Self Care: Sleep Matters

Mother sleeping


You keep your family functional through your strength, your health, your happiness and mood, and your focus. The one most important thing you can do to take care of yourself, the one thing that all other self care builds on, is getting enough sleep. Putting on your own oxygen mask first starts with sleep.

It’s so simple!

Sort of. Tough for a young mother but simple in theory.

You probably remember when it was easy to stay up all night and keep going the next day. That was before you had responsibilities for others, children to care for, and a long list of tasks you just have to get done every day. If you go without sleep now, you don’t feel your best the next day. A study of doctors showed that, when fatigued, their performance was comparable to having 3-4 cocktails.

Lack of sleep leaves you impaired with slower reaction times. This does not help your family. Beyond the immediate effects of impaired judgment, lack of sleep triggers health effects: lower immunity, metabolism changes (weight gain), and even more serious disease. This is just the beginning.

Abusing your body by doing without sleep will have a long-term impact. I write from experience. I know getting enough sleep is a very difficult thing for the mother of a young child, but it has both short- and long-term impact on your own health and on everyone around you. Right now you are bridging from your youth to your middle age, and the choices you make for your health make a difference for your present and your future.

Sleep does matter. You must take care of yourself.

Your Sleep Routine

Create routines that protect your sleep. In order to help your baby sleep with love and compassion, you need routines that signal to everyone that it is time to wind down and let go for the day. If you have figured this out for your baby, you already have an idea how developing a routine works. Your routines involve more than just you, of course. Especially if you are co-sleeping, you need to create routines that work for your entire family.

Start with what is working. When have you found that you slept really well recently? What did you do the day before or the evening before that great night’s sleep? How did you wake up? Can you replicate that?

Tweak your routine over time, but don’t assume it will all work out on its own. You need to protect your sleep time. If you can’t handle everything in the time your have available, ask for help.

How much sleep do you need? Every person is slightly different, but the general rules apply. Most adults need 8 hours sleep per night.

Self Care Means Love & Compassion for Yourself

Approach your own needs with love and compassion—as you would for your children or spouse. That doesn’t mean lining up excuses and accepting every one. Loving yourself means understanding your deeper needs and focusing there rather than on the superficial. Loving yourself means not prioritizing your needs below those of everyone else.

Finding a way to meet the needs of all family members can be difficult. You will undoubtedly come up short, but that doesn’t mean you don’t keep trying.

Understand that taking care of yourself matters. Getting enough sleep matters.

Sleep well.

For more details on the effects of lack of sleep, read “Sleep for Health.”

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Helping Your Baby Sleep with Love and Compassion

Mother watching sleeping baby

Is your baby not sleeping through the night? That’s normal. It’s less common that a baby does sleep for long periods without waking, but norms don’t tell you what your baby needs. Babies’ needs differ.

A compassionate approach to parenting seeks to understand and meet needs—your baby’s needs, certainly, but also your own needs. Part of the challenge is separating your real needs from those cultural assumptions you have acquired from the people around you.

If you are experiencing enough disruption in nighttime sleeping patterns that you want to know how to help your baby sleep, I hope this helps. I have been there, and I remember how it felt.

Helping Baby Sleep

In cultures where there is less anxiety around the idea of how and where babies sleep, it would make no sense at all to give advice on helping baby sleep. Having read about babies’ sleep in other cultures (see Christine Gross-Loh’s Parenting without Borders below), I’m convinced that this is only a topic among North American parents because of a cultural anxiety that was introduced by an adult need to control children.

Nevertheless, you start where you are. If you already have sleep issues to deal with, you may need tips to help your baby sleep.

Start with your baby’s needs. Hunger, warmth, calm. Hunger and warmth are easy enough needs to meet most of the time. Calm can be more elusive. Create a calming routine with calming associations. All of the senses can contribute: sound (sing a lullaby), smell (most likely the smell of you), sight (darkness will probably help), touch (soft pajamas, soft blanket, sheepie), and maybe taste (breastfeeding while falling asleep).

For a great list of practical suggestions based on decades of experience with parents, see Ask Dr Sears, “31 Ways to Get Your Baby to Sleep and Stay Asleep.”

Also consider your own needs. You may be tired. You may need to trade off with another adult just for a while. Don’t take your frustrations out on your baby, though. Don’t make sleep an issue for your baby just because it is an issue for you.

If you don’t have your baby yet, start by letting go of assumptions that could cause problems. Read Parenting without Borders, so you will have a point of reference when doctors, your parents, and other well-meaning experts offer you advice on sleep and other aspects of parenting.

Co-sleeping or Family Bed

Again, in the context of family sleeping habits around the world and through history, it is strange to have to justify family members sleeping next to one another. It makes more sense to me to ask why some believe babies should be separated to sleep alone, since that is uncommon anywhere else in the world. The usual answer is that it will make them more independent, but research doesn’t show this result from separate sleep.

If we sleep better with our babies and if our babies sleep better with us, we should be sleeping next to one another. It makes waking in the night much easier and shorter. Everyone wakes in the night. How we handle that now can shape how our children handle that in their future.

You do need to remove risk factors, such as drug and alcohol use, smoking, water beds, sofas, and heavy bedding over the baby.

If you or your spouse have any of the risk factors, or if you don’t sleep better with your baby, don’t. A bassinet next to your bed can still give you the convenience of closeness that a separate nursery does not.

Will They Remember?

Human epigenetic memory of being stressed as a child can be passed on and will be encoded in the genes of the stressed person. The new field of behavioral epigenetics studies how and to what extent this happens. I have yet to see a study on the specific epigenetic effects of babyhood stress on an adult, but I don’t doubt it will come.

The simplest point to remember is: a stressful experience as a baby will have a effect. What effect? The science is out, but don’t believe those who tell you that a baby won’t remember being left to cry, so it doesn’t matter. The stress your baby feels now matters now and it can matter long into the future as epigentic memory can be passed on to future children and grandchildren.

When you meet your child’s needs with love and compassion, they learn to meet their own needs without the stress of worrying about the absense of your comforting presence.

Ask the Experts about Sleeping Babies

Christine Gross-Loh, “Sleep Time: Keep Our Babies Close or Give Them Space?” in Parenting Without Borders: Surprising Lessons Parents around the World Can Teach Us (2013).

“Where should your baby sleep? Wherever he sleeps best.”

Ask Dr Sears, the website of the Sears family of pediatricians, gives quick answers to common sleep issues.

“Sleeping with Hayden opened our hearts and minds to the fact that there are many nighttime parenting styles, and parents need to be sensible and use whatever arrangement gets all family members the best night’s sleep.”

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Last-Minute Gift for Yourself?

Natural buckwheat body pillow

Christmas, birthdays, and other big, gift-giving holidays are a perfect time to ask for those very nice gifts you wouldn’t necessarily buy for yourself every day.

Do you end up buying your own gifts? I do. I ordered mine yesterday, and I don’t mind. I don’t really need much, and I don’t assume my husband can read my mind about what I want. I would be terribly disappointed with jewelry, flowers, chocolates, or any of the gifts I see marketed to men for women. My son wanted to buy the gift himself, but he finally asked me yesterday to help him. He and my husband are both very happy that I’m happy with what I get. Plus, buying for myself makes getting that very nice gift even easier.

So, here is my suggestion for you if you have family members who are still looking around at the last-minute for the right gift for you: a Buckwheat Body Pillow.

Natural buckwheat pregnancy pillow

Buckwheat Body Pillow

If you bought separate pillows for pregnancy comfort, for nursing, and for sleep comfort, you probably wish you could use the same pillow for all three purposes. With the buckwheat body pillow, you can. This pillow is versatile. Lay it out the long way to support your belly during pregnancy; tie the ends together to make the perfect size for nursing; and continue to sleep with the pillow in a variety of shapes long after pregnancy and nursing are over.

This pillow can be used in many ways, and you can keep it clean by removing the buckwheat to wash the cotton cover and even replacing the buckwheat after years of use.

And, this pillow is beautiful! You won’t want to hide these bright cotton prints.

Comes in a child size as well.

Buckwheat pillows made in Canada

A Pillow You Can Feel Good About

There are more reasons to feel good about this pillow.

Your Health. Filled with dust-free, roasted buckwheat hulls which are hypoallergenic & naturally dust mite resistant.

Environmentally Responsible. All the raw materials use in our buckwheat pillows are local, long-lasting, compostable, and renewable.

Made in Canada. Natural buckwheat filling supplied by a Quebecois organic farm.

Socially Responsible. Each buckwheat pillow is handmade by a Montreal-based reintegration company that fights against exclusion and poverty.

Ask for the perfect last-minute gift, or buy it for yourself today. Our store is closed for the holidays, but we are still shipping.

Sleep for Health

Family in bed

If you knew that there was one thing you could do for your health that would improve your memory, suppress your appetite, keep you alert, leave you happier, reduce your likelihood of hypertension and stress, and improve your immune function, wouldn’t you do it? Of course you would. So, get a full night’s sleep. Your body and mind need that time for renewal. The strong connection between sleep and health has become more clear as more studies look at specific links between sleep duration and disease.

It’s hard. Parents have a difficult time getting enough sleep, especially parents of very young babies. Hard though it may be, you need to take care of yourself and teach your children to take care of themselves. Chronic sleep loss has a clear, negative effect on your short-term function and medium-term health as well as on your longevity. The consequences are too great not to give yourself this one

Sleep Helps

  • Learning and memory – We retain information (memories and learned tasks) better when we experience memory consolidation as we dream.
  • Metabolism and weight – Sleep loss changes the way our bodies process carbohydrates and alters appetite through hormone levels. Lack of sleep leaves you hungry.
  • Safety – Tired people make mistakes. The results can be as bad as or worse than intoxication.
  • Mood - Lack of sleep leaves us stressed and irritable. Lower serotonin levels can also leave us at risk for depression.
  • Heart Health – In the extreme, sleep issues can lead to hypertension and irregular heartbeat.
  • Disease – Lack of sleep can weaken your immune system. Increased stress leads to inflammation, which leaves you at greater risk for disease and causes deterioration. Sleep is time for your cells to repair damage of the day.

“Lack of sleep disrupts every physiologic function in the body,” said Eve Van Cauter of the University of Chicago. “We have nothing in our biology that allows us to adapt to this behavior.” “Scientists Finding Out What Losing Sleep Does to a Body,” Washington Post, October 9, 2005.

How Much Sleep Do You Need?

Fifty-eight percent of Canadians say they are often tired, but 18% of Canadians sleep less than 5 hours a day, which is leaving them chronically tired. Twenty-five percent of adults in the U.S. don’t sleep enough half of the time. Sure, a few people are getting enough sleep, but many of us are not—and the problem doesn’t stop with adults.

A new study on naps for toddlers shows that young children who don’t get enough sleep are not only more easily frustrated, which you undoubtedly already knew, but their lack of sleep “may shape their developing emotional brains and put them at risk for lifelong, mood-related problems.” If that doesn’t scare you, consider what happens as your children grow older. Drowsy young drivers are involved in tens of thousands of traffic accidents every year.

Help your whole family get enough sleep.

Newborn babies need 16 or more hours a day.
Preschoolers need about 12 hours a day.
Teens need about 9 hours a day.
Adults need 8 hours a day.
Pregnant women may need several more hours than usual.

How to Stay Asleep

For the good of yourself and your family, create a sleep-friendly household.

  • Follow a bedtime ritual.
  • Don’t drink so much before bed that you have to use the toilet during the night.
  • Stay active during the day.
  • Dump the stress.

It isn’t just nice to get enough sleep. Your life expectancy depends on it. Go to bed!


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It’s More Than a Bed

Raising Arrows profile

The early morning hours find our king-sized bed full of children. Sometimes they are snoozing. Sometimes I awake to the chatter of tiny voices. Quite often I am reminded of the elementary school song, “Ten bears in the bed, and the little one said…roll over…I’m crowded.”

Yes, it is crowded, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

It makes me smile to see all those little faces nestled snugly in beside me. Our bed is the place where movies are watched, hot topics are discussed, and fears are calmed. Everyone, from the one year old to the 11 year old, take refuge there.

I grew up being welcome in my parent’s bed. Snuggled between my mom and my dad, I knew I was safe. Nightmares and creepy shadows couldn’t touch me there. I was warm. I was loved. There was no doubt in my mind.

I know my children feel the same way. My husband offers an armpit to the nine year old. I curl up around the toddler. Babies nurse, backs get scratched, and everyone wakes up on the right side of the bed!

Not just any old bed can do that! That, my friends, takes a very special bed…a family bed.

Yes, sometimes it feels crowded. Sometimes you get conked with a stray elbow. Sometimes you find yourself begging for just a wee bit more blanket real estate. But, it’s all worth it when your 4 year old looks up at you with sleepy eyes, smiles dreamily and says, “I wuv you, mama!”

“I wuv you too, little one.”

Amy of Raising Arrows received the greatest number of your votes for The Most Inspiring Blogger in our Blog to Inspire contest.

The opinions expressed in this post are those of the author and not necessarily those of Eco Baby Steps or Parenting By Nature.