Counting Sheep: What you don’t Know about Sleep Hygiene
By: Shannon Green
I’ve always been a night owl. I’m known to pull all-nighters for small projects. I get in my zone and I don’t like to stop. If I try to fall asleep, I’ll end up laying there thinking about unfinished business. I tell myself, “if I’m going to be up, I might as well be productive” and I get to work. This is something I’ve done since I was very young. I’ve had very unhealthy sleep habits. On many occasions, it paid off. As it pertains to work or school, I get shit done. However, it does not pay off for me physically or mentally.
When you’re a mom and your kid is not sleeping through the night or they’re sleeping at night but waking up at the butt-crack of dawn, the last thing you need is to spend time sitting up at night being anxious when you should be resting. There were so many nights when my son went to bed at a decent time and I could have taken full advantage of the time to rest, instead I was anxious about something and I stayed up mulling over it and quite literally counting sheep in an effort to lull myself to sleep. By the time I was ready to pass out, my son woke up for a feeding or some other random reason that kids wake up. When this happens I’m full of regret and pretty much cursing myself for not going to sleep when I had the chance.
One of my friends who babysits for me came over to help one morning and she looked pretty tired. She explained that she was up all night because she had too much going on in her head. I love her. But in this very moment I wanted to strangle her. I thought back on my night with my son waking me up fifty-eleven times. My friend is single and lives alone. In my mind, there is literally no reason for her to ever be tired. She ought to be the most well rested woman on the planet. But she wasn’t. She stayed up at night, in her own head.
That’s when it hit me. I do the same thing. Even when its not my son’s fault, I stay up all night trying to solve problems that could be solved the next day...heck, maybe even the next month. When there is nothing physically keeping me up (I.e. a screaming baby) there should be no reason that I’m up all night. I had this problem pre-pregnancy, but being a mom made it worse because I couldn’t sleep in the next day to make up for it. I became a mombie (mom+zombie). My unhealthy sleep habits bit me in the ass in a major way.
I complained and whined to my mom about it, and she had some good insight. She suggested I get a nighttime routine. That’s when that little light bulb went off! My son has a routine: bath, a book or two, prayer, night night. Me on the other hand, I worked all night then closed my laptop and hopped in the bed. I had no routine. I wasn’t actually doing anything to promote better sleep, just repeating the same bad behaviors and beating myself up about it. Mom was right. Just don’t tell her I said that.
I set out to learn more about sleep hygiene and I gathered these great tips:
During the Day:
Get sunlight (i.e. get outdoors)
Exercise regularly (but not at night).
Avoid naps. If you must nap, try not to nap more than an hour and only before 3 PM.
Avoid caffeine 4-6 hours before bed.
Avoid screen-time (TV & phone) 1-hour before bedtime.
Make your sleep space more conducive to sleep with the following:
Keep your bedroom cool (around 70 degrees).
Keep sleep tools (warm blankets, dark curtains, ear plugs, a white noise machine or humidifier, and an eye mask).
Beds are for sleep and sex. If you want your mind to associate your bed with sleep, avoid watching tv, doing work, and other non-sleep things in bed.
Ditch the clock. We’ve all had this convo with ourselves. ”If I fall asleep RIGHT NOW I can get X hours of sleep.” If you have a physical clock, turn it away from the bed or put it out of sight. Same with your phone if you’re using that to check the time (plus, you should be avoiding screen-time anyway).
Regularity. Go to sleep and wake up at the same time everyday. Even weekends (I know, that SUCKS).
Sleep naked. Going without pajamas helps ensure that your body temperature doesn't get too high and can lead to longer, deeper sleep.
Get kinky. Sex & sleep go hand in hand. More sex helps you sleep, and more sleep boosts your sex drive. Instead of lying in bed, worrying about why you can’t fall asleep, turn to your partner and let the fun begin.
Get up. If you find yourself tossing and turning for more than 20-30 mins, get out of bed and do something boring or relaxing in a dimly lit area, then try again!
Give yourself a bedtime routine. Here are some things you can include:
Read a book.
Drink non-caffeinated tea (like chamomile).
Count sheep. (I like to count backwards from 100 and start over if I lose count. I rarely make it to 0).
Have your partner give you a massage. Focus on pressure points like feet, neck, shoulders, and lower back.
Journal. It helps to get things off your mind and onto paper. You could write about your day, jot down a to-do list for the next day, or use a guided journal with prompts.
Bathe. A hot bath 1-2 hours before bedtime will raise your body temperature. The drop in temperature when you get out will help your body feel tired. If you want to amplify the relaxing qualities of your bath, add bath salts. You can buy them or make your own. If you prefer to shower, lukewarm is the way to go. I like to use shower steamers for an aromatherapeutic component.
Tips For Caregivers
Nap. Sleep when the baby sleeps. Leave those dishes in the sink, sis.
Get help at night. Pump during the day so that you can give your partner or a friend/family member some baby duties at night and catch a few extra Z’s. Sharing bedtime responsibilities with your partner will be better for your relationship and help with postpartum depression.
If you don’t pump or don’t have help, place the crib near your bed so it’s easier to quickly soothe your baby at night and get back to bed without walking around the house.
My sleep habits have become a cue for me to check in with myself. I’m still a work in progress. If I follow my routine and still can’t sleep, something is really bothering me and something has to give. I have to take the time to figure out what it is, then determine if it’s something that I should deal with tomorrow or stay up and risk being a mombie the next day. Good luck coming up with a routine that works for you. Like with everything we do to better ourselves, practicing sleep hygiene takes work, consistency, and trial and error. Be patient with yourself.
If you give it a serious shot and nothing helps, consult your doctor to rule out a sleep disorder.
Are we missing some sleep rituals from our list? Leave a comment below to let us know!
Wellness is Dope,
About the Author
Shannon is the Founder and CEO of Welstand Boutique, a website dedicated to promoting proactive wellness through blogs and free resources. She also creates natural products for the mind, body, and spirit for Welstand’s online shop. When she isn’t working, she enjoys spending time with her husband and toddler, traveling, trying new foods, and watching way too much TV. Her guilty pleasures are ice cream and all things Beyonce. You can follow her on instagram @welstandboutique or shoot her an email to say “hey!” or ask questions at: email@example.com