Take Back Your Sleep: A Survival Guide for Dads
By Hilary Thompson
You just tried to turn on the TV with your electric razor while ordering a pizza for the family with the remote up to your ear. You’d trade your best friend for a two-hour nap at this point. Sleep deprivation is no joke, and you’ve got it bad.
The phrase "young kids at home" tends to go hand in hand with "we're not sleeping well." Between midnight feedings, potty-training accidents, nightmares, teenager mischief, and bouts of the stomach flu, it might feel like you'll never get a full night's sleep again. Unfortunately, you have a job, which means you need to function even when your family isn’t sleeping well. Don't despair, Dad. There are a few tips you can incorporate to get a little closer to those coveted seven to nine hours a night that experts recommend––yes, it’s possible.
These tips can apply to both you and your children. Following this advice will ensure a better night’s sleep for all of you.
1. Follow a Predictable Routine. Experts agree that one of the tricks to get kids to fall asleep the fastest is to follow a consistent and predictable bedtime routine. And the same is true for you, Dad! Most people are used to a routine with babies: feed them, bathe them, put on clean jammies, and rock them to sleep. Adults need routines, too! Over time, your body and mind identify the predictable steps leading to sleep, so when you turn out the lights, your body is ready. A cup of tea, a hot shower, and a good book is a simple example of a routine for adults.
2. Turn Off Devices. If you do read right before bed, it’s important that you’re not reading on a device like a tablet or a phone. The blue light emanating from your devices actually interrupts circadian rhythms, interfering with your sleep/wake cycles. Experts suggest that you turn off devices a couple of hours before you want to go to sleep. If this is impossible, there are many styles of blue-light-blocking glasses on the market. And, hey, if you’ve reached 40, you’ll be happy to know that some even come with magnification.
3. Keep the Room Cool. Most experts agree that the ideal room temperature to promote good sleep (for both children and adults) is 60-67 degrees Fahrenheit. Part of the process of going to sleep is a cooling down of body temperature. A cooler room expedites this process.
1. Reduce Sunlight. Although it is ideal to go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day, some people use the weekends to “catch up” on sleep. This can be hard if you’ve been waking up regularly to an alarm Monday through Friday. The body stops producing melatonin (a hormone that regulates sleep) when the optic nerve is exposed to light, so blocking the sun out may snag you a few more ZZZs. Blackout curtains and shades are pretty affordable, and putting them in your kids’ rooms just might stop little hands from waking you up at 6 AM on a Saturday. Worth it.
2. Get the Right Mattress. Are you still sleeping on the mattress from your first apartment? When you get in bed, do you roll toward your partner? Do you wake up in more pain than you were in the night before? Odds are, your kids’ mattresses are less than 8-10 years old (the suggested life of a mattress), but yours might be up for replacement. Even your kids, despite their resiliency, still need a good mattress . Beds can be a big purchase, though, so if you’re not up for that now, a mattress topper could be just what you need to extend the life of your mattress and sleep a little better.
3. Get a Pillow That Fits. Make sure your pillow supports your head and neck well. Pillows that are too flat provide no neck support, and pillows that are too bulky will bend your neck at an awkward and uncomfortable angle. This is especially true for kids—adult pillows are often too big for them. Most people are surprised to find out that they actually make pillows for toddlers.
1. Make Your Late-Night Snack Count. Calcium may make it easier to fall asleep. In fact, according to William Sears, M.D., "Calcium helps the brain use the amino acid tryptophan to manufacture the sleep-inducing substance melatonin. This explains why dairy products, which contain both tryptophan and calcium, are one of the top sleep-inducing foods." Yogurt and cheese make great bedtime snacks for kids, too.
2. Avoid Caffeine 8 Hours Before Bedtime. Caffeine keeps you awake, so it should probably be avoided close to bedtime, right? But when should you stop and how long does it stay in your system? Is that iced tea with lunch off limits? The answer is, it depends on when you want to go to sleep. Studies show that even stopping a mere six hours before bed will rob you of an hour of sleep every night. Given this and other information about caffeine intake, it is probably advisable to stop caffeine intake eight hours before you plan on sleeping. And remember, chocolate contains caffeine—so choose your kids’ after-dinner desserts wisely.
3. Refrain from Certain Foods. Spicy or fatty foods can cause indigestion because they increase acid production, especially if you or your kids are prone to it. Heartburn makes sleep uncomfortable and can also keep your kids awake at night. If it has been keeping you up until the early hours of the morning, there are many things you can do about it, but chances are your dinner was the main culprit. So if you like it hot, you might want to save it for lunch.
Sleep is not a mirage in the desert of parenthood! It may take some work, but with a few changes, you and your family could be having the sleep of your wildest dreams. Goodnight, Dad!
About The Author
Hilary Thompson is a freelance writer specializing in health and wellness. She's been featured in publications like Reader's Digest, BestLife, Purpose Fairy, and Today. She specializes in senior health, family sleep issues, and sleep disorders, but frequently covers a variety of topics ranging from fitness to family dynamics. A mother of two, she lives in Utah with her family and French Bulldog named Stella.