New year, new you? I don’t normally do resolutions, but this year I vow to improve my sleep habits. As parents of two girls, my husband and I often find our evenings filled to the brim with their activities, dinner preparation, homework help, bath and book time – all while juggling client calls and emails. I often put my work on hold until they’re sleep and the house is quiet. Sometimes, I start around 10 or 11 p.m., which of course leads to inadequate sleep.
Knowing that I’m not alone in my sleep patterns and wanting to dig deeper, I reached out to Anne Marie Morse, M.D., a sleep medicine specialist and pediatric neurologist. She offers us all some much-needed sleep advice.
One of the things you emphasize is the importance of good sleep for children. Getting kids to sleep on time and through the night can be difficult. What are some of your tips for ensuring a good night’s sleep?
Maintaining a regular sleep schedule and a manageable, effective bedtime routine is critical. Although falling asleep is supposed to be natural, as humans we develop habits that may negatively influence that from happening. By having a regular sleep schedule and a bedtime routine, your brain and body start to expect to fall asleep at a certain time, [which] makes it easier to fall asleep. The bedtime routine should be something that you do every night for maybe 30-60 minutes prior to bedtime. It may start with nighttime hygiene activities, like brushing teeth and a bath or shower, then other wind-down activities, such as light stretching, massage, reading a book, meditating or using relaxing music to ease your mind and body for sleep. Once you feel tired, lie down to go to sleep. If you can’t fall asleep within what feels like 20 minutes, get out of bed and try some of those same techniques again.
What are some of the benefits for parents of getting kids to sleep early?
A regular and early bedtime for your children is critical for your mental, emotional and physical health. When you have your child asleep at a predictable early hour, that becomes guaranteed mom and/or dad time. This is time where parents can either take care of work items, catch up on your favorite TV series or have your own wind-down time before bed. Many couples even find that this is the little bit of time they look forward to for keeping romance alive.
Recently, I did an Instagram post asking if other parents got enough sleep and felt well rested. I was shocked that nearly every person who commented wasn’t sleeping well! Do you find that sleeplessness is common in parents?
Unfortunately, sleeplessness is a societal epidemic. As we increase on-demand access to everything, we develop the idea that sleep is for the weak and there is so much to get done and too much I will miss out on with sleep. With that said, parenting introduces an additional variable with what feels like constant need for attention, focus and worry for your little one (irrespective of how big or little they may be).
What are some of the biggest mistakes that parents make that often lead to sleeplessness?
Trying to cram too much into a day. There are only 24 hours in a day, and as a parent it’s not uncommon to feel like every minute of your day is already scheduled with either parent responsibilities or another adult obligation. It is not uncommon that when anything additional gets added to your day that the first thing that gets curtailed is sleep. It feels like we can get away with less sleep to get more done. The reality is, the less we sleep, the less efficient we become in the following days. If you live by a schedule, do yourself a favor and schedule your sleep time as well. Treat it like a “can’t miss, can’t reschedule” meeting.
What would you suggest for parents in order to create an ideal sleep environment?
Keep your sleep environment a sleep environment. Don’t bring work to bed, worries to bed or food to bed. This helps your mind and body have a stronger relationship with your bed as a place for sleep. Once you are ready for sleep, make sure it’s a dark, quiet, cool atmosphere. If you tend to ruminate on your day or can’t stop your brain, consider a white noise machine or listening to relaxing music to help you sleep.
As a sleep doctor, would you recommend early mornings or late nights for those of us who struggle to get enough done during “normal” waking hours?
It depends on your chronotype, meaning whether you are a morning person (morning lark) or a late-night person (night owl). The most important thing is making sure you are still getting a healthy number of hours of sleep (7-9 hours for most adults). If you are not quite certain what kind of person you are, consider using the morningness-eveningness scale to see.
To take the morningness-eveningness questionnaire, visit https://bit.ly/36YWwaA.