Do ‘us mums’ need bedtime routines?

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One of the scariest words I heard when I had my first son was the word ‘routine’. I remember throwing my baby books away in the first week of his life as I was overwhelmed by the concept of having to follow something structured when I was totally still learning, and had no idea how to get any routine to stick.  It totally undermined my confidence as a mum, and eventually I found my own way with both my boys.

Now they are older, 10 and 8 and at school, routine is more important, particularly their sleep routine.  As we know, as children get older, they don’t just go to sleep when it is time for bed, they might lie in their beds (or not as the case may be) and sometimes children find it difficult to switch off, particularly when they have had busy, exciting days or things happening which are significant, either important to them or a bit scary.  Children don’t process information like we do, they don’t apply the same complexity to it, thank goodness, but they can worry and overthink things in the same way.

So, with my boys, when they are facing big stuff or are struggling to get to sleep I have my strategies which I know will help calm them and get them ready for bed, so that, even if they don’t sleep straight away, they do go to bed in a better frame of mind.

But what about us adults?

As ever, we focus so much on paving the way for our children to have a easy time of it, often we do forget about ourselves.

So – do we ‘the grown ups’ need bedtime routines?

My answer would be a resounding YES.

By routine I don’t mean watching an hour of telly whilst supping a couple of glasses of wine, cleaning our teeth and then checking social media whilst the TV in the bedroom chatters to itself in the background.

I mean preparing your body, and mind to get the best sleep possible.

Because how many of us go around bemoaning our tiredness and aching for that ‘good nights sleep’ wishing that it would really feel ‘better in the morning’?

I certainly do and have spoken to numerous others who do too.

For it is our sleep patterns are actually what give us away.  When we can tell everyone to their face that all is alright with the world, that we are doing okay, but if our sleep is disrupted, minimal or we just can’t wake up in the morning, there is an issue and it needs addressing.

So – what impacts on our ability to have good quality sleep, and how can a change of routine help?

Technology

So many people say to me when I ask about their sleep that they often need to watch something on television or ‘read themselves to sleep’ as this is the only way they drop off.  It can be comforting, particularly if you are on your own at night to have something on in the background while you drift off into the land of slumber.  Have you remembered a dream about something which you read, or watched on TV right before you fall asleep?  That is because your brain is like a sponge, and what impacts you most right before you fall asleep will be processed by the subconscious part of your brain for the entire time you are asleep. This may seem inconsequential to you, but if the last thing you watched, was negative, scary or frightening (think our news media) then that information is stored and processed in your brain for the rest of the night, with nothing else to compete with it.  If we go to sleep in a negative state of mind, even if it is not a conscious negative state, it is more likely that we are going to wake up in a negative state as our brain thinks there is something to be feared, and dealt with and has to work hard to deal with it.

My best example of this was given by my 2 boys.  My youngest is full of expression (code for he can lose the plot if something doesn’t go his way).  One night before bed he had a cut on his foot whilst I was with both boys in their bedroom. which was covered with a plaster.  The plaster was half hanging off so, without thinking of the consequences I ripped the plaster off, to screams that would have led people to think i was ripping his leg off!  Once he was calmed, and asleep and mummy stopped feeling like the demon parent I went to bed, only to be woken in the early hours by my oldest son crying and shouting out. It is very unusual for him to wake in the night and when I went to him and asked if he as okay, he told me that there was a ‘plaster monster’ who was chasing him and he was scared. Whoa, the power of the mind really struck me there, he had internalised the experience with my youngest and his mind had processed it in this way.

Now that it not to say that every time you watch a scary film at night or listen to the news before going to bed you are going to have nightmares. But if this is part of your routine every night then it is likely that it is having an impact on your sleep pattern, and not in a positive way.

‘The Phone’

This habit of checking our phone has become integral to everyday life. They have become an extension of our right, or left hand and not a minute goes by when we have to just take a look to see if something has changed in the last 60 seconds.  During the day time this behaviour is one thing, but at night, and even through the night in some cases for people who can’t sleep it can a real impact on our quality, and quantity of sleep.  Scientific studies have found that not only does checking phones, having them next to us at night and using them right up until the moment we fall asleep affect our ability to fall asleep, it can also make it more likely that we wake up more easily, and find it more difficult to drop off again.  In the same way that we need physical rest when we sleep, we also need mental rest, and using your phone right up until the moment when you decide to turn the lights out and close your eyes can still leave your brain buzzing for a considerable time afterwards.

‘Washing Machine Head’

Us mums are the biggest over thinkers on the planet.  We are on the go from the minute we wake in the morning, usually fortified by caffeine with our to do list already written in our head before we have even brushed our teeth.  A mums ability to multi task is often seen as a way of surviving busy, stressful days with so much to juggle it is unreal. The thing is though, if we don’t take the time to unwind in the evening, and are still ‘doing’ right up until the moment we go to bed.  When we lie down, and the lights go out, the thoughts can start coming thick, and fast and we have no way to distract ourselves from them. Sleep can often be hard to come by when our brain is whirring over and over things in our head, a bit like a washing machine on spin cycle. And it doesn’t have to be big stuff, just the little inconsequential, everyday things, worries about something you might have forgotten or things you have done/meant to do.  Your body is exhausted but your mind is still going at a million miles per hour.  You might eventually fall asleep, and stay asleep but you are still overwhelmed by thoughts that your brain struggles to process them all and you wake feeling tired, ready for another caffeine fueled day, leading us into a vicious cycle.

So – the above are the key habits that people get into, their ‘bedtime routine’ which are potentially harmful to our sleep patterns, and therefore our access of good quality sleep which leaves us feeling refreshed, and ready for the day ahead.  We know that lack of sleep can leave us feeling foggy headed, make it more difficult to make decisions and leads us to be more likely that we end up being ‘shouty mum’ for no apparent reason other than we are knackered.

Question – what kind of bedtime routine do us grown ups need instead?

Giving our mind down time

Switch off the phone at least an hour before bed, you don’t need to become absorbed in someone elses Facebook drama or their recent holiday pics, save it for the morning.

If you have to have your phone with you, turn off the alerts so it doesn’t distract you while asleep, and place it out of reach so, if you do wake up in the night, you won’t be tempted to reach for it in an effort to distract you enough to drop off.

If you have a TV in your room make time to switch it off before you go to sleep so it is not chattering away in the background, your conscious mind may not be listening but your subconcious is.

If you find yourself worrying about things you have, or have not done then have a pen and paper handy at the side of your bed to write them down. It empties your mind as it literally tells your brain that you don’t need to hold onto it as you have taken action to get rid of it out of your mind. Try it – it works.

Try a guided relaxation. This can be useful for breaking the cycle of thinking which is only going to serve you by stopping you sleeping well when you do finally drop off. You might not hear the end of it, but if the last thing you hear is something calming, and relaxing you, it sets the tone for the rest of the night and really help your mind have that much needed down time.

Set some good sleep habits and routines for your children.  If they see you go to bed at night with your armor of technology then they will think it is acceptable for them to do the same, when they are of an age when you can’t tell them not to any more.

Pick one, or maybe 2 to try and incorporate it into a new routine for yourself. As we know, old habits can be hard to break and you could be full of justifiable excuses for why you need to do a, b and c before you go to bed. However, if you are still not sleeping great, they may be exactly the reasons why you shouldn’t be doing them.  I challenge you to try and make a small change, for a week and notice if it makes a difference to your sleep pattern.

Clare x

 

 

 

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