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A Converted Napper’s Guide to Better Sleep

I used to baulk at the thought of napping. Then I became a mom.

My pre-kid self had “too much to do” to let an hour or two of daylight pass in slumber. Now with an active one-year-old and a baby on the way, rest is one of my daily goals. Some days, my schedule allows a midday nap or early bedtime. Most days I identify with the one in four U.S. residents who say they aren’t getting enough sleep, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

If you’re like me — or like the 10 percent of people that, the CDC reports, suffer from chronic insomnia — you’re at greater risk for associated ailments like depression, obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Yikes! Mamas, it’s time to slow down, assess your rest routine and celebrate Better Sleep Month this May.

On my journey from non-napper to religious daytime snoozer, I found a few focuses truly helpful.

Please note that I am in no way a healthcare professional. What follows are just some of my personal experiences. If you suspect you suffer from chronic insomnia or another sleep disorder, please call your doctor!

Quality and Quantity in Equal Measure

If opportunities for naps are rare, or if sleeping in late or going to bed early at night are not options, try to maximize the quality of whatever rest you can get. Take a tip from the CDC and ensure your sleeping area is dark, quiet, and comfortable. Or click here for tips on creating an ideal sleeping space.

My bedroom gets bright and warm in the afternoon despite shutter blinds. I asked my husband for a sleep mask for Christmas (it was literally the ONLY thing I asked him for), and it’s been the best gift ever. I crank up the fan, silence my phone (unless my daughter is at preschool where her teachers might need to reach me), and embrace sleep like an old friend.

Make the most of the time you have to rest, whether that’s while your kids are away at school or during nap times. I aim to be ready to hit the pillow as soon as my daughter’s down for her nap, or no later than 9:30 at night. In the mornings, I have no guilt in letting my husband rise first to change the baby so that I can get a few more precious minutes of shut-eye. Maybe one day I’ll be the kind of mom to claim her morning long before the kids wake. This ain’t the season of my life for that.

Just a Pinch of Sugar, or Caffeine

Let’s be honest, sometimes we crave quiet time during the kids’ naps to sneak a piece of leftover Easter candy without sharing, or to enjoy a hot cup of coffee while checking our news feeds. Instead of starting there, reserve these luxuries for the first moments after you wake from your nap, while the baby is waking from hers or cooing in her crib. My experience with sugar and caffeine consumed too soon before trying to sleep has not been good.

So, how much sugar and/or caffeine is too much? Few topics, except politics, compare in contention. My favorite mug, which I use daily reads “Mommy needs sleep,” on one side . . . “but she’ll settle for some coffee,” on the other. It’s a cute mantra, and I could refill it three times a day, but all that caffeine makes a poor substitute for restorative sleep. True, a hot cup in the morning helps get me going, as a few bites of dark chocolate push me through the afternoon. But, Mommy can’t live on these alone.

Temper with Healthful Habits

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy my sweets and salty treats — sometimes in moderation, and other times like an unsupervised child at a birthday party. But high-fat foods, heavy meals, and caffeine or alcohol too close to bedtime can seriously impact the quality of sleep. Check out this handy slideshow from WebMD on foods that help or harm your sleep. For example, I might replace my bedtime chocolate bunny binge with a healthy snack of yogurt with banana and almonds — all sleep-promoting foods. Eat to sleep? Yes, please!

It’s no surprise that exercise, especially the aerobic kind, promotes better sleep (see this WebMD article for more). At times, I struggle to mix cardio with strength training, but the right balance of the two at the right time of day helps me fall and stay asleep. Personally, exercising too close to bedtime can keep me awake as much as a cup of coffee might. But that adrenaline high might be confused with excess energy not exercised during the day. Pay attention to your body’s signals — and, of course, talk to your doctor to find out what’s right and safe for you.

Above all, give yourself a little grace to take that well-deserved nap or to set sleeping and waking rituals that maximize your rest. Your wellbeing is worth it!

Have wisdom to share? What are your tips and tricks for better sleep?

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