As my kids transitioned from the crib, I found myself scolding them for doing things that will ruin a smooth bedtime transition, such as watching TV, playing on the iPad, or roughhousing right before bed. And then everything I tell them runs on repeat in my head as I do the exact same things before bed: check Facebook, email, or the news one last time, watch a movie, or rush through the house doing last-minute chores before bed.
If there’s a pretty good chance your baby or toddler is going to wake you up anyway, you want to make sure what little sleep you do get is of good quality.
Here are some simple tips to improve your sleep quality--but bear in mind, if your baby is a newborn, in a growth spurt, or sick, you may not be able to implement these guidelines right now. Don't beat yourself up for that. These ideas can help when baby is sleeping more predictably, but you're not.
- Stick to a schedule. I know! It’s so tempting to sleep in on days that you don’t have to get up. This might be harder for parents’ whose babies who take a late last night (morning?) feeding or parent’s whose toddlers actually sleep in. There’s even a feature on the iPhone that will remind you to go to sleep at the same time every night, if you need a nudge. Another thing you can do to motivate you to get up is schedule something fun on mornings when you would sleep in, like coffee with a friend or alone time out of the house.
- Watch what you eat and drink near bedtime. Extra sugar or caffeine can affect how we sleep, so keep an eye on that cycle of drinking coffee to get up and wine to go to sleep. The Mayo Clinic also says watch your liquid intake before bed to avoid potty trips in the night, but nursing moms are more inclined to both need the extra hydration and have the opportunity to take a midnight potty break. A great habit to get into is to have water at your preferred nursing area when you put baby down and take a potty break on the way to nurse the baby. Then you can re-up your fluids before heading back to bed.
- Create a bedtime routine. We do this for our toddlers because it makes bedtime easier, so it makes sense to do it for ourselves, too. Great things to include in a grown-up sleep routine: dimming the lights, warm bath, and listening to soothing music or reading a book before bed. Try to stay off screens as they confuse our circadian rhythms. Set your devices to “evening settings” that make the screen appear warmer during evening hours if possible.
- Set the mood. Your bedroom should be cool, dark, quiet, and comfortable. Fans can help provide white noise while making your room cooler without turning down the thermostat. If you expect little ones to join you in bed before the night is over, make your room a little cooler to offset their body heat. If you lay down for sleep and don’t fall asleep within 15 minutes, get up and do something else, like read, and try again. Tossing and turning can lead to anxiety about falling asleep the next time you lay down.
- Limit napping. This is harder for some than others, but if you do nap, limit your nap to 10 to 30 minutes during the midafternoon, as long daytime naps can affect your nighttime sleep quality.
Keep in mind these guidelines for good sleep are the most effective when you are able to keep regular sleep habits. We all know that growth spurts, teething, allergies, and illness can disrupt our babies’ sleep, which may cause us to get little to no sleep some nights. Those kinds of nights may call for a morning or afternoon nap just to make it through the day. If you’re in survival mode, bookmark these tips for when baby settles into a more predictable sleep pattern.
Erin Burt is a freelance writer and mother of three girls. She lives and writes in Oklahoma City.