Get Your Family To Sleep Without Feeling Like A Zombie
Get Your Family To Sleep Without Feeling Like A Zombie
In our house we sometimes experience (as my husband calls it) ‘the night of the howling cats’. Our sleep is disturbed, broken and everyone seems to wake up cranky. Having undisturbed and appropriate amounts of sleep is an important element of a healthy lifestyle.
The amount of sleep you need varies throughout your life. Newborn babies spend most of their 24 hours sleeping, and at the other end of the spectrum – older people often live with 5 hours of sleep. As well as age, sleep varies with pregnancy, illness and activity. The quality of your sleep affects the amount of sleep you need also. If you have undisrupted sleep, you will need less total hours in bed than if your sleep is disturbed by coughing and waking to urinate or feed your baby.
There are a number of techniques that can be used to improve the quality of your sleep, and to help your child have a more restful sleep.
Better Sleep for babies
With babies, just roll with their schedule don’t enforce one onto them.
To help your baby sleep better, you need to be aware of your baby’s sleep cues.
- less motion
- droopy eyes
- wanting to suckle
- staring into space
- generally quieter and calmer
Babies cycle quickly from wide awake to needing their sleep and if you don’t respond by helping your baby settle, they will become over tired quite soon – which signs are usually cranky, irritable and very hard to settle.
Every baby is different and will settle differently. Also as a parent you will have different ideas about how to settle your baby. These are my favourite ways to settle Eve before she has her sleep.
- Nurse her if she wants to suckle and she often falls asleep – especially in the night
- On that note – snuggling with them in your bed (as long as neither parent has used alcohol, smoking or drugs which affect alertness) is generally a very effective way to get your baby to sleep well as she is close to mum and therefore in her ‘natural habitat’ and tends not to jerk herself awake. It also minimises the time she is awake in the night as you can feed and both fall back to sleep together.
- Put her in my baby wrap and she will fall asleep within a minute while I get work done around the house.
- Holding her upright against my chest and gently bouncing (I noticed that most of my children do not like to be held in the cradled position for settling to sleep.
Better Sleep for toddlers and Children
This is where developing a good bedtime routine comes in. It may also involve managing naps. For my children, once they got to 2 years old… having a daytime nap would mean they had endless amounts of energy and could not be settled (no matter how hard I tried) before 9 or 10pm. That was far too late for me as it gave me no ‘ME TIME’. So to overcome this I would not put my children to sleep for a nap, that way they were a little scratchy though teatime, but it meant I could bundle them into bed between 6-7pm and that gives me time to spend with the older children before bed.
Our bedtime routine has evolved over the past 12 years. For our younger kids goes like this:
- Dinner time – at the table as a family.
- Bathtime – the older children rotate taking turns bathing the 2 and 4 year old. After this they get into their pjs and brush their teeth.
- Storytime on mum and dad’s bed (I have 3 littlies in the bed with me for junior storytime so it just works out better in my bed) One sits on my lap and the other 2 on either side.
- Prayers with each child, cuddles and kisses with each child and a song for each child.
- Lights out and snuggles in the bed – I lay down in the bed with the girls and we talk a little, answer questions or tell the girls what good things they did that day. This lasts anywhere from a few minutes to me actually falling asleep in the bed with them.
- The exit. If they are asleep already – great this is swift and complete. If they are awake I say goodnight and tell them it’s time for me to go out. They generally complain about that but I explain I need to settle baby for bed and read to the big kids.
- An hour or 2 later my lovely husband will take the girls and put them into their own beds (or I do it if he is away).
If younger children wake in the night (as they often do) you have a few options. You can let them snuggle in your bed. This is the quickest, easiest way to get both of you back to sleep. However it may create a recurring pattern that will be harder to break. I generally do this while they are young, but work hard at having them settle in their own bed once I have another child come along as it is basically impossible for me to sleep with 2 munchkins in my bed.
To settle them in their own bed I would jump out of bed as soon as she was unsettled and run and settle Lily in her own bed. I would try and do this quick a. before she woke up the whole house and b. before she fully woke herself up and was too awake to go back to sleep. Once she was used to sleeping in the girls room, Anna (who is 8) slept with her for a month or so. This was great as she would wake but go back to sleep as she was snuggled to Anna. After that we transitioned her to sleeping in her own bed and this has worked like a charm. She only now has night awakenings if she is sick.
Our older children have a different routine:
- Dinner at the table as a family
- Bath/Work time – One older child bathes the younger 2 girls while the 2 older children and I wash and dry dishes, wipe the table and sweep the floor.
- Individual reading time – Each child has their own favourite spot in the lounge ‘which they call their ‘cubbies’ where they like to read – this time is usually 40-60 minutes depending on how long it takes to settle the younger girls.
- Family reading time – I read to the older children. They love this time and always want more of it. This time is between 30-60 minutes depending on how tired I am and whether my husband is home or not. If he is not home then I will generally read for longer. The kids will always try and squeeze an extra chapter out of me if they can.
- Goodnight kisses and prayers as a family.
- Dad or Mum will often then go into their rooms and say goodnight once they have got themselves into bed
One major word of advice about bedtime routines. AVOID SCREENTIME after dinner. It can create resistance to sleep and is not conducive to getting the body and mind to wind down. Screentime at bedtime suppresses melatonin secretion which is your body’s sleep hormone. If this is suppressed then it will be mighty difficult for your child to go to sleep. So if you can during your bedtime routine – ‘dim the lights’ as this will enhance melatonin secretion and therefore sleep.
Also if your child needs a drink before bed warm milk or a fruit infusion is better than hot chocolate… but more on this later.
Better Sleep for Mum and Dad
This is where an understanding of sleep is important. In a nutshell, sleep comes in waves. You have all felt this I know. You are sitting on the couch watching TV and start feeling tired. So you get up, get changed for bed, turn off the TV, brush your teeth, have a drink, turn off the light, jump into bed… and guess what you’re no longer tired.
Why does that happen? You missed the wave. You weren’t ready to sleep so now you have to wait for the next sleep wave which is not going to hit you for another approximately 90 minutes. So how can you help yourself get to sleep. You need your own sleep routine which involves no screentime for the 2 hours before bed. It also means being in bed BEFORE your sleep wave hits you, with dim lights and preferably reading or doing something relaxing so that when that sleep wave hits you can simply hit the light switch, snuggle down and fall asleep.
Eat to sleep. This means avoiding any kind of stimulant which is going to keep you awake in the evenings. No coffee, tea, coke, energy drinks, hot chocolate or chocolate as caffeine will keep you awake. Also avoid sugar or refined carbohydrates with and after your evening meal. A high carb meal or snack will produce a rebound low blood sugar level several hours later which will not help you get to sleep.
If you do need a pre-bedtime snack – have a high-protein, low-carb snack. A protein snack before bed also does the body a favour by supplying tryptophan – which is the amino acid that is converted to serotonin and melatonin. These are 2 hormones involved with sleep. Serotonin has many functions, one of which is to help the body relax and be calm ready for sleep. Melatonin is involved in sleep rhythms. Both have increased secretion in the evening to help prepare for sleep. Foods high in tryptophan include cheeses, nuts, seeds, eggs, meat, chicken and fish. Drinks to help you relax include chamomile tea or warm milk (which also contains trytophan).
To nap or not to nap?
My body does not like naps. If I have an afternoon nap I wake up feeling groggy and then cannot sleep till late. I know some people benefit from a nap. Listen to your body and do what is best for you.
Hope you have a restful night!