Sleep. Such a sweet magical word, isn't it? I can smell lavender... I can almost taste camomile on the tip of my tongue...
Ok, I am officially sleep deprived if I started dreaming about smelling and tasting the word. Does this word conjure up any images in your head?
Actually, there is nothing unusual for mums to be sleep-deprived. It is thought that new parents are chronically deprived of sleep for years after the birth of their first child. Who would have thought? I didn't know that when I was dreaming of becoming a mum. When my friends would say to me - sleep as much as you can! I thought, well, how bad could it be?
A year into motherhood and I can honestly say that I do not remember what a full night's sleep was like! To me, a two hours stretch is a dream; four hours is unheard of luxury.
My child is disrupting my sleep. But if I am honest, I am not helping myself either.
I tend to stay up late some evenings finishing that Netflix show or chatting to a friend.
If I am tired in the afternoon, I will nap alongside my child and then have a coffee to wake myself up.
I tend to write to-do lists in my head once I am in bed. And my brain starts working like a hamster on a wheel!
But why is sleep important? Why continuing with my current routine is not sustainable in the long term or good for my health?
Having a decent night's sleep is the most critical task for us, new mums. We could leave the housework untouched, and we could forget about cooking fresh, healthy dinners from scratch every night. But we need to remember to have a bedtime routine and as many shut-eye hours as possible.
Sleep is essential because it helps us with:
Keeping healthy eating habits and healthy weight
Sleep deprivation makes us peckish, and quite often we fancy' naughty' food (fatty, sweet, salty). This is because we are awake for longer, so we need more energy. But some research shows that the lack of good night's sleep changes hormones that tell us when we are hungry or full; as a result, we tend to eat more.
Keeping your emotional wellbeing in check
I don't know about you, but after two or three bad nights I am a nervous wreck! I am more aggressive, more emotional and can get offended when the kettle does not boil fast enough.
Sleep relaxes us, and as a result, even stressful events could be dealt better with. It is easier to control our emotions and not overreact after a good night's sleep.
Keeping the heart doctor away
Good sleep helps our heart. Not sleeping well or waking up during the night triggers our 'fight-or-flight' system, which leads to a risk of high blood pressure that could, in turn, lead to all sorts of heart problems.
Keeping our memories
Our brain is working very hard while we are sleeping. It is working on turning our short term memories into long term memories.
“I love sleep. My life has a tendency to fall apart when I’m awake, you know?” — Ernest Hemingway
Young mums might start despairing right now: sleep does so many things but I haven't slept in a while! Do not worry! Mother Nature is very clever. We - humans - are very resilient. We can survive on little sleep if needed.
But we need to do our very best and treat our sleep as part of our precious self-care. The more we know about sleep - the more tricks and tips we can apply to make our bedtime routine more relaxing and comfortable.
1. Sleep schedule
It is essential to stick to a sleep schedule - even on the weekends! I know, I know... but it is thought that going to bed and getting up at the same time every day helps our body clock to stay on track.
2. Go to bed before midnight
Various studies have shown that our body clock works better when we are asleep before midnight.
3. Light dinner
Our tummies need at least three hours to digest the dinner we've eaten. If we eat too late, our body will be too busy working with our digestive system to pay much attention to our sleep.
Also, if we have a hearty meal, it might be uncomfortable to lie down.
4. No alcohol before bedtime
Unlike many old wives tales that alcohol relaxes hence good to have some before going to bed - alcohol is a stimulant and having a drink before going to bed will affect the regulation of the hormone of sleep and disrupt your sleep pattern.
Everyone knows that exercise is good for your waistline, but not everyone knows that it is also good for your sleep. Keeping active helps pump oxygen to your heart... and helps your body to get tired.
Remember watching our kids run around and thinking: oh, they will sleep well tonight!
But no exercise before bedtime, unless it's bedtime or gentle yoga - or you will be too full of energy to enter the land of dreams.
6. Bedtime routine
Just like babies, adults could benefit from a bedtime routine consisting of a bedtime story, a bath… oh wait, that's my child's… no, our routine could consist of whatever rituals we prefer or feel comfortable with, as long as we repeat them every day and start them at the same time.
It could be a relaxing bath with a few lavender drops, a herbal tea, no smartphones for an hour before bedtime...
7. No caffeine after 2-4 pm
Stay away from coffee or any other caffeinated drinks after 2-4 pm (slightly varies for different people).
Caffeine can stay in your body for up to 8 hours, so if you are planning on sticking to your schedule and going to bed around 11, coffee with dinner might not be such a good idea.
Watch this funny video of Michael McIntyre (British stand-up comedian) on coffee before bedtime if you need more info :)
8. Bedtime journaling
Create a journaling habit an hour or so before bedtime.
Get rid of any thoughts that are troubling you, capture ideas that are exciting you.
Our brain stays busy worrying that we might forget something important. If we write it down, including a to-do list for tomorrow, the mind will calm down too.
9. Practice mindfulness
Any mindfulness practices could help to unwind and relax. Try deep breathing, meditation or listening to the sounds of an ocean.
10. Keep your bedroom cool
Make sure the air in your bedroom is fresh and cool before bedtime.
Studies show that well-ventilated room helps with good night's sleep, but it also helps with tomorrow's concentration. It's also easier to relax and fall sleep in a slightly cool room.
Have I missed anything? What are your bedtime tips or tricks?