“Sleep while your baby sleeps.” The veteran moms said it almost as much as, “Your life will now be awful—but with so much joy!”
And I did, a lot. At first. I snatched those random napping moments, day and night, as I healed from a traumatic birth that went nothing like my carefully crafted, typed, and printed plan. While my baby boy snoozed in the bassinet, I crashed on the couch. When he fell asleep on the boob in bed, I slept perfectly still so as not to crush him.
But that was two long years ago. I now understand why no one says, “Sleep while your toddler sleeps.”
As it turns out, toddler sleep is only slightly more consistent than baby sleep. A parent, however, has a ton more to do given the walking, talking, book-stacking, toy-tossing, food-throwing, shelf-climbing, adorable maniac on the loose in your home. Many of us have a job outside of the home that precludes random napping. But still, parents need sleep. And when nighttime rest is disturbed by teething, nightmares, or just the desire to “Play, mama” at 4 a.m., what to do?
The answer is annoyingly, impossibly trite and true: “Sleep while your toddler sleeps” with the caveats—”when and if you can” and “even if it means going to bed at 8 p.m.” During the holidays, when nerves, mood, finances, and time begin to especially fray, it’s essential to bank some zzzz’s to be a kind-enough parent, partner, and/or friend. Here’s some advice on how to sneak it in.
Make a Sleep Date
Like everything else in your life right now, this sleep date could change if a certain someone is vomiting, or weeping for the stuffed rabbit you left at daycare. (Kids offer so many opportunities for self-forgiveness—and yogic breathing.) But make the date. Set an alarm on your phone with a 15-minute warning. If your kid usually goes to sleep at 8 p.m. and wakes at 6 a.m., be brushed, washed, and in bed at 9:30 p.m., reading something calming. Lights out at 10 p.m. It’s not a sexy ritual, but sleep sure does look good on you!
Check out this great nap chart that illustrates how even a 10-minute sleep snack can make a difference. If you work from (or near) home, you can nap. If you have an office with a door that closes, you can nap. If you’re a stay-at-home parent, you can nap while they nap—forget the dishes, crayon bits, and food piles.
Do Yoga Nidra
Some say that yoga nidra (sometimes referred to as yogic sleep) is even more restful than regular shut-eye. Studies have shown it can help with PTSD—which means it helps with everyday nerves too. Yoga nidra involves finding a quiet room for up to 20 minutes. Get comfortable on the floor, using any pillow or bolster that allows you to be able to fully relax, feet apart, arms several inches from the body, palms up. Breathe deeply and slowly, and starting from your scalp and going down to your tows, consciously relax every part of your body. If you mind wanders, return your attention to your breath. Try getting this uber-nap once a week and see how it starts to unwind your nervous system.
You likely know why getting enough sleep is important. A lack of it may impair cognition, cause inflammation, contribute to weight gain, depression, and buying toys from your childhood on Etsy when you should be working. In short, sleep deprivation is just no good for your overall wellbeing, sanity, and health. Conversely, getting enough sleep (seven to nine hours, according to The National Sleep Foundation) can help make you smarter, boost creativity, improve memory, and enhance heart health.
Add these essentials to your self-care regimen during—and after—the holidays, and see if you emerge a touch calmer, clearer, and more nourished.
Valerie Reiss is a writer, editor, content strategist, speaker, and mama. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Yoga Journal, The Huffington Post, CNBC, Women’s Health, and Newsweek, among others. She’s also a certified Kripalu yoga instructor.