Sleep, Or Lack Thereof
Sleep, or lack thereof, is serious business as a parent. Before kids, I never thought about my sleep that much. Weekends were for catching up on it, and that was really it.
As a new mom, I grabbed naps whenever I could, going through the day in a zombie-like state. As soon as both my kids started sleeping through the night, it was huge—I felt like me again. But just because you don’t have a newborn at home doesn’t mean you don’t have sleep problems. Kids go through all sorts of developmental hiccups (hello, transitioning to a bed!) and those interrupt their sleep (and ours).
True story: A few weeks ago I was in Park City with my family for a ski holiday and my two boys ages 2 and 4 shared a room next to me and my husband. We were sleeping at 8,000 feet, which was tough on everyone but especially the little guys. Each night they took turns getting up every hour so that by the time my alarm went off at 6:30 a.m. to get us ready to go to ski school, I felt, well, like I’d just gotten four hours of interrupted sleep. By day six it was catching up with me, and along with long ski days and the altitude, I was sort of losing it. I knew I had one night left and I championed myself to get through it.
On our last night there, I put the boys to bed, packed everything up and enjoyed a relaxing glass of wine as my family watched Borat to commemorate the last night of all the siblings and cousins hanging out for a week.
I went to bed blissful and relaxed but extremely tired. I set my alarm for 6 a.m., so I’d have enough time to put on the last pot of coffee for the whole house to enjoy, make breakfast for my family and finish packing up the final little things I’d left out and be ready for our 7:15 a.m. pickup.
Instead of my alarm waking me, my 4-year-old pitter-pattered into my room with his iPad asking if he could watch Peppa Pig. I looked at my phone next to me and read 6 a.m., and I wondered why my alarm didn’t go off but I didn’t give it much thought, I was up now. I set up Ryder with Peppa and plopped him next to my sleeping husband and went to the kitchen to prepare the last of the coffee we had and some food and shakes for the boys. I cut up fruit and made oatmeal and downed that cup of super strong Starbucks coffee and made my way back to our room. I sat in bed and ate while wondering why no one else in the house was up yet. Most of our crew was getting picked up around 7:00 like us.
I checked my phone again to see how I was doing for time, and it was…wait for it…1:00 a.m.!!! I couldn’t make this up if I tried. I was SO sleep deprived that I misread 1 a.m. for 6 a.m. and had downed a full super strong coffee and ate a full meal and my son was wide awake watching his iPad in bed. After saying a lot inappropriate swear words to myself, I scooped up my son and walked him back to his room and put him back to bed. I went back to my bed and wanted to cry, because now there was zero chance I was going back to sleep before my actual 6 a.m. wakeup.
This is all to say that sleep deprivation can make us do crazy things and here are a few tips I have to counteract that. And to help your kiddos get back to sleep and stay asleep!
ROUTINE IS THE KEY TO GOOD SLEEPERS
- I created a sleep routine for both my boys when they were each 3 months old
- This routine gives them cues that it’s time to slow down their bodies and relax before bedtime
- Our routine hasn’t changed much, I just tweak it a little as they get older
- We always start with a bath. No matter how late it is, I get my little guys in a bath because that signals to them bedtime is coming and totally relaxes them after a long day
- We then turn our lights down a bit in the house. As babies they would breastfeed, as toddlers they took their bottle and now they have a shake. Then we read books and cuddle. I then put on white noise, turn off the lights and sing a song of their choice (these days it’s Elton John’s “Rocket Man”), and it’s off to bed.
WHITE NOISE IS A SAVIOR
- It seriously is! We live in a one-level house and if my husband and I are entertaining in the front of our house or if the dog barks, the boys will wake up. Cue the white-noise machine. We love this Munchkin one because it also has a night light. Get it HERE
- The noise allows kids to wake up from a sleep cycle (which is only 90 minutes) and get themselves back to sleep on their own. It also drowns out any loud noises that may disrupt their sleep
BLANKIES, LOVEYS AND BOOKS—FILL THAT BED OR CRIB
- I gave my kiddos these loveys by Angel Dear when they were newborns and it became an attachment object that REALLY helped them stay asleep and self-soothe as babies. Get it HERE
- They still have a few in their crib and bed and we travel with them so no matter where we are, they feel that comfort and it makes a huge difference
- Each kid also has a collection of soft stuffed toys and a few books that can keep them occupied if they wake in the wee hours of the morning before I’m ready to start my day. Sometimes kids can occupy themselves or even go back to sleep if they have a few things in their bed. Just make sure the toys are age appropriate and there are no safety issues with the items you have. (e.g.: nothing too small they can swallow or something that can smotherthem)
TALK ABOUT THE PLAN, A LOT
- Whenever we hit a sleep roadblock, we go over the “plan” and this helps us reset
- For example, my little is the early waker in the house and usually gets up between 6-6:30 a.m. and calls out for me. If he starts edging earlier into the 5’s, I talk to him before I put him to bed and say, “Asher, you’ve been waking up so early. We are going to start a new plan and when you see the light come out outside your window you can call for mama.” We have to repeat this sometimes for a few nights, but eventually he gets it and we go back to sleeping a little more
- With older kids in a bed, you can buy them a clock with a visual cue (more on that later) or have some sort of plan for when it is OK for them to get out of bed and their room and come find you
- Preschoolers love plans and jobs, so make it fun. With Ryder, we talk about his body needing sleep to grow and how when the sun rises so do we, but if it’s still nighttime our bodies need to rest. He loves the idea that he grows when it’s dark out, so he gets himself back to sleep if he wakes up from a nightmare or because he has to pee in the middle of the night
ALARM CLOCKS FOR KIDS
- We don’t personally use one, but so many parents swear by alarm clocks with a visual cue. A few brands make them, but this is a favourite: Ok To Wake Clock
- The light on the clock turns green when it’s time to wake up. Kids as young as 2 can understand this
- These clocks have been lifesavers for my friends whose kids are in beds and love to wander into their room all night
IF YOU DON’T WANT TO SHARE YOUR BED, DON’T SHARE YOUR BED
- Some of my close friends and family love the family bed and it works for a lot of people
- If you aren’t one of those people, then don’t confuse the situation. I have gone down this slippery slope many a time. Kids are smart—if you give them an inch, they WILL take a mile
- Whenever our sleep situation is getting out of control and my 2-year-old is waking up at 5:30 a.m. saying he wants to come into mommy’s bed, I reset our plan and explain to him we don’t come into mommy’s bed until daylight appears
- Whatever resonates for your kid (maybe the OK to Wake clock), sometimes you have to go back and reset a plan
- My kids love being in our bed, so we let them hang in there starting at 6:30 a.m. and it’s fair game after that. Anytime before that, they have to stay in their beds, period
TIPS FOR THE NIGHTS AND DAYS YOU DIDN’T SLEEP
- Look, these nights will happen no matter what—sicknesses, transitions, nightmares, and just no reason at all, my kids go through cycles of just not sleeping well
- I take shots of ginger and lemon throughout the day
- Caffeine, lots of it
- If you can, close your eyes for even 15 minutes, it makes a difference
- More caffeine
- Do something super relaxing before bed. When you are overtired sometimes it is hard to fall asleep, so I love taking a bath, having a glass of wine, zoning out to a show. Whatever that looks like for you, indulge
- Take a deep breath—they have to sleep eventually, right?
Thanks for stopping by SamSoMuch!
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*Edited by Ella Stewart. Ella has been a copy editor and editor for 15 years, working in both print and online publishing. She's currently a full-time stay-at-home mom to two little ones as well as a freelance editor.