Even if everyone goes to bed on time without grumbling (ha!), ensuring your family gets the rest it needs to meet the day ahead can take some doing. Some sleep research may surprise you – an interrupted night’s sleep is worse than staying awake, for example – but when it comes to sleep, parents face a daunting task. Nearly every day, we’re bombarded with a new study trumpeting the importance of healthy rest, and research shows that sleep deprivation contributes to a collection of health evils from depression to hypertension to obesity.
Juggling the widely different sleep needs of each member of our family, however, is easier said than done. From the teen who texts into the wee hours to the tot who demands 20 bedtime stories to the spouse who tosses and turns, everyone has a different excuse for joining in the familiar chorus of “I’m tired!” and “Just five more minutes!” Complicating the issue is our own lack of shut-eye. According to the National Sleep Foundation, up to three-quarters of moms struggle with bouts of insomnia.
What’s a sleep-starved parent to do? If an extreme sleep makeover (7 p.m. bedtime for everyone!) is out of reach, consider these baby steps toward better rest for everyone in your family. Try just one, pick several, or give them all a whirl.
1. Turn spare minutes into sleep. Stop worrying about your looming “sleep debt” – those countless hours of lost slumber that you’ll never recover. Instead, aim for just a few more minutes of sleep per day. Tucking everyone into bed 30 minutes earlier than normal (including yourself) is realistic, and kids probably won’t balk too much. But this small step adds 3.5 extra hours of slumber per week.
2. Start the day right. Preparing for an easy bedtime begins first thing in the morning, when bright a.m. rays help set the body’s internal clock to make it easier to fall asleep at night. When everyone’s awake, throw open the curtains to let the daylight in, and eat breakfast in the sunniest spot in your home.
3. Ditch the nightlights. For better quality sleep, turn your alarm clock toward the wall. The National Sleep Foundation reports that light plays a major role in regulating biological patterns. Even tiny beams of nighttime light can disrupt circadian rhythms and hinder deep, restorative sleep. That means bright alarm clocks, TVs and computers should be turned off, covered or kept out of the bedroom altogether. Nightlights should be used only to calm children’s nighttime fears; always choose the dimmest one possible and make sure it doesn’t shine directly on their face.
4. Unplug. Viewing stimulating TV and online content at night keeps the family awake and alert when they should be winding down for sleep. Set and enforce media hours, and aim to keep the last hour before bedtime free from the glare of a TV, laptop or gaming device.
5. Cut the caffeine. Moms love their java: the National Sleep Foundation reports that 65 percent of women rely on caffeine to make it through the day. But overly caffeinated days can make for sleepless nights. For better sleep, limit caffeine to 200 milligrams per day (around 12 ounces of regular drip coffee) before 3 p.m.; children under 12 shouldn’t consume caffeine in any form – that means no soda!
6. Fill your plate. Feed your family fare that supports healthy rest. Foods rich in tryptophan – like dairy and soy products, meat and poultry, whole grains and eggs – can help your family feel sleepy. Magnesium-rich foods like black beans, pumpkin seeds and almonds help relax the muscles. And the calcium found in milk, yogurt, salmon, oatmeal, tofu and fortified orange juice support the production of melatonin, a natural sleep aid.