Spring is a time of throwing open the windows, dusting out the cobwebs, cleaning out closets, and getting rid of all the clutter. It’s a time of cleaning out all of the external gunk that tends to build up over the course of a year. After a good spring cleaning, we feel refreshed, ready for summer, less stuffed with extraneous stuff and those never-ending to-do lists.
I like to think of Autumn as a time a turn that energy inward: with cooler weather and longer periods of darkness, it’s the perfect time to take stock of our minds, bodies, and hearts. It’s a good time to think about making little adjustments in our daily practices that can lead towards a more healthy lifestyle overall.
Sleep is one of those foundational elements of our health that we can polish, straighten out, and get squeaky clean in the fall months. Summer is over with it’s long, bright days filled with freedom from schedules, carpools, and myriad activities. School has begun and the rhythm of the days has settled in as the new normal; yet, the insanity of the holidays has yet to hit. There is actually a word for thinking about how clean your sleep or your child’s sleep is: Sleep Hygiene. Just like brushing your teeth or bathing, there is a way to practice sleep that will help your health and a way to practice sleep that is detrimental to your health, much like brushing your teeth without any tooth paste or getting into the shower without ever turning the water on.
First, Ask Yourself…
- Do I wake up feeling rested? Do my children seem rested when they get up for the day? Is the morning routine a battle full of crankiness and snapping, or are we happy with and kind to each other?
- Am I waking up multiple times each night? Am I spending long periods of time awake each night? Do my children wake up several times a night?
- Do we all have the energy to make it through our respective days with lots of energy and positive moods? Are we cranky with each other by dinner time?
- Does it take me or my children a long time to fall asleep each night? Is bedtime a perpetual battle of wills?
- How much sleep do my children need? (Don’t know? Check this out!) How much sleep do I need? Are we reaching those goals?
Like the majority of parents, you most likely answered “Yes!” to at least one of the questions above. It’s so easy for our sleep or our children’s sleep to fall out of whack, and even just a few nights of less than optimal sleep can quickly spiral towards the creation of unhealthy sleep habits. Luckily, there are some easy fixes that you can put into place tonight to start cleaning up sleep in your house.
Five Tips For Cleaning Up Sleep
- Calculate How Much You Need: First, decide how much sleep you believe you need in order to feel great and have energy to last you through the day. Then, add how much time it takes you to get ready for bed and about 20 minutes for reading or winding down (without a screen! More on that later…). From there, you just need to work backwards from when you need to get up to find out what time you should start getting ready for bed. The answer may surprise you! Example: I need to get up at 5:30 a.m. My bedtime routine takes 15 minutes. I need to start getting ready for bed around 8:00pm in order to turn my light out by 9. This seems really early, but after putting it into practice for only a week, I’m able to eliminate a second cup of coffee, desperation for a nap around 3pm, and able to add in some great playtime with my kids. Next, calculate if your kids are getting enough–most likely, their bedtime also needs to be moved to earlier as well since most small children wake up early anyway. A bedtime of 7pm-8pm is generally plenty late for little ones.
- Bedtime is not screen time: Both children and adults are affected by the blue lights produced by screens–phones, ipads, TVs, and computers produce these as their backlights. Exposure to these lights within 30-60 minutes before bedtime can make it very difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep. Additionally, action-packed shows and increase the production of adrenaline–the enemy of sleep. Put screens to bed within an hour of wanting to fall asleep and you’ll increase your family’s chances and getting some really restorative zzzzz’s. Extra tip: Don’t use an LED night light in any room where sleeping is happening. LED lights are also blue/white lights. Stick to a 4 watt yellow or orange glow if you must use a nightlight.
- Dark and cool. We all sleep better if our sleep spaces are dark and cool. This is especially true for babies and young children. We like to think that our children need to be cozy and warm in order to sleep; this isn’t true as their little bodies run slightly warmer than adult bodies. Kids’ rooms should be kept at 68-71 degrees for optimal sleep. They don’t need to be bundled in several blankets or fleece jammies, either. If your child is sweating in her sleep, her room is most likely too warm. We also like to think that our little ones will be terrified of the dark, which is also not true. Keep your child’s bedroom as dark as possible, even go so far as to put electrical tape over lights from wipe warmers, baby monitors and smoke detectors. (Read more about nightmares here).
- Routine: Bedtime routines are how we cue the flow of hormones that help us fall asleep and stay asleep. For adults as well as children and babies, it is important to establish a consistent routine that starts at about the same time every night in order to be ready for a nice long night of restorative sleep. For children, this might include a bath, nursing, books, a song, and a snuggle. Take your time considering what you’d like in your child’s bedtime routine, then follow it and encourage anyone who puts your child to bed to follow it as well. Need some ideas? Check here.
- Don’t “catch up” on weekends. The idea of “catching up on your sleep” on the weekends is a myth. You don’t actually make up for any sleep you missed during the week and can, in fact, perpetuate a feeling of jet-lag during the weekends and following week if you employ this strategy. Our bodies don’t recover as quickly as they once did (those college days!) and our children’s bodies, hormones, and circadian rhythms can actually be permanently harmed if they are chronically under-rested during the week, then allowed to sleep through the weekend. If you are prioritizing good sleep hygiene in your house, practice getting the same amount of sleep each night, with the same bedtime and awake time even on weekends. Can you be lazier on the weekends? Sure! Stay in your pjs a little longer, enjoy some books or playtime instead of rushing out the door.
There are lots of ways to clean up your sleep this autumn, and the first step is always being reflective and honest about where things are right now and set goals of where you’d like things to be. Think about how you would like moods, energy levels, appetites, abilities to focus, and resiliency to look in your house. Certainly, it’s worth a tweaking a few things in order to reap the wonderful rewards of a well-rested family. Clear out the clutter–all those things standing between you and a great night of sleep.