On the Twelfth Day of Christmas My Sleep Consultant Gave to Me, A Twelve Month Guide to Better Sleep
Updated: May 11
It's official. All of 2020 was a complete dumpster fire from beginning to end. I've done a lot of complaining this year. Because, well, this year was hard. But, it was hard for everyone. We all struggled in one way or another. In our house, help with the kids ceased to exist. All of the concerts, shows, and sporting events that my husband and I look forward to every year were canceled. Walking into work at the hospital became ominous, sad, and scary. We learned to juggle our time like circus clowns juggle bowling pins. And way too often we were just two ships passing in the night trying to keep the family fed and looking somewhat presentable. Not to worry - the bathroom scale tells me I did a fine job keeping myself fed. Presentable? I'd say the jury is still out.
Honestly though, I'm a positive person and I'd be lying if I told you that there wasn't a single bit of good that came out of 2020. A few nights ago my husband and I got the girls to bed (early of course) and just as we were ready to zone out in front of the t.v. we ended up putting on our favorite Christmas albums and randomly reflecting on the past year instead.
We talked about how thankful we were that the girls aren't school age and having to learn in this virtual world. Serious props there to all the teachers, students, and parents. We talked about how much money the canceled concerts, shows, and sporting events saved us. I took pride in the fact that I didn't need a museum pass or weekly play dates to keep my girls entertained. And amidst all of it, I graduated as a sleep consultant from the Family Sleep Institute and managed to get my business up and running.
I would also be lying if I told you I practiced everything I typically preach this year. There was a lot of screen time for my girls. Bedtimes had a tendency to creep later and later for both the girls and us. Kids meals became more of a staple than I'd like to admit. And our overall focus on health and sleep got pretty sloppy at times. Okay, really sloppy. However, we came to the conclusion that we, as a family, were relatively unscathed.
Sadly, I know this isn't everyone's reality, and that is not lost on me. I truly hope everyone is able to overcome their own struggles, find inner strength and peace, and join forces together in putting out this fire once and for all.
Enough about 2020 though. Let's talk about 2021. I'm willing to bet that this year people will be making resolutions for the New Year like never before. I know I will be. My main resolution? Stay focused on my family's health and sleep.
So I sat down today and came up with a sleep focus for each month of the New Year to keep me on top on my goals. And of course I'm sharing with you because it holds me accountable and will hopefully spark some interest in making sleep a priority for you and your family this year.
Jot Down January
One thing I've learned over the years, especially since having kids, is to write everything down. I mean everything. Recently, I forgot to take my girls to the doctor and daycare all in the same week. #notwinning Why? Because I didn't write it down. Well that, and I had 15 million other things going on that week. But that's beside the point.
Writing things down helps me stay focused for the week. In turn, I actually complete the simple yet important tasks ahead of me (such as driving my kids to daycare). I don't just write down concrete appointments, dates, and times though. I write down all the things that I want to happen too. Having a clear vision of what we want can be a huge factor in actually making it happen.
Even if your resolution isn't the same as mine, take 5 minutes and brain dump all your ideas and visions onto paper or type it up in a note. Having that visual is an amazing tool.
Here's what I came up with today for my health and sleep resolution:
For my older daughter - start teaching her about the benefits of sleep, how it makes her feel, and get her more involved in learning when she needs to sleep instead of me telling her.
For my younger daughter - focus on keeping her in the crib and pushing through the 2 year nap strike that is 100 percent is going to happen.
For me - start listening to my body. Also known as "you're tired, just go to bed."
Focus in February
I read a statistic today that 80 percent of resolutions are broken by the second week of February. This statistic makes it seem like the odds are against me when it comes to keeping my resolution. I'm just going to ignore that. Instead, I'm going to stay focused and encourage you to do the same.
If your plans include getting sleep on track this year, my best advice is to stay focused. Always, always, take it one day at a time. Don't worry about what happened last night. Don't worry about what might happen tonight. And certainly don't worry about what will happen when you travel to grandma's next month.
The decision to get your family sleeping better is huge and certainly deserves a little time and prep. So sit down and focus on a plan, talk it out, and start when you have the time and energy to make sleep your main priority. If that sounds like way too much for you to handle on your own just check out our list of certified sleep consultants at www.familysleepinstitute.com
Make it Through March
I used to like March for two reasons: my birthday and St. Patty's Day. But I'm old now and the only green celebrations we have are the ones running from the noses of my 3 year old and 20 month old. We are always sick in March. It never fails.
Here is something that might surprise you. When my babies are sick I rock, snuggle, console, and give a little extra TLC because they need it. And I'm a mom. I'd venture to say that every other sleep consultant does the same thing. Because, we all know that once the sickness goes away so will the need for all the extra.
This is a call I get all the time: "What are we supposed to do when she's sick? I'm afraid I'm going to ruin her if I pick her up." And I always say, "it's okay, pick her up." If you're in the middle of teaching your baby to sleep, just stop and pick up where you left off when he/she is feeling better. If your baby already knows how to sleep then don't worry, these babies slip back into the good sleep habits that they already know. Easy peasy.
Splash Around in April
Nothing says read a book and drink a cup of hot tea like a rainy day in April in Pittsburgh, PA. It's cold, muddy, and gray. Literally everything is gray. So this month is going to be hard for me. But, I'm going to do it because as a sleep consultant I know there is nothing better than getting those kids outside every day possible. Rain or shine.
Getting outside is proven to lessen anxiety, improve moods, boost immunity, help you get exercise, and sleep better at night by setting your internal clock. All good reasons to grab the rain slickers and boots and go splash around.
May: Open the Windows - Don't Miss the Window
My family and I were all sitting at the dining room table a couple weeks ago and I noticed my youngest daughter rubbing her eyes and completely zoning out. I knew she was tired I even looked at my husband and said, "Look how tired she is." You want to know what I did? Nothing. I did nothing. And before I knew it Mak to Sleep turned into Mak to Funhouse in about 2.2 seconds. It was crazy. She was jumping like a bean, trust falling off her sister's bed, planking while I was changing her diaper, and laughing like there was nothing funnier in the world.
I did it again. I missed the sleep window. In other words, the calm before the storm that is The Second Wind.
How does this even happen to a sleep coach? Easy. That night I was just tired and wanted that extra ten minutes before bedtime. Sometimes, I'm distracted by work or something else. Other times I simply don't trust the instinct that I trust the other 99.9 percent of the time.
My best advice here? Do as I say and not as I do. Trust your instincts and don't worry about what the clock says. If it's in the vicinity of evening hours and your kid is acting tired, do yourself a favor and just start bedtime.
School's Out in June, Sleep is Still In
Although this year's learning style is a little different, in years past it has been fairly easy to keep a consistent schedule throughout the school year. Waking at the same time, doing similar activities at the same time, and falling asleep at the same time typically make for a predictable and easy schedule.
Then school lets out. At first, this schedule may persist for a week or two. But without fail, kids (and adults too) start staying up later and later eventually slipping into some late night habits which turn into the ultimate bad combo of tired, crabby kids and parents. It's hard, but it really is worth keeping somewhat of a schedule in the summertime.
I remember sitting on the porch with my husband last year and out of the blue he asked me if the girls were ever going to be able to see the moon or a lightning bug. Funny guy.
Okay, I know I'm a little crazy about sleep but I'm not that crazy. Yes. They will see the moon and be able to catch lightning bugs - 20 percent of the time. In other words, follow the 80/20 rule. Work on keeping that consistent schedule about 80 percent of the time. The other 20 percent of the time go ahead and stargaze and catch bugs.
July's Late Sunset Doesn't Mean Late Bedtime
Between sleep consulting during the day and working steady nights at the hospital, I'm honestly not sure what my day job is anymore. I do know one thing though. It's freaking hard to sleep during the day. It's loud. Kids are screaming in the alley. The dogs are barking at everything. And it's hot. But just because it's hard to sleep doesn't mean I don't have to do it.
This goes for the kiddos too. Just because the sun stays up later in July doesn't mean the kids do too. So keep the bedtime and ditch the sun. Room darkening shades or black window cling, cool jammies, fans, and white noise are all must haves for summertime sleep.
It's August - Are We There Yet?
We all pretend that vacationing with kids is fun and we all know it's not. But let's face it we're gonna do it every year because rolling down the interstate with a minivan packed full of snack monsters is like a rite of passage into parenthood.
Vacationing isn't easy - I don't care what anyone says, it's just so much work. But sleeping on vacation doesn't have to be. You can make it easier by taking your sleep environment with you, keeping your same routine, knowing when not to keep your routine, getting acquainted with your temporary home, and preparing ahead of time. For a deeper dive on these, check out my November blog Surviving Sleep During Your Holiday Getaway.
September is Back to School
I think my sister is the only one in the world that gets crabby about back to school. One, she absolutely loves having her kids at home. Two, she probably won't pay attention to my June advice in keeping a schedule throughout the summer and she'll be in a heap when school rolls around.
If you're like my sister, then you will have to start working on getting that schedule back a couple weeks before school starts.
First, you'll have to get consistent with your wake up time. If your kid fell into a late night, late morning routine pulling that wake time back is pertinent to resetting the rest their day.
Second, for school aged kids, naps are no good. If you're trying to reset your day to a normal wake/sleep pattern, allowing a long nap in the middle of the day will sabotage all of your efforts. A short little cat nap might be okay, but long middle-of-the-day naps can't happen. Also, good luck waking a school-aged kid or teenager from a cat nap.
Third, start pulling that bedtime back by at least 15-20 minutes a day until your desired bedtime.
And, last but not least, they are still kids and they still need a lot of sleep. School-aged kids need around 9-11 hours and teenagers need around 8-10 hours. These numbers can vary greatly, but it's a good starting point. Always take into consideration the quality of sleep from the night before, mood, and their ability to stay awake and function during the day.
Stay Safe in October
October is Safe Sleep Awareness month.
The one thing I've noticed about safe sleep is that it is often assumed that people just know what it is. Yes, the rules are easy but that doesn't mean we should assume that people automatically know those rules. Learn it. Teach it. Spread the word. You could save a life.
Be Thankful for Any Sleep You Get in November
I don't know about you, but starting in September, life gets crazy for us and doesn't slow down until January. With all of the things I love such as vacations, birthdays, Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas all falling one after another, staying on schedule becomes extremely difficult. But that doesn't mean throw in the towel and completely give up.
It is well known in the world of sleep that as little as 19 extra minutes is beneficial. So celebrate the small wins you may have.
My best advice is to always try to tack on extra sleeping time in the beginning of the night. Kids just aren't inclined to sleep in in the morning to make up for lost sleep.
Replace Monsters with Sugar Plums in December
If you have ever been around me for more than a couple minutes there's a good chance I made it known to you that I love Christmas. I get excited. Like Buddy the Elf excited. And every year I wonder how my kids can even handle this type of energy and excitement.
The truth is, a lot of kids actually do have a hard time handling this type of excitement and often it comes out if the form of a nightmare, or worse, a night terror or other parasomnia. While you probably won't be able to prevent this completely there are a few things you can do to help.
Early bedtimes - I know I say it all the time but early bedtimes can help with so many areas of sleep.
Figure out the trigger - If your kids are having repetitive nightmares try digging deep into their day to see if a specific game, tv show, or activity is causing the nightmares. What shows are they watching? What games are they playing? What's going on at daycare?
Don't Spray the Monsters - Monsters are a common theme among toddler scary dreams. And one look at social media will have you constructing monster spray cans to get rid of monsters in your toddlers room. While it seems harmless, it's actually validating your toddler's belief that monsters are real. Understand their fears and talk about them, but don't make them real.
And just like that we'll all be looking at each other going, "how is it 2022 already?"
Here's to a happy, healthy, and well-rested New Year.