Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Balanced parenting: #1 Get enough sleep!

OK, this is the beginning of a series that are a spin off from my last post, expanding on parenting strategies that I did to try and survive mostly sole parenting, while studying, working and managing a chronic illness. It was all aimed at keeping my nose above the surface, rather than getting totally overwhelmed. Sometimes, it even worked - when everything came together at the same time!

Ask yourself what's the first thing that you don't do when you're over-stressed, have way too much on your plate, and you feel like you're constantly behind the eight ball? I'd put money on you answering that you're exhausted all the time and you're just not getting enough sleep. However tempting it might be, once the kids are all tucked in, to take advantage of some rare peace and quiet and keep going, trying to catch up on everything, in truth, it's possibly the worst option you could choose.

There. How inviting is that? Allowing for differing tastes in decor, of course - and, by the way, it's not my bedroom, although I do like it enormously, perhaps minus that huge mirror! First priority is to make sure your bedroom is a sanctuary, and it's just a place to sleep. Invest in a really good quality bed. You spend a lot of time in it, it has to be good. Also, buy good quality linen - I have a set of Morgan and Finch sheets that are such fine cotton they're like silk - we LOVE those sheets, and I swear I sleep better in those than any of the others we have. Also, look at your quilts or blankets - most of us try and sleep too warm. I often try and use heated wheat packs when I have particularly sore joints, and I find I get too hot. My partner also sleeps with more bedclothes than me, and when I'm hot, my sleep is very restless.

Every article I've ever read about 'sleep hygiene' says that one of the most important things to ensure that you get good regular sleep is to keep your bedroom for sleeping - and sex, if that's also on your agenda! Don't take your work to bed - EVER. All those shots of couples in TV shows sitting up in bed with their work glasses on, balancing files on their knees - EVER. If you do yoga, or other exercise at home, don't do it in your bedroom.

Banish your devices to another room. That means everything - from your phone, to TVs, computers, iPods, and even digital clocks (as an aside, apparently couples with TVs in their bedrooms have, on average, half as much sex as those without...worth a thought...). Again, everything I read about sleep hygiene points to clearing your room of all electronics. The light emitted (e-readers, phones, digital clocks) can interfere with your body's sense of the light, which messes with your circadian rhythms, which then impairs your ability to sleep soundly. If you need an alarm, invest in an old-style alarm clock that doesn't tick.

Get some regular exercise. OK, you're already are you going to fit that in too? If your kids are school age, look at walking them to school - that's good for them and you. Try and aim for one school run being on foot. Alternatively, negotiate with your partner for early morning sessions before everyone else is awake - starting the day with a walk, run or a swim can kick start your energy levels wonderfully. If you're trying to manage this stuff with a chronic illness, you might need to work around what your body will allow - maybe work on an early evening exercise session, before you have dinner. You only need half an hour at a time - and it can make an incredible difference to your sleeping patterns.

Stick to a routine. You CAN train yourself to sleep more regular hours - but it might take some time. First up, train the kids - set bedtimes and stick to them. We have neighbours with little kids. I hear them at all hours of the day and late into the evening crying and fussing. It's rare that they're bedded down and quiet at what I would consider a reasonable time - they certainly shouldn't be roaring around at 10pm or later every night... It stands to reason that if you don't have your kids in bed at a reasonable time, you're not going to have a hope in hell of getting there yourself. While they were in primary school, my boys were in bed by 7-7.30. Towards the end of primary school, that got extended to about 8.30 - IF they were quietly occupied in something peaceful, but usually not TV at that stage. That was early enough in the evening for me to get some quiet time to myself before heading to bed - which, particularly in my sole parent periods, was absolutely vital. Try and aim for regular bed times and getting up times for everyone. Apart from anything else, it lessens the arguments. Bed time is bed time!

Go easy on food at the end of the day. In amongst the various good reasons to follow the old adage, 'breakfast like a king, lunch like a lord, dinner like a pauper', is the effect a heavy meal at dinner time can have on your sleep. If your body is busy trying to digest a big meal, it won't be ready to start switching off to go into sleep mode. The same goes for drinking in excess. Lying in a spinning bed is NOT conducive to nodding off gently! Also, and this is a no-brainer really, watch the coffee intake late in the day... Caffeine isn't going to help you sleep!

Find activities that help calm and settle you before you try to go to bed. I read - just ask my partner... He's a bit of a fruit bat (doesn't like lots of light) so he's taken to using an eye mask of late (and he's usually snoring within about ten minutes!) so I can tuck myself in with my book - because I find it takes me longer to drop off if I just get into bed and turn off the light there and then. If I tuck myself in and read for a little while, I have a much better chance of dropping off quickly. This is a good one to start with the kids too. I read to my kids most nights - starting with picture books and slowly working up to chapter books that we read over a period of time. Sometimes they piled in together on one of the beds - usually on No.2's so he could be tucked in and left to sleep once the story was done. It's a good habit to get into as a way to wind down. You're also modelling good habits for your kids with stuff like this, and that can be one of the most effective parenting methods of all - you asking the same of them as you're doing deprives them of the opportunity to do the "it's not FAIR" thing...!

For those of you with under school age kids, the broken night is part of your 'normal', right? It was definitely part of mine with No.2. He didn't sleep through until late kindy age. That's when I learned to nap during the day - something I only do if I'm exhausted or really sick. When they were growing up, finding me asleep during the day used to panic both of them because it was so abnormal for me, they figured something was wrong... However, as much as you can if you have a nocturnal child, sleep when they sleep during the day to catch up. And at night, don't make it attractive to be awake. Night time feeds, changes and getting back to sleep stuff were always quiet; no talking, no games, nothing to stay awake for...

Finally, a word about medications. I take a ridiculous number of drugs to manage my RA. Some people I know take even more than me. It can feel quite ridiculous. It's really important to understand how the drugs work, and which ones NOT to take at night. At the moment, I'm taking prednisone, in the wake of a huge flare up last year that we couldn't get under control. I'm slowly weaning off it, but it'll still be a few months before I'm completely clear of it. One of the less fabulous things about prednisone (one of the MANY less good things...) is that it can rev you up - so NOT to take it at night. Some meds might even help with sleep - another of mine appears to be doing that, although it can leave me quite foggy in the mornings, so that's a bit of a bummer!

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