Top Tips for Better Sleep (and a Better Mood!)

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A mom in bed.If you know me, you know I love to sleep. My husband knows that what I want most for Mother’s Day is a lazy morning in which I can sleep in (or, as we said when we lived in London pre-kids, “have a lovely lie-in”).

My friends know that I am rarely, if ever, going to reply to a text on the weekend before 9 a.m. or be the parent at the 8 a.m. game. During a recent conversation about favorite Disney princesses, my daughter astutely assessed, “Mommy likes Sleeping Beauty because she wears a pink dress and gets to sleep a lot.” Whenever my son has an ailment, whether it’s a sore throat or a twisted ankle, I prompt, “You know what would help?” to which he answers as trained, “Yeah. Sleep!”

Sleep is more than a favorite hobby of mine. It’s integral to our health, including our mental health.

Numerous psychological studies reflect that poor sleep can make it more challenging to cope with stress. Mollie Eastman, founder of the Sleep is a Skill platform and podcast, confirms, “Adequate sleep aids in mood regulation and can reduce the risk of mental health issues like anxiety and depression by helping regulate neurotransmitters.” She further explains that sleep is important for the body’s restoration and repair, brain function and memory, metabolism and immune function, and energy utilization, among other biological and emotional health factors.

As a clinical therapist specializing in maternal mental health – and a millennial mom myself – I know that sleep is particularly important during the postpartum period to mitigate risk factors of a perinatal mood and anxiety disorder like postpartum depression. Of course, sleep is hard to come by during the new baby phase and for moms and women in general. A recent Gallup poll revealed that American women, particularly those under 50, report sleeping less than they need and experiencing higher stress levels than men.

So how can we moms more easily access the free but elusive magic known as sleep?

1. Shift your mindset about sleep to make it a priority.

Briarcliff-based mom of two and founder of Rock-a-Bye-Baby Sleep, Liza Kaplan Montanino, suggests thinking about sleep not as a luxury or even as self-care but rather as an essential human need: “It’s in your child’s and your best interests to prioritize sleep in your home in whatever (safe) way works for your family.” Liza and I are certified as sleep consultants through the Center for Pediatric Sleep Management. She was inspired to help families with sleep because “good sleep is everything! It is very important – not only for us as parents but also as people. You can’t survive without sleep, and you certainly can’t thrive without quality sleep.”

2. Know that good sleep habits can be developed.

Even if you no longer (or never did) identify as a good sleeper, hope for you is not lost. The Sleep is a Skill program, for example, utilizes circadian rhythm entertainment, technology, accountability, and behavioral change to help you optimize your sleep. Sleep expert Mollie recommends prioritizing sleep consistency and wake-up timing, creating a calming pre-sleep routine, being mindful of your evening caffeine and meal intake, and leveraging natural light to make it easier to produce melatonin, improve sleep quality, and wake up more refreshed. And your kids can develop good sleep habits, too.

“Sleep is a skill that is taught – similar to teaching your child how to zip their coat once they get older,” describes sleep consultant Liza, who has extensive experience supporting families with neurotypical and special needs kids from birth through age 12. “Struggling with your child’s sleep is not a reflection on you as a parent. It is never too late to improve the way your child sleeps! All kids can learn to sleep well and continuously – they need to be given the time, space, and opportunity to hone those skills.”

3. Get the support you need and deserve to get good sleep.

We all know that when a child experiences a bad night’s sleep, the parents likely do, too. Experts can help families create custom sleep plans and strategies to meet kids’ needs and layer on environmental, schedule, and behavioral changes as necessary to teach and empower caregivers and their kids with independent sleep skills. And while you’re working on your kiddos, don’t forget to take care of yourself and your needs. “Don’t hesitate to ask for help in sharing caregiving duties to ensure you get enough rest,” encourages Mollie. “It’s important to acknowledge when you need a break!”

Indeed, my work with clients involves helping them assert their needs with their partners (who should be willing to share child night duty as it benefits the whole family). I also help hold them accountable for behaviors like minimizing screen use before bed or during night-time wake-ups and alleviating their mental load by exploring ruminating thoughts that may be causing anxiety. Sleep doesn’t solve everything, but it sure helps a lot.

Wishing you sweet dreams, mama. Now, get some rest!

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