each stage than the average person.
2. Plan to get more sleep
Especially on nights when the kids are sick or need to get up early the next day, create a plan to get more sleep. Go to bed earlier or wake up later if you can. Take a nap when the kids sleep.
Above all, guard your sleep time.
Figure out exactly how much sleep you need (usually 7-9 hours) and work backward from your wakeup time. If you get up in the night or if you have difficulty falling asleep, add an extra hour.
This is your new bedtime. Treat it like an appointment, and try to be early.
If your bedtime is at 10:00, don’t start watching an hour-long program on TV at 9:40, even if you plan on skipping the commercials. Instead, start getting ready for bed before your actual bedtime so that you at least give yourself a chance to get the sleep you need.
3. Set a reminder to go to bed
This might sound silly, but my FitBit sends me a reminder every night when it’s time to get ready for bed. I also get an email and text message if I didn’t sleep well the night before so that I start even earlier.
Set an alarm on your phone or schedule a reminder to help you go to bed.
And then go.to.bed. Don’t stay on the couch, thinking about how much energy it will take to walk upstairs. Don’t tell yourself you’ll only watch five more minutes of TV.
Make sleep a priority and Go To Bed!
4. Take a power nap
If you didn’t get enough sleep the night before, take a nap. Studies have shown that naps help refresh you.
However, don’t oversleep. The best naps are 20-30 minutes long. Anything longer is considered “double sleep,” which will leave you feeling lethargic, groggy, and even more tired. Double sleeping may also make it more difficult to sleep at night.
5. Get active during the day
Exercise is one of the best things to help you sleep. I find that it energizes me, so I try to do it in the morning. Some people like to do it in the evening, but experts advise that you should finish your exercise 3-4 hours before your bedtime.
Regardless of when you exercise, it’ll help give you the energy you need to make it through the day. It’ll also help you fall asleep faster and have better sleep quality.
6. Go outside
By going outside during daylight, you’ll help reset your sleep schedule. The blue light in sunlight helps to regulate your sleep schedule or “circadian rhythm.”
Exposure to blue light during daytime hours helps maintain a healthful circadian rhythm. But too much blue light late at night (reading a novel on a tablet computer or e-reader at bedtime, for example) can disrupt this cycle, potentially causing sleepless nights and daytime fatigue. -Gary Heiting, OD, in All About Vision
At night, your body will automatically start producing melatonin, which signals your brain that it’s time for sleep.
7. Create a good sleep environment
If your bedroom is too hot, cold, dry, noisy, or even too light, you may have difficulty falling and staying asleep. There are so many little things that can make or break your sleep environment, but most are really easy to fix.
- Your optimal room temperature should be between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit, but if you’re unable to maintain that temperature, a ceiling fan can make a room feel up to four degrees cooler
- Invest in a white noise sound machine (or even an app on your phone) if outside sounds bother you
- If you live in a cold, dry climate, you may want to try a humidifier
- Especially if you need to sleep during daytime hours, get room darkening shades
8. Save difficult conversations for another day
I’ve learned that it’s a really bad idea to work on the budget before bed. Not only are the banks closed, but if you find a mistake or find an unexpected bill, you’ll end up worrying about it all night.
I’ve also learned that it’s a bad idea to talk about anything stressful before bed.
My husband used to come home late at night from working on the farm and immediately tell me about all the problems he had with an old tractor or a seed bill that was wrong. Or, he would come home after travelling for his day job, complaining about the sick person sitting next to him on the plane or how he would need to travel again the next week.
After telling me every horrible thing under the sun, my husband would immediately fall alseep, not waking until the morning.
Meanwhile, I would lie awake, worrying obsessively (did my husband catch the sick guy’s germs? Will we have to take our toddler to the doctor instead of play date next week? Will the seed company be able to fix the statement?). It got to the point that I would rush to bed and pretend to be asleep as soon as I heard the garage door open.
Eventually, I told my husband to save his venting sessions for the morning.
Your brain is naturally wired to try to solve problems, even problems that don’t affect you, like traffic or the sick guy on the plane. To save your brain from going into overdrive in the middle of the night, try to keep conversations (and even the TV shows and books that you read) positive before bed.
9. Use a brain dump to clear your head
When I worked, I would wake up in the middle of the night, worrying about the next day’s to-do list, conference calls, and even traffic if I had to pick up the kids from daycare.
In the middle of the night, there was nothing that I could do about any of my worries. It was silly to stay awake, but I couldn’t fall back asleep, either.
This was my brain’s way of trying to solve everything, but it would’ve been nice if it had waited until the morning.
I finally started making my to-do list every night before I left work. I would simply write everything that I didn’t finish that day on a new Post-It note. I also used my Outlook calendar to time block everything (with reminders) from my pumping schedule to my conference calls to my planned lunchtime errands. I would leave my list on my keyboard, ready to read the next day.
Before bed, I would also do a brain dump, or write out everything that was on my mind. I followed David Allen’s format from Getting Things Done, which is an amazing productivity book, and I created my own printable workbook that would walk me through getting everything out of my head.
Once my brain felt organized, even if none of my problems were solved or the traffic jams couldn’t be prevented, I was still able to sleep.
As a stay-at-home mom, I still do brain dumps depending on my stress level. Usually, I do one a week when I’m creating my plan for the following week, but if I’ve had a really stressful day, I do a brain dump before bed.
10. Limit your caffeine and alcohol
I love having a glass of wine after dinner, but I notice that I don’t sleep as well those nights. Even if I go to bed and follow my evening routine, I still have a restless night.
The same goes for caffeine. One cup of coffee in the morning is usually ok, but depending on when and how much you drink, the caffeine could keep you awake even hours after you drink it.
11. Watch what you eat
In addition to limiting your caffeine or alcohol, you may want to stop eating a couple hours before bed.
Especially if you have a sensitive stomach, beware of the foods that you consume. Things like chocolate or sometimes even citrus fruits can keep you awake. Some spicy foods may irritate your stomach, but they could also keep you awake.
Watch for hidden or trace ingredients, like caffeine, which are sometimes even in decaf coffee or tea.
12. Avoid technology and “blue light”
Especially before bed, try to avoid blue lights as much as possible.
If you’re unable to avoid blue light at night, you may be able to reduce it. On some devices, you’re able to dim the light. If you use an iPhone, set it to automatically dim at a certain time, like 8 p.m. You could also try wearing yellow-tinted glasses to block the blue rays. You may even want to switch devices, like using a Kindle instead of an iPad.
13. Follow an evening routine
An evening routine doesn’t have to be complicated, but it’s a great way to signal your brain that it’s time for bed.
Whether that means picking up for 15 minutes so that your house is clean when you wake up, or even doing an evening self-care routine, like spending a few extra minutes to remove your makeup, brush and floss your teeth, and put on cozy pajamas, an evening routine will help you feel better while still setting you up for a great next day.
14. Start winding down before you go to bed
Different calming techniques work for different people. For example, a hot shower wakes me up, so I save that for the morning. Also, while I love to read before bed, I’ve found that I’m more restless after reading a fiction book, and I even end up dreaming about it, trying to solve the characters’ problems in my sleep.
You may find that essential oils like lavender, cedarwood, or Peace and Calming put you right to sleep. A warm bath or a hot cup of tea might do the trick for others. Even spending a few minutes journaling or working on a craft could help you relax.
Try different things to calm yourself before bed. A calming ritual is also a great way to start or end your evening routine.
15. Use supplements with caution
Some people swear by taking their vitamins and medications before bed, but I find that it keeps me awake. Depending on the supplement, you may need to take it with food or in the morning.
However, there are some supplements, like melatonin or vitamin B6, that are known sleep aids.
If you still have difficulty sleeping after trying the sleep techniques above, experiment with supplements. Use caution if trying over-the-counter medications, though, and ask your doctor first.
If you’re struggling to get more sleep or even stay asleep during the night, try planning for sleep, tracking the amount and quality of your sleep, and even clearing your mind before bed. A routine (and reminder) will do wonders, too.