Is Stress Ruining Your Sleep?

If you’re like most folks, the summer means more than just picnics, sitting by the pool, and vacations. It can also mean stress. Stress of hosting picnics, keeping your pool or outdoor areas looking nice, and planning those wonderful vacations. And if you’re a parent, then you can add a gazillion other things onto your summer to-do list! How on Earth are you going to keep your children entertained all summer long? If they go to daycare or camp in the summer that’s about half the battle. And if not, you can double your load then! Regardless, all kids want to know (and expect) that you’ll be doing a few fun things throughout the summer.

With all that stress, it’s no wonder that the quality and/or quantity of your sleep might take a backseat to all these festivities. When we’re feeling stressed out or overwhelmed, it definitely affects how quickly we fall asleep and whether or not we stay asleep all night. For some people, it means that you will have a terrible time “shutting your brain off” so you can get some sleep. As soon as you close your eyes, your mind seems to turn on and start running in a hundred different directions. Pretty hard to sleep when you’re planning your entire vacation in your head! For other people, you’re so exhausted that you fall right to sleep without any issues…well, not initially anyway. But come 4am, your eyes just pop right open, or a trip to the bathroom turns into a bout of insomnia for the remainder of the night. Either way the result is the same…your brain is back in full gear and your done sleeping for the night. It’s super frustrating, when all you really want to do is get some shut eye! So what can you do about this? Here are 3 things that you can do to help…

1) Take 10 minutes during the day: Stress doesn’t just happen before or during sleep. It is there all day long, manifesting itself in everything you do. It’s there when there’s no more coffee (ahhhhh!); it’s there when you can’t find your favorite pair of shoes (gasp!); it’s there when you can’t find your keys and you’re going to be late for work or an appointment (w&t!@#); and it’s there when you discover the dog ate your toast when your back was turned (grrrrr!). Yes, we have stress all day long, though it tends to build up throughout the day and settle in for the night when we’re trying to do the same. One way to combat these stressful situations is to take some time each day for yourself…to take a pause, breathe, calm down, and “reset” yourself. It’s super simple to do, and it can make a big difference in how you feel!

2) Using relaxation techniques: During those 10 minutes, find ways to decompress or “let go”. For instance, you might take a walk or a jog to clear your head. Or you might try deep breathing through your nose, letting that crisp (preferably outdoor) oxygen fill your nose, brain, and body. Or you can listen to a short guided meditation or guided imagery piece. We all have 10 minutes in our day to spare (or even 5 minutes if you can’t do 10 right away), so make this a priority in your day and see if it helps you to feel better by bedtime.

Use these same techniques should you have trouble falling asleep or going back to sleep in the middle of the night. Clearing your mind will help you find the peace and sleep you’re looking for. Using these simple techniques can help you clear your mind and turn your brain off!

3) Keep a positive journal/to-do list: For some reason, men typically have a hard time with this one. I’m not saying you need to keep a diary like a teenage girl might do. I’m saying that writing down positive things that occurred throughout your day can be a very nice way to end your evening. You know that old saying, “don’t go to bed mad”? Well, I’m pretty sure they said that because it’s nearly impossible to do so! Did you ever try to fall asleep with a frown on your face? It doesn’t work! We can’t sleep like that! So even if your day was miserable…you were late to work because of traffic, your son spilled milk all over the freshly washed kitchen floor, your daughter got pen on your brand new shirt, your spouse accidentally deleted your favorite TV show from your DVR lineup, and the cat knocked over your glass of wine…you have to let it all go before bed! Find something positive to say about the day and write it down. For instance, you got complimented by your boss or by your spouse, the kids played together nicely for a whole hour, you finally got to sit down and watch a TV show that wasn’t animated, your mom complimented your parenting methods, you finally got to have that long-awaited get-together with your old high school friend, or your child told you he loved you for no reason other than he really does love you. Whatever it is, we can all find something positive about our days, so again take the opportunity to focus on the good, happy, positive things before bed and you’ll have a much easier time drifting off to sleep with a smile on your face instead of a frown.

The second part of this is keeping a to-do list. Men and women alike keep to-do lists. Some of us have a list on the fridge, some of us have them in our phone or computers, and some of us have them somewhere in our head. Having them written or typed up somewhere is the best way to go, though a lot of us fall into the last category of having things in our heads only. The problem with this is that overnight while our bodies are asleep, our brains are hard at work. They are “cleaning up” in there, where they’re transferring some thoughts to long-term memory and discarding other short-term memories. If you didn’t think enough about taking out the trash throughout the day, there’s a good chance that thought will disappear by morning. You have two choices here:

1) think about taking out the trash all day long

2) write it down on your to-do list so you can stop thinking about it all day

Clearly, writing it down would be the best solution. By the time we go to bed, we tend to have tons of small, trivial things like this on our mind, which clouds our brain and makes it hard to fall asleep. Or worse yet, just as you’re ready to actually fall asleep, your eyes pop back open thinking about something you need to get done tomorrow. Then you try to keep thinking about it to ingrain it in your brain so that it will be there in the morning. Instead of doing all of that, just write it down before bed. You can make it part of your bedtime routine each night, so it’s the last you do before bed and the first thing you see in the morning, if you want to look at it immediately. The point is that it’s off of your mind once it’s written down, then the stress you have about those things is gone, which makes it much easier for you to fall asleep and stay asleep all night.

 

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*Note: If you need further help with your sleep, click here to set up your free 15min phone assessment. Then, you can fill me in about your sleep issues, and I can tell you if/how I think I can help you. You can also check out my Adult Sleep Services page for more information!

Why Can’t I Just Feed My Child To Sleep?

Feeding-to-sleep is hands-down the #1 sleep prop there is (a sleep prop is anything a child uses to get to sleep, including you). Why? Well, let’s face it, when a baby is born we will feed our child and then they will almost always immediately fall asleep. Who’s going to complain about that?! The process works really well for our newborns…feed, then sleep. Now, you’re likely wondering why you wouldn’t want to always feed your child until they fall asleep when it works so well. Let me explain.

Let’s imagine you just had a precious baby girl. You’re happily nursing your new baby and things are going great. Because you’re recovering and working on your bond with your daughter, you’re happy to devote every second of your day nursing and caring for your new baby. Your baby’s sleep at this age of life is pretty simple. One minute she’s awake, then she’s drowsy while she’s feeding, then BAM! she’s out like a light! Not only is she out cold, but’s she’s quickly in a deep sleep. This is when she’ll make all of those adorable little faces, smiling, pouting, startling, laughing, etc. This is also when you can do things like make noises, talk loudly, and transition her somewhere else (ie her crib, pack-n-play, bouncer, etc). It can be a beautiful thing! So why am I telling you not to do this?!

Again, this process works great for newborns, or the first 3 months of age. The problem comes around the 4th month. At this point, your daughter’s sleep stops having quite so much deep sleep and it starts to now have more light sleep (about 50% in fact). The light sleep appears right after that drowsy stage, so now when she first falls asleep she stays in a light sleep for a bit. If you go to transfer her over to the crib now, you’ll likely wake her back up and need to start all over again. Many moms are often shocked to find out one day that transferring to the crib no longer works – I know I was! When that happens, you do one of three things: 1) pick your child back up and re-feed, 2) pick your child back up and rock/pat/bounce/walk, or 3) try to pat them back to sleep while they’re still in the crib (that was me – the patter).

This newfound “sleep milestone” (having sleep cycles that now mirror those of adults) often feels pretty terrible to the parents who have likely been seeing nice, long sleep stretches up until this point. To most parents, this feels like a step backwards, or a regression (hence the term 4 month regression), rather than a milestone! Now, this wouldn’t feel like that if your child knew how to put themselves to sleep. If you either taught your child independent sleep skills before this, or you got lucky and just have a child who is already good at doing this, then you wouldn’t ever see this “regression”. Unfortunately though, unless you’ve been through this before or are a sleep consultant and know what you’re doing, you’re not likely going to try super hard to create this scenario from early on because again life is good those first few months!

You’re not likely going to want to “rock the boat” of feeding-to- sleep. Nope, most don’t. Most parents are willing to take a gamble to see if they’re going to be one of the lucky ones who have a child who just sleeps like a champ without having to put any work into it. And when I say lucky that’s exactly what I mean. You know all those moms who like to tell you that their little Joey sleeps like a champ since he was 8 weeks old, or their little Mary has always been an awesome sleeper? Well, they’re either lucky or they’re lying! I was one of the lucky ones – once. I fed my first daughter to sleep every single night and she still started sleeping through the night at 3 months old. I’d like to say that I knew what I was doing, but I didn’t. I was young, naive, and lucky! I was not so lucky with the next 3 though, so I quickly learned that not all kids are created equally when it comes to sleep!

So what if you don’t want to gamble with your luck? What if you’d like to help ensure that you get a child who doesn’t go through any “regressions” at 4 months old? Well, today’s your lucky day, because I can tell you the secret to success! Ready? Well, it’s pretty simple. Stop transferring your child to their crib AFTER they’ve fallen asleep! The whole trick is that they have to already be in their crib BEFORE they’re asleep. Then you’re no longer trying to do a slow and steady transfer and ninja crawl out of the room when they’ve just fallen asleep. Now they will already be in their crib and can fall asleep without being moved or disturbed. They can also fall asleep seeing where you are or aren’t and where they are. As you might imagine, it can be a little disheartening to fall asleep safe and snug in your mama’s arms, only to wake up to a cold, hard reality that is your crib! And they will wake up eventually, because we all do.

Every time we transition sleep cycles (about 1.5hrs for preschoolers and up; about 45mins for babies and toddlers; about 20mins for newborns), we come to a light phase of sleep and take note of our surroundings. If everything is the same as it was when we fell asleep, then we will slip right into the next sleep cycle. However, if something has changed (like you were there and now you’re not), then it gives us a reason to fully wake up. And once they’re fully awake, how are they going to be able to get back to sleep? You guessed, they will need YOU once again to do what you did before (ie feed, pat, rock, bounce, lay with them, etc). It can be quite a vicious cycle all night long! Just another reason why our babies need to learn how to fall asleep on their own.

See, I told you it was simple! Simply said, at least. Putting this into action is another story! I know it’s easier said than done, but if you can pull it off, you can save yourself and your child a lot of long, sleepless nights and a lot of crying. For those of you thinking that I’m talking about sleep training a newborn, I’m not. I wouldn’t advise actual sleep training for a child less than 4 months old, however, I fully believe in “sleep teaching”.

Look, when our babies are born, they come out with a pretty clean slate. We help them create their normal, their routine. What if you took some time to work on things from early on? What if you didn’t allow your child to fall asleep feeding each and every time? Making some small, simple changes to what you teach your newborn early on can be the difference between you being a lucky mama or one that’s calling me in a few months or years to help you fix your child’s sleep issues. You don’t have to wait to see if you’re going to be one of the lucky ones. You can create your own luck with a little time and minimal effort.

*For more information about my Prenatal Sleep Package (includes pregnant couples and parents of babies aged 0-7 weeks), you can click here. It includes babies already born up through 7 weeks of age, because I don’t believe you need to start from day 1 in order to get good results. You can still work on your healing, bonding, and nursing your babies in the first 6 weeks or so, and then make some changes. Don’t worry, if you “missed the mark” on sleep teaching, you can still sleep train your child now. I have packages for newborns (8wks -4mos), babies (5mos-2.5yrs in a crib), toddlers/preschoolers (2.5-5yrs old in a bed), school aged children (6-12yrs old), and teens (13 and up). It’s never too late to teach good sleep skills! Feel free to set up your free 15min call today to see how I could help you and your family.

Visit our friends over at Positive Health Wellness for more great blogs and tips!

Exercise, Hydration, and Sleep

You might be wondering what exercising and hydration have to do with sleep. Well, actually it has a lot to do with it! As we’re getting ready to head into the hot summer months, I thought this was a great time to talk about these two things. I’m sure that you’re aware that as an adult, you should exercise to stay healthy and fit, right? So it’s no wonder that the same would be true for our kids. Besides the obvious fact that our children should exercise in order to stay healthy, it also helps them to sleep better. The more exercise they get throughout the day, the better they will sleep at night. They should fall asleep faster and also sleep more deeply.

The type of exercise they get really doesn’t matter, so long as their heart rate is up and their blood is pumping! For kids, the list of activity options is endless but I’ll give you some examples:

  • riding bike
  • running/skipping
  • jumping
  • swimming
  • playing sports
  • playing at the park or playground
  • dancing

And the list goes on and on! The best part is that you don’t usually have to do much as a parent to convince your child to get up and get moving (I wish it was as easy for adults)! What can be tricky to handle as a parent is the timing of the activities and staying hydrated. Let’s talk a minute about the timing, because that can be hard to control at times.

While exercising is great for sleep, it’s only great if it’s done earlier in the day. Ideally, for the best possible sleep, you would have your child be done exercising 6 hours before they would be going to bed. So if your child had a 7pm bedtime, then they would be done working up a sweat by 1pm. Now I realize that is totally unrealistic, as I don’t know many young kids who are going to sit around for 6 hours (nor do we want them to)!  The reason why has to do with the amount of time it takes for a person’s body temperature to return to normal. As soon as the body’s temperature returns to normal, it creates a natural feeling of sleepiness. So ideally, this is the best time to go to sleep.

Again, I know that’s not going to work for most kids under 13yrs old (teens have an easier time laying around). The main thing to avoid is having exercise too close to bed. The goal is to be done with the major sweat-inducing activities at least 3 hours before bedtime. By then most of the effects of the exercise (ie increased blood pressure, heart rate, and body temperature) have gone away altogether or dropped a considerable amount. Having 4 kids in sports right now myself, I know what you’re thinking… “but their sports and activities go on so late in the night!” I hear ya! I get pretty annoyed myself at how late these practices and games are (even on school nights)! I may or may not have been “one of those parents” who has called the school to complain about the kids being required to attend a game at a late hour on a school night. Because let’s face it, it wasn’t just about my kid staying up too late. I had to stay up and go get her at a ridiculously late hour too (she’s in high school)!

We all know how hard it is to come home from being out somewhere and go immediately to bed (even if we weren’t doing anything physical). It’s no different for our kids! It’s really hard for them to run around a soccer field for 1-2 hours, then go home and immediately go to bed. They’re physically, mentally, and emotionally full of energy, thoughts, and feelings! The only upside is that they are sometimes so exhausted that they are ready to crash, but it really depends on the age and activity of the child. So you do what you can on these nights by keeping their bedtime routine, and trying to keep these late nights to a minimum.

Now on to hydration. When our kids are out there running around and working up a sweat, they are also losing a lot of water. How do you know how much fluids they should be getting each day? The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that children drink six glasses of water on an average day. Because children who are playing a sport or enduring a rigorous activity can lose up to a half-liter of fluid per hour, the AAP suggests about 5 ounces of water or a sports drink every 20 minutes for an 88-pound child (an ounce would be about two kid-size gulps). And kids and teens weighing about 132 pounds should drink 9 ounces.

Water makes up about 65% of our bodies, and it does some pretty fabulous things (ie carrying toxins out of the body, boosts your immune system, aids in digestion, improves skin conditions, increases energy, etc). Drinking water isn’t really an option. Humans NEED it to live! Dehydration is a serious issue and can kill you. It can also be a cause of a poor night of sleep.  Now, if your child doesn’t like drinking straight water, don’t worry because it isn’t the only way to get it. Water is also found in flavored drinks, fruits, and veggies, so keep that in mind while trying to keep your kiddos hydrated this summer!

 

*Remember, as always, you can schedule a free 15min phone call with me to discuss your child’s (or your) sleep issues. You can also check out my FREE page, filled with lots of free resources and tips!

Postpartum Anxiety and Parenting

Many new moms suffer from postpartum mood disorders: depression (PPD), anxiety/obsession compulsive disorder (PPA/OCD), or psychosis (PPP). While many of us have heard of PPD, sadly many will not hear about PPA, OCD, or PPP. PPA (and OCD) is one of those things that can “fly under the radar” a bit. Because you may not be sad or outwardly struggling like with PPD or PPP, it can be easy to miss; however, anxiety can be all-consuming! As a society, people tend to make light of the fact that a new mom who is worried often is just that…a new mom. We have probably all made a comment to someone or in our heads about how another mom is over reacting or worrying needlessly about small things (I know I have). We think, “she’s just that way because it’s her first child”. While that is often true, what if it was more? What if the tiny bit that mom shows us is just the tip of the iceberg? What if behind closed doors, she’s frantic about being able to produce enough breast milk so she’s pumping non-stop, is constantly moving her baby so they don’t get a flat spot, or is up most of the night watching her baby sleep because she’s deathly afraid that if she goes to sleep her baby may stop breathing?

Sadly, PPA is very common, yet usually undiagnosed. Looking back I know I had it with my first child. I was secretly paranoid about everything, especially with her sleep. Wrong as it was, I had her sleep in my bed at the hospital with me (this was 17 years ago so they allowed it then). I laid her next to me with the rails up and basically laid awake all night to make sure she was alright and breathing. She came home having jaundice, and therefore needed to be on a special machine. Needing to be hooked up like that added to my anxiety and caused me to be more aware of her during the night. I started with her in a bassinet across the room, then moved it right next to my bed because I had to keep getting up to check her breathing after I would hear a small sound or whimper. After a week of complete sleep deprivation, I knew I needed to do something. I had to sleep or else I was going to die (or at least that’s what it felt like).

I moved her to her own room after that, but with the monitor turned as high as it would go so I didn’t miss anything. It took me another few days to realize that wasn’t really working either. I finally turned down the monitor and we both did great. Thank goodness that I was blessed to have a very easy-going baby who would later start sleeping through the night by 3 months old! After I nearly died of a heart attack one morning when I woke up on my own instead of being woken up by a crying, hungry baby, I was ecstatic to realize that she had simply slept through the night without any wakings or feeds. Yes, I was one of those lucky mamas – you know, the ones you secretly hate – the first time around (don’t worry because I became unlucky years later when my twins were born).

But at the time it was a good thing she had such a great temperament, as I clearly had a lot of anxiety around her sleep! I was embarrassed to be like that, so I never told anyone what I was feeling or thinking. I was the kind of mom who wanted the world to think I knew it all already at the ripe old age of 24. Admitting I was having some difficulty would be like admitting defeat, so I chose to hide it all. I was lucky to get through those few months pretty unscathed, other than some sleep deprivation early on, but not everyone is so lucky. Many mamas will continue on like that for months, years, or indefinitely. Feeling and living like that can be very difficult for the entire family. Not only is mom usually physically and mentally exhausted, sleep deprived, and hyper-vigilant about everything her baby does, she’s often shutting out those closest to her. Her partner may be feeling left out, other family may be shut out, and even baby suffers as they are feeling the effects of a mom who’s not enjoying parenting as much as she would like to.

Things like postpartum mood disorders can alter us as parents, whether it’s just for a few weeks or months or even years. We may start out with intentions of being a certain type of parent, but then reality hits and quickly realize that we either can’t or no longer want to do those things. How many times have you said, “I’ll never be like that with my kids”, only to find yourself doing exactly that? Maybe you thought you would be a more strict parent, but then change your mind as soon as that precious baby is placed in your arms. Or maybe you thought you would be a bed-sharing family, only to realize that you, your partner, or your baby just don’t want to or can’t do it anymore? Don’t misunderstand, it’s completely normal to change your mind about things as time goes on. It only becomes a problem when you’re changing things because you feel like you don’t have a choice.

Whether it’s PPA, PPD, or OCD, these mood disorders can disrupt your life, but it doesn’t have to. I encourage you to seek help if you need it. Don’t be embarrassed, ashamed, or suffer in silence. There are many other mamas out there just like you! With a little help and guidance, you can still be the mama you want to be. In fact the vast majority of families I work with have at least one parent (usually the mom) suffering from anxiety, as well as the majority of adult clients I see. Of course, sleep deprivation will intensify your anxious feelings, so if you’re not sleeping well because of your child’s poor sleep, then please consider helping your child learn how to sleep independently (provided they’re at least past the newborn stage). Almost all of the parents I work with report feeling and sleeping much better after their little ones are sleeping through the night! If you’re a do-it-yourself type of mama, then you can check out my book All Things Sleep: Kids! and accompanying program levels. Or, if you are beyond wanting to read and just want help right now, then one of my one-on-one packages would work best. If you’re not sure what to do, the best thing to do is to set up a free 15min phone assessment, so we can chat about your unique situation! And if you’ve suffered from PPA, I’d love to hear from you – just post below!