Advice for parents who struggle to ‘switch off’ and get to sleep.

As parents, we can often joke that ‘sleep is for the weak’ what with our children’s often unpredictable sleeping patterns.

Babies don’t differentiate between night and day and it can be hard to settle them into a routine. Toddlers can be equally unpredictable as the transition from a cot to a bed means it’s harder to get them to stay put. Preschoolers are often grappling with becoming more independent and there’s the whole night-time toilet training thing to get on top of (I have some tips to help tackle bedwetting and advice on boosting confidence in children during the bedwetting stage elsewhere on my blog if this is relevant to you right now).

I thought it would be easier when both of my children started primary school, but I’m finding that Olivia (who’s 7) always tries to stay up late while William (5) is an early riser, no matter what time he goes to bed.

Then there’s my  early morning weekday alarm call for work and the fact that I don’t tend to go to bed early because I value some ‘me time’ once my  children are in bed and the tidying up and prep for the next day has been done. You can probably tell that for me, getting a good night’s sleep isn’t something that happens on a regular basis!

Before my husband and I had children I used to tell him that I couldn’t survive on less than 8 hours sleep each night. I look back at my younger self and laugh at the naivety.

The importance of a good night’s sleep.

A lack of sleep can affect our overall wellbeing – we’ve all experienced that grumpy feeling when you haven’t had much sleep the night before, right? – but it also has other implications.

“Being unable to sleep for a long period of time may be associated with health problems, or make you more likely to become overw8,” says Dr Jenny Leeser, clinical director of wellbeing and health promotion at Bupa UK. “So it’s really important that you’re getting enough sleep.”

There are some simple things you can do, such as going to bed at a decent hour (I definitely need to get better at this), but having an early night doesn’t automatically translate into a good night’s sleep.

Take my husband, for example. While I’m normally asleep by the time my head touches the pillow, he finds it difficult to switch his brain off and fall asleep. For him, going to bed early doesn’t mean he’ll get some shut-eye any earlier.

Tips to help you switch off and get to sleep.

If you’re like my husband and always have trouble getting to sleep, try these handy tips for a good night’s sleep:

  • Do something calming before you go to sleep such as reading a book, going for a short walk or having a warm bath.
  • Keep your bedroom cool. A room that’s too warm will make it more difficult for you to drop off.
  • Use blackout curtains or blinds to make your bedroom dark or wear an eye mask to keep out light.
  • Put your phone on silent to prevent interruptions.
  • Try making a list of things that are on your mind before trying to sleep. It’s a good way of getting things off your mind and should make it easier to switch off and sleep.
  • Don’t watch television or mess about on your phone in bed.
  • Avoid doing any intense exercise before going to bed. Apparently, this can make you feel more awake and you’ll find it more difficult getting to sleep.

And if you work irregular shift patterns:

  • Talk to your neighbours so they are aware of your shift work and ask them to keep noise levels low at certain times of the day.
  • Consider wearing ear plugs if there is any unavoidable noise, or play white noise or background music to drown it out. An eye mask may also be a good idea if you don’t have thick curtains, blinds or shutters.

What do you find works best for you when you’re trying to get a good night’s sleep?