In a perfect world, we’d all be peacefully tucked up in bed by 9.30pm, relaxed and ready to sleep a solid eight hours. Meanwhile, our perfect children would have happily trotted off to bed and drifted into happy dreams.
Ha! If only we lived in that perfect world, right?
If you’re anything like me, your evenings are filled with wrangling kids, getting stuff done after they’ve finally–after one more story, one more drink of water–gone to sleep and maybe even stealing a few moments to yourself before lights out.
For me, the past few years have included giving birth twice, parenting alone, and navigating a separation and divorce – yep, I’ve lost a lot of sleep! It’s been an emotional, stressful and busy ride to say the least. Hello and welcome to single parenthood! The good news? It doesn’t have to be that way. You can be rested, restored and ready to take on solo parenting.
Why do we need sleep?
Simply put, sleep is how the body shuts down, rests and restores. It’s also, surprisingly, the way to “solidify and consolidate memories,” according to the National Sleep Foundation. “In fact, our bodies all require long periods of sleep in order to restore and rejuvenate, to grow muscle, repair tissue, and synthesise hormones.”
Sleep is essential to your health, mental state and well-being–particularly while you’re navigating a split or single parenthood.
Be accountable for your sleep
Here’s the thing: I don’t think I’ve ever actually stopped to consider the bigger issue surrounding why I don’t get a good night’s sleep. It’s so easy to blame my lack of sleep on the gazillion external pressures in my life today.
But are these external pressures really the issue?
Let’s talk about accountability. Accountability for our health, for our well-being, and for the type of person we want to be for our children, our friends and our community.
You may find this a silly question but please indulge me: have you ever made a conscious decision to put yourself to bed at a reasonable hour each night?
Or, like me, is your decision to go to bed always driven by how tired you feel after a long day with the kids, how much work you still have to do, or how early you have to get up in the morning?
Or, even! Just throwing this one out there… do you allow all the little voices in your head–the ones that replay the day’s events and worry about tomorrow’s–to dictate when you can go to sleep? Oh, boy! These little critters were probably the biggest reason I lost sleep. But you know what? It’s absolutely ok to acknowledge them and tell them you’ll deal with them in the morning. It’s not easy but if I can do it, so can you.
If your answer to either of the last two paragraphs is ‘yes’, then it’s time – really time – to get accountable for the awesome (and FREE) gift of your sleep.
Embrace your night-time visitors
Getting to bed at a reasonable hour is not the only challenge for single parents. I know! You are also tasked with flying solo to attend to the numerous toilet stops, temperature checks, vomit clean-ups, bad dreams and wet beds throughout the night… not to mention being sole handler of those insanely early risers.
There’s not much that can be done about this – after all, you have children! Like everyone tells me, ‘It won’t last forever’. But geez, it feels like forever when you’re in the thick of it.
My only advice is, that if you know you’ll get night-time visitors, take an earlier mark at the start of the night to play catch up–just get yourself to bed at a really uncool hour.
Now, before I go on, let’s just say one thing: the stressful events surrounding a separation, divorce and single parenthood can often result in the onset of a sleep disorder called Insomnia. If this is a condition you’re familiar with, this post will be invaluable for you. However, it is also advised that you seek medical advice to ensure your overall health and well-being is maintained.
So, how do you get better sleep?
Watch the clock
Don’t eat for at least two hours prior to bedtime, otherwise you’ll encourage insulin release and interfere with the correct hormonal cascade at night. It’s true: our bodies have different hormones for day and night body function. That’s why getting to sleep on time and waking with the sun (if possible – okay, if you have kids it’s obviously no problem!) is also very important.
Prepare as much as you can for the day ahead. Lay out school uniforms and clothes, pre-pack lunch boxes, set the breakfast table (just don’t stay up late to get this stuff done, okay?). List morning and afternoon chores on a wall chart for your little (or not so little) ones to help out and keep the household running smoothly.
Put it on paper
For years now I have kept a notebook and pen beside my bed. Why? Because I always have a million things running through my mind at night. “Must do this”, “remember that”, “ring this person”. So, just before bed, I note down all of my thoughts, questions, ideas, to-dos etc, and am able to sleep soundly knowing that I won’t forget any of them.
DO NOT start a text conversation after dinner that could wait until the next day. Period.
Work in your work outs
Exercise is key to a healthy lifestyle, helps to reduce stress, and can definitely improve the quality of your sleep, too. With one exception: high-intensity cardio workouts late in the day can disrupt sleep. Save your runs and step classes for the morning or afternoon and try a couple of gentle stretches before bed instead.
Turn the lights down low
Dim the lights in the hour before bed. The onset of darkness helps our brain release the hormone melatonin, which helps with the healthy timing of our sleep.
Make a rule to avoid close and personal screen time with your phone or tablet for a couple of hours before bed. Hard, I know (but it really is best not to stalk your ex on Facebook). The blue light that screens emit can interrupt sleep patterns and circadian rhythms. Early research also shows that overexposure to blue light can contribute to eye strain and discomfort. That can trigger serious conditions later in life such as age-related macular degeneration, which can lead to blindness.
Detox your bedroom
Remove all wireless and electrical devices from the bedroom. Replace your clock radio with a good old-fashioned alarm clock – and mobile devices in the bedroom overnight are a big N-O. The electromagnetic radiation produced by these appliances creates a resonant stress on the human body, which directly affects our organs, glands, hormones and emotional states. Tiny luminous rays from a digital alarm clock can be enough to disrupt the sleep cycle even if you do not fully wake. The light turns off a “neural switch” in the brain, causing levels of a key sleep chemical to decline within minutes.
Bedtime rituals can be a little more fun than brushing your teeth. Have a cup of Chamomile tea. Play some peaceful music or a guided meditation for deep sleep – easy to find on YouTube or apps like Headspace (play it from the next room). Or diffuse essential oils, adding them to a bath or rubbing on the soles of your feet.
Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day – weekdays and weekend, if possible. Even if you’ve had a bad night’s sleep, wake up at the same time, and reset. Give yourself a gentle reminder: set a recurring alert on your phone for 30 mins prior to your desired bed time to start preparing for bed. And a second five minutes before bed when you drop everything and hop into bed.
Lower the room temperature near to bed time. Sleep expert Matthew Walker says the optimal temperature for sleeping is 18.5 degrees (68 degrees Fahrenheit). He says, “our body and brain needs to drop in temperature to initiate a good sleep.” Hence the reason it’s difficult to get to sleep on a really hot night.
Avoid alcohol & caffeine
Alcohol is considered a “sedative” drug, which is why many would argue that alcohol is in fact good before bed because it puts you to sleep. Unfortunately, all it does is knocks your brain out – it does not put you into a natural sleep, which is what you really need. Matthew Walker says, “Alcohol will fragment your sleep and you wake up many more times throughout the night. It is a potent chemical for blocking your dream sleep otherwise known as your rapid eye movement sleep.”Caffeine, on the other hand, is known as a “stimulant” drug. It can keep us awake. It’s an alerting chemical. “The issue with Caffeine is to do with the depth of sleep you have when there is caffeine within your brain,” says Walker. You don’t dive as deep in the stage of ‘deep sleep’ as you would when you’ve abstained from that cup of coffee. “When you wake up the next morning you feel unrefreshed and not only do you not remember waking up or having a difficult time falling asleep but now you find yourself reaching for two or three more cups.”
Code your brain for sleep
Sleep experts say our brains learns very quickly and will quickly create new code designed to keep our bodies awake in bed if that’s the state of being it recognises. The best thing to do if you are not able to get to sleep, is to get out of bed, grab a book (not a device!) and sit in a chair with the lights down low. Read until you are tired then return to bed. It’s a process of re-coding our brains association with bed and sleep. If you don’t wish to hop out of bed, meditating will work too.
I’d love to know which of these tips may have helped you to get a better night’s sleep, or about any others that you may wish to share. Let us know in the comments below!
If you’re currently facing the reality of a breakup, separation, divorce, co-parenting journey or are a victim of domestic abuse, there’s now an app to help you save time, money and your energy. It helps you document absolutely everything that you need to – information, communication and evidence – so you’re ready for whatever legal obligations that may arise.
If you need extra support, download my FREE e-book, 5 Separation & Divorce Hacks. It’s packed with helpful tips and advice from those who’ve been right where you are now. It will help you go in the right direction faster, and less painfully. Download it here.
You’re doing just fine. Take it one day at a time. And remember, be especially kind to yourself.
Founder | Hello Mojo