Often, I look back and shake my head at how we survived all those sleepless nights welcoming a newborn into our house – FOUR TIMES! Let’s get real - while newborns and those first few years are precious, they also tax us beyond our limits leaving us to question - what the heck did we just do to ourselves?! The primary culprit - sleep deprivation!
Any parent can attest to how the constant interruption and poor quality of sleep is a legitimate torture tactic. If we wish to obtain the ultimate goal of treating our fellow humans with kindness, prioritizing sleep is one of the best steps we can take to remain functional, balanced, and reasonable. Not only is it critical to consider how sleep is affecting us as parents, it is imperative we bestow healthy sleep habits onto our children, especially in the digital age of distraction.
For expecting parents and parents of newborns, make sleep your number one priority. You simply will not get enough sleep for months. Sleep when the baby sleeps and choose sleep over a well-kept house. If your baby is 4-12 weeks old, start as early as possible to put them down while drowsy but not yet asleep so they can begin associating a pleasant experience with sleep and they can learn to fall asleep on their own. If you wait until they are overtired, you will have to comfort them more and then associate sleep with unpleasant feelings and needing comforting measures. Easy to say, tricky to do!
As the toddler years approach, consistent routines are critical. I use pictures printed from the internet showing the steps they need to do to get to bed: going potty, putting on PJ’s, brushing teeth, reading a book, and getting into bed (happily with eyes shut!). While it’s tempting at this age to stay up later to get things done, it’s important to adhere to similar routines for your own rhythms. Going to bed at a predictable time helps you achieve 7-9 hours of sleep which is so important for a healthy immune system. Since they are little Petri dishes at this age, it helps to thwart the germs by giving your immune system every possible advantage.
Preschool and elementary aged kids benefit from established mantras or prayers. For example, I say to my kids: “you are strong in…” and they reply: “mind, heart, and body.” Over the years every kid has morphed to have their own “sign-offs” which helps designate that it’s their time to sleep and helps to get them back to sleep should they wake during the night. I’ve noticed it helps me drift off to sleep too!
Finally, as we've all heard- avoid screen time at least 30 minutes before bed time. Try to teach by example - sleep tight, and don't let the bed bugs bite!