For several years I have spoken about New Year’s Resolutions with a little disdain. Resolutions force us to look at how we should improve instead of focusing on all the things that we do already that are great. I would like to suggest that if we focused on the things we are good at we would be encouraged. But it is media madness season and wherever we look we are being told that if we just did this, or we SHOULD do that… I am all for more of the same in the things that are going well and making micro and manageable changes in the things I could do better at.
I started a podcast last year and my first season was all about tips, tips to help you through the holiday season, tips for: life, love and everything else. I am starting a new season and it is going to be all about habits. Habits that will make a difference to your everyday living and habits that have changed my life.
Some of my habits are life long and well ingrained, like reading every day. Others I have had to reteach myself over the last few years, like moving everyday. Some of my habits I totally lost in the midst of raising many small children and I have literally clawed them back and claimed as my own… like sleep!!!
Habit 1: Sustainable Sleep
Let’s start with sleep… the first thing I want to say is that sleep might be regarded by the world as a habit… it is not a habit, it is a necessity. It is essential to living but from the first moment that I had a child in my arms… I had a bigger priority than sleep… whatever my kids needed and whenever they needed me, I was there… twenty years later and I appeared to be a highly functioning sleep deprived individual.
It was only after a sleep study that showed me how bad my sleep habits were that I realised how deadly my sleep habits were. I am not slightly exaggerating. My poor sleep habits took me to the edge. I was convinced I was fine, and I appeared to be a rational and very realistic person. The truth of it was I was in denial. I no longer had an infant waking me every two hours to nurse, I no longer had toddlers calling me in the night. The truth of it was, I was so starved for my own time, that that heady joy, when my kids went to bed and I could collapse in a daze on the couch and do my own thing… in that space, I lost all control of good sleep.
I’ll tell you why… as your children get older, they naturally stay up later and later and to be honest, once your children are teenagers… they can go to sleep at two or three in the morning… well hello, if I wanted “my own space”… I was going to bed later and later. But I still had small children that were up and at first thing in the morning.
Let’s go back to the sleep study, I thought I was getting a couple of hours sleep a night… you know maybe not eight hours a night, but six to seven hours. I was so wrong. On a good night I was getting about two hours of interrupted sleep a night. I dived into sleep research and learned everything I possibly could about sleep. Basically with the level of sleep I was getting I should not have been performing a job, in fact that level of sleep is for prison of war camps and requires hospitalisation to recover from and I was living that… day in and day out.
Learning about sleep health and sleep habits was a great place to start… but my goodness so hard to implement. To be honest I found it hard to sleep longer than two hour slots… I need to exercise to help me to sleep longer… but I was so tired I couldn’t exercise… and this is where my exercise journey began… many steps folks, a walk around the block in the early evening. It took me a year to build up to six hours of continuous sleep… a year of going back to sleep when my sleep was disturbed, instead of getting up to check what woke me, not putting the light on, not checking my email. Going back to sleep when my sleep was disturbed was hard work for me… micro naps are one thing, but when they are your only sleep they are just not going to hack it.
Sleep is the biggest factor in every aspect of your life, it is your right… That myth that I had to be available for my teens to chat to me in the middle of the night or our relationships would fall apart… is just that, a myth. Honestly, while my kids were chatting to me in the middle of the night… it was more about: “Did I call the library?” “What’s for lunch tomorrow?” “Can they go over to a friend on the weekend?” Nothing important… nothing that couldn’t wait till the next day.
My first big change… was to actually skip the sitting on the couch till I fell into a doze… My first big sleep change was to actually go to bed… and this is where I had to fight for sleep… my kids could not believe that I wasn’t available 24/7… just to be clear, I am there for any emergency, like when the neighbours house was on fire (literally), but I am not available to condone your midnight feasts. I literally went to bed and put a pillow over my head to get to sleep. Since then I have been integrating better and better sleep habits into my life.
When we start trying to make changes in our lives… it is tricky, firstly the people around you need to know you are serious and it would be nice if they support you, but they might not. I think the change came when my kids started to realise that I was so much nicer when I had slept.
After my first year of sleep training, I was really impressed with myself, and thought I was one of those people that required less sleep than others… six hours and I was good to go. But if you have heard of sleep debt: When your body requires a certain amount of sleep and you get less sleep, there is a cumulative effect of sleep debt where you are not functioning optimally, when you find yourself nodding off at your desk, and fatigue is the obvious sign that you aren’t sleeping enough… I had to try harder to sleep more.
I had been exercising, but not enough, because as soon as I started training for a half marathon, my sleep jumped to seven hours a night… aaahhhh I thought I had found my sweet spot. And the following year I started swimming, and hit my sleep goal of eight hours a night. Some folk might run on caffeine, I know I used to have a coffee in the morning, so that I was strong enough to have my morning coffee… but now I run on sleep. Now, one night that I am under slept, and I am right back at a full night’s sleep the next night.
As an open water swimmer, folk often ask me, how do you train for so long, how do you keep going, how do you maintain the training week after week… I can say that my biggest training tip is sleep. When I start focusing on an event three of four months ahead. The first thing I do is make sure my sleep is in order, in fact, nine hours a night is not a problem when I am in the midst of training. You cannot train sufficiently if you are under slept, sleep is the key. Learn to love that feeling of being well slept, honestly that first cup of coffee in the morning, is nothing compared to waking up and being ready for the day.
That being said a lot of people have said to me… it doesn’t matter how much sleep they get they never wake up ready for the day. We have been sold a lie, you know those adverts that have people leaping from their beds in the morning ready for action… because they slept on a particular mattress, or they ate a particular breakfast cereal, you never see them make that cereal, just saying. Well I am just going to say, give your body a chance to transition from sleep to wakefulness, be gentle on yourself. Those first few minutes are transition time… don’t expect miracles in that time. Give yourself a chance to get going, it’s okay to shuffle for the first few minutes of the day… that doesn’t mean you are under slept, it is your body waking up. Be kind to it!!!
How to Get More Sleep
The question you might have is how on earth did I get myself to sleep better… firstly a few good nights sleep in years of sleep deprivation and the dramatic improvement to my overall well being motivated me to know that I needed to change. I didn’t realise how terrible I was feeling in my day to day… and that I could change everything around me, with something as simple and as freely available as sleep.
- Be the adult and go to bed: I know you can do just one more thing, but let it go and go to be bed. If your teenagers are still up, that’s on them… you be that adult in the house and get to bed.
- Leave your screen behind: My phone charges in the lounge and never goes near my bed. I read actual books before bed… no screens. In fact my phone goes into sleep mode an hour before I go to bed, so absolutely no alerts are coming near me. If my kids need me, they can call me… but that’s it.
- Best Sleep Practices: When you live with a house full of teenagers, especially teenagers in lockdown, the chances of a cool, dark and quiet room are quite remote… all I am saying is that I try. I did change our bed to a comfier one, I do make sure our bedding is comfy too… just a light sheet for instance, in summer makes all the difference on hot summer nights.
- Get up at the same time everyday: I don’t wake to an alarm, I wake when I am finished sleeping, if I have to be up early for a special reason, like training, then I will go to bed earlier. I refuse to lose sleep for training… that’s when I need more sleep in fact… so I go to bed earlier.
- Reset your body clock everyday: Living where we live, there is no reason not to get outside first thing and get some natural light into my eyes. This tells my brain everyday, that it is time to get up and at it… and it is so much easier at the end of the day for my body to know, it is time to wind down. This is not impossible… the first thing most of us do is grab a coffee… you don’t have to step into paradise, just sit on your front doorstep… the practice of getting natural light into your body is not just good for the soul, it is good for your wellbeing.
- And no screens after dinner: I used to do all my blogging in the evening after the kids were in bed… when I started to look at that more closely… a blog post could take me two or three nights to write, I can now find a fifteen minutes in the day… when I am alert and the job can be done, and so much better.
- Make sleep your top priority: Sleep is not something you might need more of, it is a necessity. Here’s an example, it is the night before a birthday and you haven’t started gift wrapping yet, let alone made a party cake, just go to bed. Trust me your kids would rather make their cake with their mum in a good mood the next morning, and open up a shopping bag full of surprises, than have perfect gift wrap and a mother nodding off in the corner. Your kids deserve your presence during the day, just as you deserve your sleep at night.
What’s Your Why
Have a good reason to sleep… it is not enough to say you need more sleep. Honestly, I am a massive sleep advocate… because I am a much nicer person to myself and the people around me when I have slept. At first I knew I needed better sleep for all the health reasons. The science has correctly demonstrated time and time again that we cannot live in a state of constant stress… you cannot lurch from one panic to the next, and that is sleep deprivation for you. Your body is trying to function at emergency levels, continuously… you will not be able to think straight, your body will not be able to metabolise all the good food you are feeding it, your body won’t be able to exercise optimally… basically you are taking years off your life.
Sleep is a free and quick fix to improve your daily life, right here and right now. Trust me on this… and what about that illusive “me time” that I was so desperately looking for, that started this whole downward spiral… we all need me time, not just myself, but my kids too… if I need to take a break, I can… I can just say so. My kids don’t have to be sleeping, I can say after lunch, I am taking half an hour off. I’ll be outside gardening, they are welcome to join me but they tend not to!!! Turns out, the better I sleep, the nicer I am (NOT KIDDING), and the less my kids demand or need my attention every second of every day.
I can say to the moms of infants, hang in there, your kids won’t always need you every second of every day… you will get your me time back, and it will be so much sweeter than a semi-comatose collapse on the couch, if you are not living in the trap of sleep deprivation. If you are not in the season of infant care… I am going to say, you have the time to get good sleep… one less episode a night, one less round of your favourite game online. Give it up for sleep… and thank me later.
The very least you can do is gift yourself one or two nights a week where you commit to going to bed at the same time as your kids. Leave the mess and sleep… in the morning those chores that normally take hours in the evening will be done in minutes, you will have the energy to do them. This is where I started… one night a week, then two… and I started to feel so very much better on the days after I was well slept that I wanted that every day… I was able to make the switch. Be kind to yourself and gift yourself one or two full nights a week of solid sleep… I guarantee you will want more of them and will do anything to get that sleep fix and all those sleep habits back in order.
Se7en + 1 Previous Posts I Have Written on Sleep
- Can we Talk About Restorative Sleep?
- There is More to Sleep Than Getting to Bed on Time…
- Learning More About Sleep, for World Sleep Day…
- Se7en Discovers Realistic Sleep, Screen Time and Exercise Expectations for Kids…
- Se7en Steps to Getting Your Sleep Back on Track…
- Let’s Talk About Gym, and Healthy Weight and Especially Sleep…
- Se7en Survives Sleep Deprivation…
- Se7en Thoughts About Babies and Sleep…