If I had a whole day free to do whatever I wanted with no work commitments or kid wrangling and money was no object, I know exactly what I’d pick.
Sleep. Just sleep.
- My eldest didn’t sleep through the night until she was four, when the anti-sticker chart saved us
- At the age of one, my middle child went a whole month without sleeping a full night
- I night-weaned her after the Month of No Sleep, but then the only way she’d fall asleep and stay asleep was with me lying next to her so she could wrap her little fingers up in my hair
Translation? Chronic sleep deprivation of the parental variety.
Then last year, we reached a turning point. Finally, finally both big kids were sleeping through the night.
The turning point happened to come while I was eight months pregnant, which meant I didn’t have to haul my hugely pregnant body out of bed in the middle of the night to put a toddler back to sleep. Goodbye, sleep-deprived mom!
Here Comes Baby Number Three
When my third little one was born last summer, she surprised the heck out of us by sleeping through the night at six weeks old.
I’d heard of this happening from fellow parents, but honestly, I thought they were stretching the truth a bit. I didn’t actually believe babies were capable of sleeping through the night.
From the newborn stage to four months old, baby Charlie slept through the night about 90 percent of the time.
The four-month sleep regression.
She. Just. Wouldn’t. Freaking. Sleep.
We did all the “right” things—playing white noise, sticking to a schedule so she didn’t get over-tired, putting her down drowsy but awake.
Stuff that all worked when she was a couple months old. But now? Nope.
We Tried Everything
Putting her down “drowsy but awake” pissed her off majorly, signing us up for an extra 45 minutes or more to get her settled back down again.
Then she’d wake up all through the night, requiring Herculean effort from us to get her back to sleep. Even trading off between my husband and me wasn’t enough to cope.
I paced the house with her at one in the morning. Two. Three. Sometimes all in a row in the same night.
I stumbled over my own feet. When my toddler woke up in the morning, I’d lie on the couch and tell her to pretend she’s a doctor and I’m a very, very sick patient. My husband started a steady IV drip of coffee to get through every workday.
We turned into zombies.
I Became a Desperately Sleep-Deprived Mom
It wasn’t selfish of us to want more sleep. Lack of sleep will lower your IQ, make it harder to be happy, and even increase your risk of an early death.
But I’d read the baby sleep books. I’d tried everything. If I couldn’t get my kids to sleep all night, could I hack my own sleep habits for more rest?
And so I read countless blog posts. Skimmed book after book. Messaged friends on Facebook to ask about their sleep routines.
I ate, breathed, and slept sleep.
How to Get Better Sleep: 20 Science-Backed Hacks for Tired Parents
In this post, I compiled all the best science-backed sleep tips from my research. But unlike a lot of posts on kid-induced sleep deprivation, these sleep hacks are for you and your own sleep because that is completely within your control, even if your kid won’t cooperate. In other words, put your oxygen mask on first, my fellow tired parent.
You won’t find suggestions like “get more exercise” or “replace your mattress” on this list. All these suggestions for how to get better sleep are relatively easy and doable because I know what it’s like to be a sleep-deprived mom. Try a few of these to get out of sleep crisis mode, then you can entertain the idea of tackling big-ticket sleep fixes.
If you aren’t already napping as a way to catch up on sleep, you should be. Even five minutes can help. And who doesn’t have five minutes? The brain boost that you get from a nap even outperforms the effects of caffeine.
- Prep Your Kids—If you’re home during the day, you can grab a power nap while your kid naps or even set an older kid up to play independently while you catch some zzz’s.
- Nap at Work—If you work outside the home, nap in your car during your lunch break or in between meetings. A short nap can make you more productive and alert, so don’t feel bad about taking a quick break. And hey, it’s a lot healthier than taking a smoke break or hitting up the vending machines. This is why pilots, air traffic controllers, and nurses grab power naps while on the job. Before I left my corporate career, a nap in my car during lunch is what saved me many days.
- Go Short or Long—The optimal length of time for a nap depends on what effect you’re going for: 25 minutes or less is best for a quick boost in energy and focus. But if you nap somewhere between 30 minutes and 85 minutes, you’ll likely wake up pretty groggy. For a deeper sleep, set your alarm for 90 minutes because that’s a full sleep cycle.
- Try a Coffee Nap—If you want to try a power nap but you’re worried you’ll sleep through an alarm, I have an easy fix for you. Drink coffee right before you lay down. The caffeine will take about 20 minutes to kick in, so you’ll wake up feeling refreshed with an extra jolt from the caffeine. Read more about this sleep hack to make sure you get the maximum effect.
- Find 20 Minutes—You can go super hardcore and train your body to get as little as two hours of sleep and still feel as well-rested as you do after eight hours. It’s called polyphasic sleep, and you’ll need to read The 4-Hour Body† to get the details on how to make it happen. But the simplest and most realistic approach is adding one 20-minute nap during the day, which means you need just six hours of sleep at night.
Your Bedtime Routine
- Eliminate the Blue—During the hour before your bedtime, put your smartphone away. No television, tablet, or computer time, either. The blue light emitted by those devices confuses your body. This is because your brain interprets the blue light as sunshine and tells your body to wake up. If you need to work on your computer up until bedtime, try f.lux. At night, this free software changes the lighting of your computer screen to look like indoor lighting instead of the sun. (Available for Mac OS, Windows, and Linux.) For iOS devices, a recent Apple update included a Night Shift mode to switch the blue light to a warmer orange hue. (p.s. Do you know what emits absolutely zero blue light? A book. So consider reading in bed until you get sleepy.)
- Hide the Standbys—Now it’s time for a light hunt. After the sun goes down, take some black electrical tape and cover up all the little standby lights in your bedroom—from the cable box to the air purifier. Or if you’d prefer, get a sleeping mask like this one recommended by the author of The 4-Hour Body or try this highly rated mask on Amazon. If you can’t live without a night-light, make sure it’s a red one.
- Hit the Sweet Spot—Try changing the room temperature to between 67 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. According to The 4-Hour Body, feeling too warm can disrupt your sleep. What to do if your partner likes it warmer than you do? Stick a foot out of your covers like this.
- Fix Cold Feet—But if you tend to get cold easily, consider wearing socks to bed. Cold feet can disrupt your nighttime sleep.
- Be Consistent—It pains me to include this tip because I’m a rule-breaking sort of person, but it really does help to have a consistent bedtime. When your body can count on a consistent bedtime, it’ll help you out by producing sleep hormones at the right time. But if you stay up late, your body will actually pump stress hormones through your body. Newsflash: Stress hormones don’t make you sleepy.
- Drink Less—You’ve probably learned the hard way not to drink coffee too late in the day. Likewise, don’t drink alcohol in the hour or two before your bedtime. Buzzkill, I know. But the booze will keep you from getting a restorative deep sleep. In fact, The 4-Hour Body says that more than two glasses of wine within four hours of sleep cuts your deep sleep by 20 to 50 percent.
- Treat Yourself—You’ll do better removing caffeine and alcohol from your night-time routine if you can replace it with something new, like this Soothing Caramel Bedtime Tea. You can find lots of night-time teas at the store, but this is the best one I’ve tried.
- Drown out Sound—White noise. Get some. With some gentle background noise, your sleep won’t be disturbed when the cat knocks over the LEGO tower your kid left in the middle of the living room. You can find two sleep apps listed in this post, or try my favorite White Noise app called…White Noise. If you don’t like the popular brown noise or the research-proven pink noise, you may like the sounds of a rainstorm. Or a cat purring. Or a Tibetan singing bowl. Plus, you can get more sounds for free from the White Noise Market. Get the app, stick your phone in a sound dock, and get ready to zonk out.
- Set Your Alarm Right—When you set your alarm, keep in mind that 90 minutes is the length of a full sleep cycle and set your alarm in increments of 90 minutes. 7 hours? No good. But 7.5 hours is perfect. Check out the details on this sleep hack here, plus an app that will help you get it right every night.
- Try a Snack—If you tend to wake up feeling tired even after a full night’s sleep, low blood sugar might be to blame. The 4-Hour Body recommends eating two tablespoons of almond butter on celery sticks before you hit the sack. A couple other options recommended by that author: a mandarin orange and a handful of almonds, or plain low-fat (but not fat-free) yogurt plus an apple.
Trouble Falling Asleep
- Empty Your Head—If you get all ready for bed and can’t fall asleep because your mind won’t stop, keep a notepad and pen by your bed and write down whatever’s on your mind. Pretend you’re Dumbledore siphoning off your memories in the Pensieve.
- Breathe With the Light—Try the NightWave light. You put this small, soft light in your bedroom, then synchronize your breathing with the pulsating light. You fall asleep faster, and it shuts off automatically after a short time.
- Get Up—If you end up in bed for 10 minutes and still can’t sleep, it’s better to get up and do something for a bit, then try again. The key is to do something that won’t wake you up. For example, don’t break out your P90X DVDs, and definitely don’t watch TV. (See earlier point about screen time before bed.)
- Don’t Snooze—Skip the snooze button. It’ll just make you feel more drowsy.
- Watch the Sunrise—First thing when you wake up in the morning, open your curtains for a big dose of sunshine. This will clue your body into the fact that it’s time to wake up and cut down on grogginess. Or if you wake up before the sun’s out, try a goLITE. According to The 4-Hour Body, getting the right kind of light first thing upon waking will actually help you fall asleep faster at night.
If you’re coping with sleep deprivation as a new mom, you need this book by my friend Lauren: For the Love of Sleep: Practical Baby Sleep Solutions for the Everyday Mama. Lucky for me, I read this book before my third baby was born, and I was able to avoid some of the hurdles I created for myself with my previous two babies. All thanks to this book:
But if you’re in a tough spot as in “I need a sleep fix for my kid right now, or I’m going to run away from my family and hide out in an Appalachian shack 200 miles from civilization,” I highly recommend this free 3-part video series from my friend Rachel. She’s had five babies in five years, so she knows what she’s talking about. In these three short videos, you’ll learn the biggest baby sleep struggles—and how to fix them starting now.
Before you go, get my FREE cheat sheet: 75 Positive Phrases Every Child Needs to Hear
How do you get better sleep as a sleep-deprived mom? Share your tip in a comment below!