Let me start this article by saying that I am in no way an authority on sleep.
See those blood shot eyes? They tell many tales of sleepless nights and exhausted days.
While driving home one afternoon I was listening to CBC (Go Canada, go!) radio.
Wendy Hall, a sleep researcher and professor of nursing at the University of British Columbia was being interviewed. She was explaining a recent study done on children who don’t sleep well and the affects that it has on their parents.
While the results weren’t terribly surprising, they did validate every feeling I’ve had over the past 10 sleepless years of my life.
What happens to Mom and Dad when baby doesn’t sleep?
There’s a reason that researchers suggest a certain number of hours of zzz’s per night for different age groups. When we sleep our minds repair, our souls rest, and our bodies bounce back. All of these things are crucial refreshers for all people, including parents.
Unfortunately, many of us with children don’t get the adequate amount of sleep that’s necessary for us to reap the benefits of a deep slumber. We end up turning our auto-pilot on and carrying out our duties for the day in a state of zombie-dom, relying heavily on anything containing caffeine.
Wendy Hall and her research have shown a direct correlation between a lack of sleep and depression in parents. As the loss of sleep increases, so do the thoughts of frustration and anger towards the child. The negative thoughts that are felt translate into the parent feeling self-doubt in their abilities. This feeling of inadequacy takes a toll on the parent’s mental health. The affects become evident in their parenting skills which begin to be less effective. Worry and guilt set in, even more sleep is lost, and the cycle is perpetuated.
Some may assume that this pattern applies mostly to women due to hormonal shifts of pregnancy and birth.The research that was done, however, showed that men were affected as well. Whether there was a pre-cursor for post partum depression or not, the affects of a lack of sleep were evident in both parents.
What can parents do to get some sleep?
Every family is so different, and each child and parent is an individual with different sleep needs and abilities. Each family has their own beliefs about where a child should sleep, how they should sleep, and when they should sleep.
These differences, however, don’t negate the fact that everyone needs to sleep. Wendy Hall gives some universal tips to help get everyone some more rest:
Keep what you do before bedtime the same every night. Your kids will pick up on the cues letting them know that bedtime is near. Eventually, they will
We eat dinner, get pajamas on, brush teeth, and then read books. Once they’re in bed I sing them their 3 songs, and tuck them in for the night.
*Fun tip: Hall suggests giving your child “one free pass” for once they’re supposed to be in bed. Make an actual physical ticket that they have in their possession once you’ve said goodnight. This ticket allows them to come out of bed ONE time for water, a hug, to tell you one last thing, etc. Once they’ve used this ticket that’s it for the night.
That routine mentioned above, you have to do it all the time. There’s exceptions, of course, but the more the kids get used to the routine, the more they will fall into the pattern of going to bed easier.
Consistency also applies to your child waking in the night. If they come to your bed, walk them back to theirs. Theoretically, after a while, they will understand that their bed is where they need to be and will remain there through the night.
Put your kids to bed early
There’s two reasons this is beneficial:
- Kids need more sleep than we do. If they’re not getting the sleep they need they become overtired. This makes them irritable during the day, but also makes it MORE difficult for them to sleep at night.
- You get some quiet time. If you take some time for yourself at night you’ll find yourself a lot more recharged the next day.
Keep them away from screens before bedtime
Screens stimulate children’s (and our) brains. Keep them away from television and tablets before bedtime. Try reading books or guiding them through a meditation while they lay in bed. YouTube has tons of guided meditations for kids.
You’ve tried everything and you’re still not getting sleep- what now?
If you feel like you’re beginning to feel the affects of sleep deprivation don’t be afraid to reach out for help. Ask friends and family to come watch your child while you get some shut eye.
Check online for Wendy Hall. There’s loads of information that will likely apply to your situation. Make a doctor’s appointment or call your local public health unit.
Don’t be afraid or ashamed to seek professional help.
You won’t be the parent you wish to be if you’re running on fumes. Get the help you need so you can recharge yourself. You 150% owe that to yourself.
Tell me about your struggles with sleep. I promise you won’t be the only one who’s had a hard time!
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