The Parents’ Guide to Healthy Sleep

How to sleep better? The parents’ guide to healthy sleep. 

three people underneath yellow bed blanket

Photo by Simon Berger on Unsplash

Are you getting sufficient sleep? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, adults need 7+ hours of shuteye per night. Yet most parents — especially those with a newborn at home — get far less than the recommended amount of rest.

Now, if you’re a parent whose sleep schedule is still off-kilter thanks to a little angel or two — or three or five — you’re not alone. (Nor are you alone if you’ve done some weird things to get your kid to fall asleep.) However, the fact that sleep loss is common for moms and dads everywhere shouldn’t be ignored either. Especially if you know that some of the consequences of insufficient rest include a weakened immune system, weight gain, chronic health problems, depression, and cognitive decline.

Fortunately, there’s a way to prevent all of these problems. So, if you’re ready to sleep better, here’s your ultimate parent’s guide to healthy sleep.

Create a routine and stick to it

One of the most impactful things you can do to feel more rested — and help your kids accomplish the same— is to create a restful sleep routine. Then, once you’ve figured out the perfect schedule for your family, do your best to stick to that schedule (at least whenever possible).

A consistent wake-up, nap, and bedtime is the key to a good night’s sleep. And because our circadian rhythms are governed by specific physiological signals that occur when we wake up or fall asleep, you mustn’t fall into the trap of sacrificing the schedule for some temporary sleep deprivation relief.

One great way to help your kids fall asleep easily (and do the same for yourself) is to intentionally time your light exposure. You probably already know you should avoid bright, blue-colored lights at night. But in addition to this, try to include natural light exposure into your daily routine. According to neuroscientists, starting your day with 10-20 minutes of outdoor light exposure (which should ideally happen 1-3 hours post-waking) will set the baseline for the circadian cycle. Then, if you can also spend some time outside during sunset, your sleep-wake routine will be further optimized, helping your kids fall asleep at the same time each night.

Create the ideal sleep environment

You can make as many behavioral changes as you want. But if you’re trying to get high-quality rest in a less-than-ideal environment, you’re not going to get the best possible results. For this reason, your bedroom (and your children’s bedrooms) must be finely tuned to promote restful sleep.

In addition to using blackout curtains and dimming the lights at night, you should also explore ways to optimize the temperature. The ideal sleep temperature for adults is between 60 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit. However, if you’re co-sleeping with babies or toddlers, you might have to adjust to a slightly warmer bedroom. Fortunately, the 5-degree bump in temperature is something you can combat with the right choice of sleepwear and bedding.

Safety is another thing you should consider. For instance, many mattress manufacturers use fiberglass in their products to boost fire safety. Yet research indicates that fiberglass in mattresses may cause skin irritation or breathing difficulties, which is not what you’d want for your kids. 

So, when choosing beds, cribs, mattresses, curtains, and even wall paints, make sure you do your research and choose natural or non-toxic materials. Yes, it might take a fair bit of research. But remember, even a slight rash can make your toddler uncomfortable enough to deter sleep. And that’s bad for them and you, as it’s sure to prevent you from getting a good night’s rest.

Ask for and accept help

Not all families have nannies and grandparents ready to jump in and take care of the kids while mom and dad take a night off to recharge and recover. But that doesn’t mean you should take the full weight of parenting on your shoulders and expect yourself to do everything perfectly.

If your priority is getting healthy sleep (or getting enough rest, to begin with), explore ways to make the parenting process easier on yourself.

First and foremost, say goodbye to archaic expectations of your home having to look perfect. The dishes can wait till the morning, the clutter can stay on the living room floor, and it’s OK if you opt out of using cloth diapers to make laundry days a bit more bearable.

Secondly, see if you can share baby/toddler care with a partner, family member, or friend. Nighttime feedings, wake-up duty, and bath time can all be physically and emotionally draining. But sharing the burden can help ensure you get sufficient rest, which is super-important, especially during those first few months of being a parent.

Lastly, don’t be shy to ask for and accept help. If you have a standing arrangement with a babysitter every Tuesday morning, use that precious time to do something that will help you de-stress and recharge, like a gym session or quiet meditation. Or, if you have older kids, organize play dates so that you can complete a couple of household chores without sacrificing sleep time. Even an after-school activity can be an opportunity to help your kids get rid of excess energy while giving you the advantage of an on-schedule bedtime and (hopefully) more than seven hours of uninterrupted sleep.

In closing

As you can see, there’s a lot that you can do to sleep better as a parent. But the truth is, being a mom or a dad does mean that your schedule will have to change to accommodate your children’s needs.

If you’re trying to invest in healthy sleep, start with the basics — your family’s routine. And, of course, keep an open mind and accept imperfection. Because, at the end of the day, every person and family is different. And what works for one group of people might not be the optimal choice for you, so make sure you accept your individuality and feel empowered to make choices that serve you.

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