How to Sleep Train Yourself


get better sleepYour baby is finally sleeping well, but are you? Many parents struggle with sleeplessness themselves. Often we never had the greatest sleep habits, but we didn’t notice until we became parents. Sleep feels so much more vital to our daily existence after kids. The truth is, everyone can benefit from improved sleep, and not many of us know the science behind it.

Two forces work together to control your sleep: the homeostatic drive and circadian rhythms.

The homeostatic drive determines how sleepy you are while awake and how deep or light your sleep is. It’s also known as your sleep debt. The longer you stay up, the more tired you become, and the longer you stay asleep, the less deep that sleep becomes. The homeostatic drive is at work when you sleep late in the morning after staying up late.

Circadian rhythms control your internal body clock. Before artificial lighting, this drive caused us to wake at dawn, and become sleepy when it’s dark. Nowadays, it’s externally controlled by the time we get up each day and the light we are exposed to, both natural and artificial. Circadian rhythms are at work when you awaken at your normal time, even though you stayed up late the night before.

When you experience jet lag, these two drives are completely out of sync. Your circadian rhythms cause you to wake at odd hours of the night, while your sleep debt amasses and you need long, deep naps to recover. Jet lag serves as an extreme example, but often our sleep is less than ideal because of a subtler discord between these two drives. To get good sleep, we want to get our homeostatic drive in sync with our circadian rhythms. That way we will be tired enough when it’s time for bed to get a full, deep night’s sleep, and feel our best in the mornings.

It’s time to sleep train yourself.

Wake up at the same time each morning. Make your mornings pleasurable and comfortable and create a routine that gets you on autopilot. It can be hard to think when you first wake up! My suggestion is to drink warm water with lemon and honey with your house at a warm temperature and take a hot shower. I like to start with dim lights so I don’t shock myself, but don’t wait too long to get them on nice and bright, which I’ll get to next…

Get in the sunshine as early as possible. Light exposure is the only way that we can control our circadian rhythms. Actual sunshine is far superior to artificial lights, but both work. If you can’t get sun, turn your lights on bright, open the blinds, and even look at yellow or orange in your home.

Get thirty minutes or more of vigorous exercise each day. Vigorous means that your heart is working. Walking, running, or jumping on a trampoline with kids are all examples of vigorous exercise. Luckily the exercise can accumulate throughout the day, so you don’t need it to be all in one chunk. Ideally, you’ll do the bulk of this exercise before lunch, but you have some flexibility as to when to do it. Just don’t exercise right before bedtime.

Don’t nap, or nap correctly. Naps can reinvigorate you if done correctly, but otherwise, they can leave you groggy and keep you awake too late at night. The trick is not to let them go on too long and to nap at the right time. Have you ever noticed that many cultures have tea or coffee at four o’clock in the afternoon? That’s not a coincidence – we experience a natural wave of tiredness at this time. If you choose to nap, do so at this time, but do not allow your nap to exceed 45 minutes. You do not want to enter into deep sleep. Naps do not “make up” lost overnight sleep. They just refresh you during your day. Naps done correctly, or even just some rest time, can benefit some people. But if you’re trying to reset your circadian rhythm, forgo naps and push through.

Stop looking at screens two hours before your bedtime. The blue light they emit activates our circadian rhythms and keeps us awake even if our sleep drive is great. iPhones have a setting called Night Shift that turns off the blue lights, which can help, but if you use it, stop looking at the screen one hour before bedtime, since it can still overstimulate your brain.

Go to bed when you feel the first wave of tiredness. Staying up later will give you a second wind. Following your body’s cues like this will help you figure out when an appropriate bedtime, so you can then…

Go to bed at the same time each night. Use a consistent bedtime routine to help make sure that you get in bed at the right time, and that you do so in a relaxed way, ready for sleep. Take care of your personal hygiene and prepare yourself for bed at the start of your bedtime routine. For me that means makeup off, teeth brushed, pajamas on, and hair braided. Saving it for later will make bedtime less relaxing and more likely to be pushed later than you intended.

Calm your mind. Before bed, do something relaxing to calm your worries. Worries may cause you to wake during the night and prevent you from relaxing enough to get to sleep on time.  I like yoga, because it relaxes you physically, even if you can’t actually change the things that worry you. You can also read, meditate, or have some cuddle time.

Set up your bedroom for sleep. Only use your bedroom for sleep and intimacy. If you must use your bedroom for other purposes, do not use the bed. Your room might be a place for dressing or reading, but ideally, it won’t also be your home office or something else highly stimulating. Invest in a high-quality mattress so you’re comfortable all night. Total darkness stimulates melatonin production so you may want to put up blackout blinds. If noise bothers you, use earplugs or turn on white noise to drown it out.  

Parenting poses so many challenges as it is. Good rest will allow you to tackle them while you think and feel best. So go ahead and sleep train yourself!


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here