Parenting Well-Rested: A Guide to Better Sleep for Busy Parents

March 26, 2024

As parents, we often find ourselves juggling a multitude of responsibilities, leaving our own sleep hygiene neglected. But here’s the catch: better sleep for kids starts with better sleep for parents.

A good night’s sleep is critical for growing kids. It plays an essential role in developing young minds and is foundational for good mental and physical health. Research also shows that sleep impacts everything from alertness and attention to mood, cognitive performance, learning, and memory1

As parents, we’re often so focused on helping our kids get enough (and good quality) sleep we neglect our own sleep hygiene, which not only makes us feel like we’re dragging ourselves through busy days, it raises the risk of diseases like heart disease, stroke, and even dementia2.  

“Sleep is as important for good health as diet and exercise,” according to the National Institutes of Health

Good sleep is restorative. It helps heart health, increases attention span, supports weight management, keeps the immune system strong, and boosts memory and learning3. And we’re often simply not getting enough of it. 

How much sleep is enough?

For good health, studies say that adults should get seven to eight hours of sleep a night. You may hear people saying they can get away with four or five hours of sleep, and while these people do exist, they are a rare and small percentage of the population. Most folks who say that four hours of sleep is enough are getting by on coffee and other caffeinated beverages while risking the consequences of long-term sleep deprivation.

Quality Matters

Getting enough sleep is important, but the quality of your sleep and your sleep schedule also helps ensure you feel well-rested in the morning.

This means that after putting the kids to bed, instead of checking your emails and scrolling through social media to see what you may have missed, give yourself an hour of screen-free time before bed. Use this time to unwind and relax (it’s not always easy, we know!). 

If worries and to-do lists start creeping into your mind as you try to wind down, write them down before bed. Here’s the important part (thanks to our NP, Pam, for this tip!): leave the list outside of your bedroom. This simple practice means you can acknowledge your worries, clear your mind, and sleep well, knowing your list will still be there in the morning.

Instead of 15 (or 20, or 30) minutes on TikTok, which is an easy distraction but stimulates our brain and can delay the transition to sleep, embrace some low light, grab a good book and a cup of tea, and signal yourself that it’s time to rest. 

Some more familiar reminders include avoiding big meals and too much water or fluids just before bed. Limiting food to about three hours before going to bed allows time for digestion and a small enough window that you won’t go to bed feeling hungry. To prevent waking up at night, try to avoid drinking water for about two hours before sleeping. Research has also shown a negative relationship between alcohol and sleep. Alcohol consumption has been linked to poor sleep quality and duration, including sleep disruptions and the suppression of REM sleep4.

And when it’s time for bed, keep the room dark (or wear an eye mask), quiet (white noise machines may work for some), and on the cooler side.

When You Sleep Well, It Helps Your Family Sleep Well

Children are keen observers, and as you know, they pick up on the behaviours and habits of the adults in their lives. By prioritizing your own sleep and talking about how and why it’s important, you set a powerful example for your kids. 

As you consider how you and your kids sleep, take some time to understand how your child likes to unwind and how their sensory needs impact their bedtime routine. For example, you may have a toddler who sleeps best after a long session at the playground or rowdy play, and a favourite activity just before bed may be rolling up like a burrito. Or you may have a teen who needs an hour of quiet and can only sleep in pyjamas that feel and fit just so (with the tag cut out!).

What works for one child may not work for another, but once you understand what helps them sleep well,  you can adjust your approach accordingly.

As parents, we play a foundational role in shaping our children’s sleep habits, but this can’t come at the expense of our own rest. By prioritizing our own sleep hygiene, leading by example, and creating a consistent yet flexible sleep environment, we can rest easy and wake up refreshed and ready for the busy day ahead.

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