When an IV drip of coffee and a weeklong nap don’t even seem like enough to help you make it through, what do you do? Try these tips.
Your toddler just transitioned to a big boy bed, but won’t actually stay in it. Or you’ve got several kids — one struggling with night terrors, who wakes up the second, and the third is, well, a newborn.
Or because of the pandemic and shattered routines, everyone in your household is stressing more and sleeping less.
Whatever your situation, you’ve tried all the tips (maybe hired a sleep coach or two). But your kids are still up and you’re still exhausted.
You also might be feeling very frustrated — and maybe even a little helpless and hopeless (understandably!).
After all, “sleep is a basic human need,” says Lauren Hartz, LPC, a psychotherapist in Pennsylvania and mom of two children.
She knows firsthand what it’s like to subsist on little sleep: For the past 9 years, Hartz has been giving medicine to her oldest son every 6 hours — including at 2 a.m.
Whatever your specific situation, however, there are many ways you can boost your energy and savor more (or at least more restful) sleep. Here’s how.
While the days of sleeping in until noon are a relic from another life, with some thoughtful strategizing, you can finally catch more shut-eye.
Realize the power of sleep
We often dismiss the significant benefits of sleep, which leads us to stay up late scrolling through our social feeds or puttering around the house. LA-based therapist and mom Sharon Yu, LMFT, suggests reflecting on how lack of sleep is really affecting you — and it goes beyond next-day grogginess.
It “affects your focus, your ability to attune well to your children’s needs, and your tolerance and resilience to little setbacks during the day,” Yu says. “Cumulatively, it subtly wears away motivation, connections with self and others, and [your] overall ability to enjoy your day to day.”
While this sounds depressing, there’s a bright side: Realizing the importance of sleep leads you to prioritize it, which helps you let go of less important tasks and activities.
So leave the scrolling or scrubbing for tomorrow, and close your eyes a little earlier whenever you can.
Reassess automatic assumptions
Yu encourages parents to evaluate all options regarding roles, responsibilities, and outsourcing — even ones that seemed off-limits before the pandemic and feel like a luxury during it.
For instance, a stay-at-home parent who was previously responsible for getting up through the night now alternates nights with the working parent. California therapist and mom Catherine O’Brien, LMFT, encourages clients to get at least 5 to 6 hours of uninterrupted sleep and to alternate napping or sleeping in on weekends.
In another assumption-busting example, parents who are currently working from home might hire a lawn company for outdoor maintenance, send out their laundry for washing, or use a meal delivery service for some dinners to alleviate time spent on household chores.
Strategize with your support system
Can your support system help you get more sleep or rest? For instance, says Hartz, “is there a family member, friend, or neighbor who can stop by for an hour to allow you to take a short nap?”
With current concerns you might have to get creative to make this tip work safely.
Consider whether you can load your baby into the stroller to facilitate a low-contact hand off to a masked friend for an outdoor neighborhood walk. Or perhaps a favorite family member can schedule a video chat with your preschooler to read books together. You can stay in the same room and rest your eyes while someone else handles the entertainment for a while.
Play with different arrangements
Brainstorm a temporary change you can make so nights become a bit easier.
For example, if you have several kids, put them in one room so the parent on duty can easily manage them in the same place, says Angel Montfort, PsyD, a Florida-based psychologist and mom of four children.
Boost your chances of getting good sleep
If you’re unable to increase the number of hours you’re sleeping, you can still make the sleep you are getting genuinely restful — and help yourself fall asleep faster.
To do that, Hartz suggests creating a short bedtime routine with activities that leave you feeling calm and relaxed versus getting sucked into mindless or stress-inducing tasks (like scanning headlines).
For some people, she says, this might mean watching a favorite show while sipping hot tea. For others, it might be a warm bath and a good book.
Boosting your energy doesn’t require complicated strategies; small and simple practices — like the ones below — can help you stay present with your kids, get things done, and feel good.
Tend to your basic needs
Simply staying hydrated and eating enough nutritious foods can spark energy, since dehydration and an empty stomach can mimic exhaustion, says Montfort, who stresses the importance of meeting your most essential needs.
If you tend to forget to eat or drink water, set reminder alarms on your phone.
Fill your cup
Since lack of sleep drains our energy “cup,” Hartz says, think of small ways you can fill it back up.
“If you notice yourself feeling agitated or overwhelmed, ask ‘What can I do right in this moment to feel 5 to 10 percent better?’” she says.
For example, according to O’Brien, you might dance to music you love or apply peppermint essential oil to your ears and temples, since it’s “known to improve mental clarity and raise energy levels.” You might also text your best friend or just close your eyes for a minute.
Re-evaluate your day
Think about what you can take off your plate to make your day easier, says O’Brien. Consider these questions:
- What absolutely must get done today?
- What is actually optional?
- What can you delegate?
Hartz suggests standing in the grass barefoot, and noticing your surroundings: a beautiful tree, a cloudy sky, or the warmth of the sun on your skin.
“These things only take a moment but can make a big difference,” she says.
Of course, getting outside is also great for engaging and calming restless kids.
Harness your breathing
Move your body
“Though physical exertion may seem counterintuitive, it has been proven to elevate energy levels and improve mood,” Montfort says. It also helps some people fall asleep faster, enhancing sleep quality, she adds.
Moving your body doesn’t have to be a formal 30-minute routine.
You might start the day by practicing a few yoga poses. If you’re really pressed for time, try progressive muscle relaxation: tensing and relaxing different muscle groups, from your feet to your head, while taking deep, slow breaths, Montfort says.
Institute quiet time
If you’re home with your kids (who don’t nap), make quiet time part of your day. For example, your kids might color, read, or play quietly in their room while you journal, rest on your bed, or do anything else that calms you, says O’Brien.
Not getting enough sleep can feel awful and even downright demoralizing. However, with a little bit of creativity, help from others, and self-care, you can boost your energy, effectively rest, and feel better.
The key is to first and foremost realize that sleep — which is critical for your emotional, mental, and physical health — deserves a prime place on your schedule.
Margarita Tartakovsky, MS, is a freelance writer and associate editor at PsychCentral.com. She’s been writing about mental health, psychology, body image, and self-care for over a decade. She lives in Florida with her husband and their daughter. You can learn more at www.margaritatartakovsky.com.