When our babies / children are finally sleeping through the night, parents can still sometimes have difficulty getting enough sleep. And yet sleep is essential if we are to function effectively during the day, remain calm and stay on the ball when dealing with our children.

From time to time everyone has a period when they find it difficult to nod off

So as parents, what can we do to get a good night’s sleep?

Preparation for a good night’s sleep

1. An early dinner

Eat a light dinner in the evening. If you are hungry before bedtime a light snack (such as a small cereal) or a handful of nuts will help you sleep

2. Daily exercise

Make sure you are tired – Spend some time outdoors each day and do some vigorous physical activity or exercise for 30-60 minutes during the day. Preferably 3-4 hours before bedtime.

3. Time to relax

A regular time for relaxation during the day is also useful- it trains your mind to expect periods of rest and rejuvenation and enables you to turn off the ‘internal chatter’ when needed. Meditation and yoga may be useful

4. A set bedtime

Plan a regular bedtime and stick to it where possible. Work out how much sleep you need and stick to a regular pattern such as 10pm to 7am, even at weekends if possible.

5. A set bedtime routine

Have a regular bedtime routine such as washing, teeth, toilet, reading (no thrillers or action books) then sleep.

6. Good bedroom ventilation

Make sure your bedroom is well-ventilated. Some people feel that a window open at night is essential for good sleep.

7. Comfortable temperature

Make sure your bed covers and night clothing allow you to feel not too hot and not too cold. For many, a slightly lower temperature at night (18oC) can aid restful sleep.

8. Block out noise

If noise is a problem consider earplugs that block out certain noises but still allow you to hear your alarm or baby monitor. Alternatively, you may need some ‘white noise’ such as a fan or white noise generator.

9. Resolve conflicts

Go to bed on good terms with your partner–make sure that any arguments are sorted and resolved before settling down to sleep. If that is not possible, arrange a time the following day where you can talk about differences calmly and find solutions.

10. No electronic devices near the bed

Remove sources of electromagnetic radiation close to your bed such as clock radios, mobile phones, phone chargers, coils of cables or computers.

11. Reduce caffeine

Try to keep the 4 hours before bed-time caffeine-free. This includes tea, coffee, coke and chocolate

12. Reduce salt and sugar, and increase magnesium

Try to adjust your diet to have less salt (scientifically proven to aid sleep), less sugar (especially before bed) and more magnesium-rich foods such as whole grains, beans, pulses, seeds, almonds, cashews and green leafy vegetables.

13. Sunlight in the morning

Some people find that trouble falling asleep is improved if they get more light exposure in the morning –such as going outside for a 30-minute early morning walk or investing in a lightbox.

14. Early naps

If you find yourself feeling sleepy during the day, have a power nap for 30 to 45 minutes in the early afternoon and make sure you don’t nap after 2pm.

15. Sleep cues

Work out what makes you drowsy –such as reading, listening to audiobooks or music –whatever works for you.

16. Making love

Sex before sleep can also help you nod off easily.

17. No electronics before sleep

Don’t watch TV or spend time in front of a computer for 30 minutes before bed. The bright lights and changing images stimulate the brain and reduce the production of melatonin, a chemical that helps you fall asleep

18. Bedroom suitable for sleep

 Make sure that your bedroom is designed for sleep –

  • A comfortable bed- (if you can’t afford a new mattress put a large board under the mattress)
  • A supportive pillow
  • Calm décor so you can completely relax
  • A low wattage light bulb
  • The ability to make the room completely dark at night (thick curtains, blackout blinds or alternatively an eye mask
  • Not used for studying or watching TV if possible

7 solutions if you can’t fall asleep …

When you are finding it really difficult to fall asleep try one or more of the following:

  1. A few drops of lavender oil on your pillow
  2. A herbal remedy to relax you such as valerian (1 hour before bedtime) or a melatonin supplement (30 minutes before bed)
  3. Listening to a relaxation CD, guided visualisation or slow gentle music
  4. Tensing and relaxing each part of your body progressively from your toes to your face
  5. Having a small drink such as Horlicks or chamomile tea
  6. If your mind is full of worries or thoughts –write them down, and plan a time to sort things out the following day. It will save you worrying about them in the night. If you wake up in the night worrying, have a pen and pencil by your bedside to jot down your concern so you can get back to sleep.
  7. Lie down in a comfortable position. Close your eyes and tell yourself that if you can’t sleep then rest and relaxation are the next best thing. Breathe deeply through your nose and let your breaths out slowly. Notice any tension in your body and consciously relax that area. If your mind is still active think of a lovely scene such as lying on a warm beach or on a recliner in a beautiful garden or peaceful meadow. And just surrender to relaxation.

If you are consistently finding it difficult to fall asleep it may be sensible to see your GP. After more than a month of difficulty sleeping a referral to a doctor specialising in sleep may be advisable. On the other hand, you may consider trying an alternative therapy such as acupuncture, acupressure, homoeopathy, Chinese medicine or aromatherapy.

The author:

Elizabeth O’Shea is a parenting specialist child behaviour expert and one of the leading parenting experts in the UK.

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