Sleep Training for Tired Moms

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Guest Blogger: Carly Banks, The Habit

It’s no wonder helping your baby sleep has become an industry. There are endless books and articles. There’s the Extinction method, Ferberizing, the Chair Method, Fading, Pick-Up-Put-Down, Rock to Sleep, Nurse to Sleep, Co-sleeping. And exhausted moms nationwide are googling them all through squinted eyes at 2am.

With my daughter, in a state of fatigue never before experienced by my husband and I, we went with the Ferber method (otherwise known as “Cry-It-Out”). And you know what? It worked like a charm! After two nights of crying, that little baby girl figured out how to fall asleep on her own, and slept 13 hours, and has done ever since.

Now my son is a different story. We tried to follow the same path as we had with our girl. He was having none of it. He’d cry for… for forever. He’d cry until he fell asleep, and then wake 2 hours later to cry some more. This method just plain didn’t work for him. And it left me feeling devastated.

Because let’s talk about why we ‘sleep train’ our kids. Did I want to do it because they were always tired, or cranky, or seeming like they weren’t well rested? No. But my lord that’s exactly how I would’ve described myself in those days!

Halfway through my son’s first year I was a complete train wreck. I walked around with this look on my face – like resting bitch face doesn’t even describe it. It was like resting sad and hateful face. From the moment I woke up, I felt painfully overwhelmed. I spent the days waiting for night, and the nights…. just wishing to speed up time and get past this chapter of our lives. The baby took all my energy, and I had zero left for my daughter or my husband, let alone myself. This lack of self care manifested into anxiety, constant negative thoughts, lack of control. It felt like I was on the edge of a mental breakdown.

The world – my world – revolved around me and my issues. I was so unhappy that it was impossible for my family to be happy. My mental state left me short of patience for my sweet daughter. Expectation after expectation was put upon her to act beyond her years, to help mommy. Fatigue and overwhelm fostered feelings of resentment toward my husband. We fought constantly. Every night was a struggle, which brought him to speak the very clear and very simple statement “I’m tired of hearing you say I’m tired.”. And I was tired of it too.

I was in such a lonely place. So out of control, yet, as a mom, needing to be in control of everything.

As I sat in my son’s room that night, not making eye contact with him, just rocking and wishing he’d go back to sleep, and guiltily harboring the blame I put upon him for turning my family upside down, it finally dawned on me. The problem wasn’t them. It was me. I needed to get myself under control. I needed to find a way to get my energy back, no matter what my son was doing. There had to be a better way, because otherwise I was headed down a very dark path.

That was like 9 months ago, but it feels like a lifetime. When I took control of my situation, and focused changing some of my habits, it didn’t matter how often my son woke in the night. I figured out how to care for myself, how to fall asleep easier, and sleep deeper, I stopped struggling to fall back to sleep after each night waking. So here I’m going to share with you some of the things I changed in regard to my sleep, that wielded immediate results.

Here’s a hint** it has nothing to do with your baby

1 – Rest, Don’t Digest

The teachings of Ayurveda explain that our bodies function best when we are in tune with circadian rhythms, or ‘natural cycles of the day’. Part of that natural rhythm is to sleep when the moon is up, be awake when the sun is up, and eat our biggest meal when the sun is highest in the sky. Our digestive fires burn their hottest when the sun is burning it’s brightest, and as the sun sets, our digestive system slows, to give energy to other system functions in the body. Late meals and late nights disturb this cycle and compromise the body’s ability to detox and restore efficiently.

Of course, this is no big deal when it happens on occasion. But when it happens for years, the liver can become congested and the body can build toxicity levels in the fat cells in the brain and throughout the body, leaving us with a groggy, hungover feeling in the morning.

So here’s the tip:

Close your kitchen after dinner. Aim to be finished your meal at least three to four hours before you go to bed. The ideal time to eat is 5-530. See how close to that you can get. Going to bed when the bulk of your digestion has occurred gives your body an opportunity to restore efficiently, and you’ll wake feeling more vibrant and refreshed.

2 – Turn Off The Tech

This is probably no surprise for any of you, that this would be on my list. On the news, in the paper, on your facebook feed – we hear about the effects of screen time at bedtime a ton. And it needs to be said again, especially for moms who hang out in front of a screen during their ‘me time’. I recently conducted a survey for new moms; Of the 165 women that responded, over 90% said they watch TV or browse social media to “relax” before bed. But here’s the issue with digital devices before dreamtime:

They Suppress Melatonin. The blue light emitted by screens on cell phones, computers, tablets, and televisions restrict production of melatonin, the hormone that controls your sleep/wake cycle or circadian rhythm. Reducing melatonin makes it harder to fall and to stay asleep.

They Keep Your Brain Alert. It may seem relaxing to unwind or zone out to your favorite movie or show before bed, but it’s keeping your mind engaged, and tricking your brain into thinking that it needs to stay awake. And if you’re reading emails that require a response, seeing something that evokes negative emotion on Facebook or in the news, or just pushing through to the end of this episode because what’s happening is so epic, those experiences can make it hard to relax and settle into sleep. Your mind needs time to unwind.

Poor quality sleep has been linked to obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Suppression of melatonin is a proven cause of an increased risk of cancer.

Basically, turn that sh*t off like your life depends on it.

So Here’s tip 2:

Turn off your screens at least an hour before bedtime. If you still want an opportunity to zone out from your thoughts, reach for a book instead. Then at least you’re not staring at the blue screen of death. And if you’re having trouble parting ways with your tech, Do like I did and accidentally toss your tablet in the bathtub (That happened. And I was seriously devastated, and then had the best sleep ever. And then never bought a new tablet and never will)

3 – Listen to Your Body

Coming back to Ayurvedic teachings, between 6 and 10pm our energy hormones, adrenaline and cortisol levels, are coming down. If you’re anything like me (which I’m guessing most of you are), you feel a wave of fatigue sweep over you somewhere between 8:30 and 9:30, and sometimes earlier than that. I used to feel completely wiped at 8pm sometimes. The kids had gone to bed by then, and i’d be just finishing up the evening tasks of tidying or lunch prep.

My brain would say “Oh my gosh I’m exhausted. Can’t wait to lie down and watch my show.” And my body was like “Umm hold up baby mama, did you not get the memo? I’M EXHAUSTED!”

But for some reason we feel this need to ‘treat ourselves’ to these things that don’t serve us once the kids have gone to bed. We push down the tired feelings to get in a little more “me time”. We ignore the fatigue until we hit that 9:30 or 10pm second wind, that makes it even harder to fall asleep.

So here’s tip 3:

Try paying attention to your body’s signals, and going to bed when your body wants to!

4 – No Talking Dirty!

And by that I mean no slinging mud ladies. The evening hours, from 6-10pm, are a sacred time – Kapha time. This time is best used for cohesiveness, for connection. A time for relaxed conversation, love and laughter. This is NOT the optimal time of day for serious conversations and strategizing.

So here’s tip 4:

Save the budget planning and other more serious conversations for the weekend or daytime. Use the evenings for mini dates with your husband, creative play with the kids, relaxing laughter with a friend. Things that fill us up, without boiling us over.

Somehow ‘TIRED’ becomes a bad word, especially when you’re using it all day like I was. But now, feeling tired is one of my favorite things! When I start to experience waves of fatigue in the evening, I know that bedtime is coming- and I lean right into it. I have a bedtime routine that sets the stage for deep, restorative sleep. And it feels sooooo good. Like, delicious is no longer a word reserved for food. Tiredness is super delicious.

How are you finding rest amongst the chaos of motherhood? Leave your comments below!


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