21 Things You Can Do Today To Get Better Sleep (Even When You Have A Baby)
This is a guest post by Niklas Goeke. Nik is a freelance writer and habit coach on coach.me. If you’re pressed for time, skip to the checklist and one-day-at-a-time version of this post.
I’ll go full disclosure, right out of the gate:
I don’t have kids.
Not because I don’t like them, it’s more of a matter of age.
You see, I’m 24 years old.
I love kids and can’t wait to have one (like you probably do), but I’d like to make sure I can pay for the diapers first.
So when Timo asked me to guest post on his blog, my initial reaction was:
“Crap, what am I supposed to teach those guys?”
How can I, a 24 year old college student, teach you something? You’re 10, 20, 30 years older than me, with kids, a house, a family, and know so much more than me.
So how can I help you? After all, that’s what guest posts are for.
I browsed around, researched, and racked my brain for a few days.
And then I found something I could help you with, because you need it just as much as I do: sleep.
Look, even if you’re 30 years older than me, you need the same amount of sleep every night, which is about 8 hours, in order to be productive.
(thanks to the National Sleep Foundation)
Where we differ is in the baby thing. But while I haven’t got a kid, since moving in January I have a very noisy upstairs neighbor.
He own’s a pizza and wine restaurant on the ground floor of our building and I think every morning at 6 he decides to play a round of bowling with his empty bottles from the night before.
It sounds like Donkey Kong throwing barrels at Mario.
(what my neighbor does in the morning - via tumblr)
Over the past 9 months, I have fought very hard to improve my sleep quality, dealing with the challenges that come from moving into the city center - like noisy neighbors, traffic and yelling students on their way home from a night out.
I realized that many of the changes I’ve made are similar to the changes you have to make when you have a kid.
Plus, there are plenty of things you can improve for better sleep, that aren’t baby-related at all.
So here’s the deal:
I’ll teach you 21 ways in which you can improve your sleep quality, some considering having kids, some don’t.
You take the ones that work best for you, implement them, and ditch the rest.
How does that sound?
I thought so *smug face*.
But first, a little reminder why this even matters.
Note: I’ve compiled a goodie bag, exclusively for you guys, that comes with this post. It includes a checklist of all 21 changes, 5 additional ways for improving sleep quality when sleeping in one bed with a partner, a free week of sleep coaching (yup, that’s right), and a special discount to a course that walks you through all of these changes and more. If you want to jump to the VIP section right away, go here.
The severe consequences of sleep deprivation
You already know that sleep deprivation takes a tough toll on your productivity. I don’t have to tell you that.
But what if I told you that while your productivity goes down, you feel like you’re doing great?
A couple years ago the University of Pennsylvania decided to debunk the hype around sleep deprivation and whether it hurts your performance or not.
Well, pulling an all nighter has obvious consequences. I see them in college libraries all the time:
(she’s just trying to make sure she remembers the memory book better - via Wikipedia)
But a lot of times you and I suffer from much subtler consequences. Because we run fine on 6 hours of sleep. Or 5. Or 4.
Or so we think.
Their study tracked 48 people over 2 weeks, measuring their performance before and after sleeping for 4, 6 or 8 hours every night.
The result: Everyone from the 4 and 6 hour group performed as if they had just pulled 2 all nighters in a row.
Let me repeat: They performed on the same cognitive level someone would be on after being awake for 48 hours straight.
Now that’s bad.
What’s worse is that they thought they were doing fine.
When asked to rate their performance compared to two weeks before, the majority assumed they’d “roughly be the same”.
Not doing well AND not realizing it is exactly the kind of behavior that gets you to suddenly wake up one day, having to work the cash register at McDonald’s, and wondering what happened.
Since I’m not a big supporter of McDonald’s, I’d really hate having you work for them, so let’s prevent that, shall we?
Baby or not, here I come!
3 steps to a good night’s sleep (with or without a baby)
When you think about what it takes for you to get a good night’s sleep once you’ve had a kid, it really comes down to 3 things:
you being tired when you want to go to sleep
not being interrupted in your sleep from other causes than the baby
adjusting as best as possible to the interruptions from the baby
Let’s jump in.
Step 1: How to actually be tired when you want to go to bed
As a young parent you might say: “Ha, I’m ALWAYS tired these days, I can sleep any time!” but you probably know that’s not true.
We do plenty of things that keep our adrenaline high and often find ourselves wide awake when it’s actually time for some shut-eye.
Here are 7 things I found that help.
Change 1: Turn off screens
The blue light from screens, whether it’s your iPad, your smartphone, TV or laptop, suppresses melatonin production. Melatonin is the hormone that makes you sleepy. But what do you do before bed?
Watch TV (often while surfing on your tablet, it’s ok, you can admit it).
Turning off your screens about 1-2 hours before you want to go to bed is probably the single best thing you can do for your sleep quality.
Together with a fixed bedtime, these are the two things my friend Paul, who’s a sleep coach, recommends implementing first.
Note: I’ve talked Paul’s ear off, until he finally gave in and said: “Fine, I’ll coach your peeps for a week for free.” To cash in on his promise, sign up for the bonus section.
A good way to make sure you stick to this is texting yourself automatically at the time. You can do this for free with IFTTT. I took the liberty to create a recipe for this, so you just have to click add.
This is what it looks like:
Just click the link, sign up for a free account, and add the recipe. You can customize the text and time of course.
That way you’ll automatically get a reminder at the same time each night, that it’s time to power down your screens. This will save you some willpower and decrease your need for self-control to do it.
Change 2: Use f.lux
Okay, let’s face it, you’re not gonna do what I just said. Screens are just too tempting. I get it.
You sometimes have to work late too. That’s okay. There’s an app for that.
It’s called f.lux and what it does is adjust the color of your screen according to the time of the day.
It removes the blue light and changes it to a more reddish, sunset-like color. Here’s a before and after of the color spectrum on my Mac.
Watch the blue spike…
The beauty of it is that it changes the color of your screen gradually, so you barely notice it. The best part? It’s free!
It’s only available on Apple devices though, but there’s an app called Night Filter for Android as well.
A very simple hack you can use to achieve a similar effect is simply setting your phone to black and white at night, that works as well.
(It’s under General -> Accessibility -> Grayscale)
Change 3: Don’t do household chores at night
This is one of my pitfalls as well. The danger of it increases when you get change number 1 right and actually turn off all your electronic devices around 8 pm.
What do you do when there aren’t any screens to watch?
It might seem like it makes sense, what better use of your time than washing dishes or vacuuming the living room, right?
Here’s the problem with it: It doesn’t make you tired.
Hustling always puts you in a state of alert, whether it means writing a great blog post or making your kitchen look so spotless that Mary Poppins would get jealous.
So resist the urge to mop the floor in the evening, and do something that’ll help you wind down instead.
Change 4: Read
Not only will you become smarter, you’ll also become tired.
(I love my Kindle [non-affiliate link])
Plus, sleeping right after you’ve taken in some new information helps you retain it better.
Pro tip: If you’re using a Kindle sometimes, like me, turn down the background lighting (if you have the Paperwhite) all the way to zero (all bars shown in white). This helps avoid the blue light that naturally comes with background lighting for ebook readers. The basic Kindle doesn’t have any background lighting at all, which is even better.
Change 5: Organize your bedroom
Having order in a room has been shown to help us calm down.
Just re-organize your bedroom once and then fight off clutter on an ongoing basis.
Remove unnecessary pieces of furniture, make sure no clothes are lying around and try to remove all electronic devices.
Going to bed in a neat and clean room will give you an additional sense of comfort, as opposed to lying down in the middle of a room that feels like a minefield.
Change 6: Leave the house at least once per day
This should naturally be a part of your day, but I know how easy it is to stay inside all day, especially when working from home.
You’ve probably heard of the 10,000 steps per day rule before. While it takes a lot of effort to walk that much in a day, anyone can take a 15 minute walk.
Moving and exercising signals your body to take a rest at night and recharge.
(the view at my parents’ house)
Going outside and getting some sunlight also increases your vitamin D production, which is a critical vitamin for proper sleep.
Two birds with one stone!
Change 7: Set an alarm at night
Everyone who has a job knows when they have to wake up. Everyone knows how much sleep they roughly need.
So how come no one knows when they should be in bed?
I’m surprised by this.
Similar to the “turn your electronics off” reminder, setting an alarm when it’s time to go to bed will help you build a sleep routine, which your body will thank you for.
Step 2: Reduce non-baby related interruptions you can avoid
Think about it. You already know you’ll wake up at night, since your kid doesn’t sleep through the night yet.
The least you can do is make sure you don’t wake up for other reasons on top of that.
Here are some of the most common reasons for waking up at night, and how to deal with them.
Change 8: Make your room pitch dark
I’m a big fan of waking up with sunlight. But most days, especially since moving to the city, leaving the blinds open is a mistake.
Noises from outside are way louder, street lights shine into your room, and in the summer, when the sun rises early, you’ll wake up at 4 am - right after you got your baby to finally sleep.
Some people argue that making your room pitch dark isn’t natural. But I think our ancestors slept in caves more often than not.
They were warmer at night, had no distractions, no noises, and oh, no saber tooth tigers.
(alright, alright, I’ll go to the cave!)
Just close your blinds, get some curtains if you don’t have any, and be sure to cover up any lights that shine in your room at night, for example your phone charger (best keep it in another room altogether).
Change 9: Wear a sleep mask and earplugs
If you’re a light sleeper and your house has a wooden staircase, or creaky floors, you know how easy it is to wake up from noises inside the house at night, especially if family members go to bed at different times.
When I used to come home late at night from parties as a teenager, I always tried my best to be as silent as possible.
But my mum has such a light sleep, she can hear a feather falling to the ground 2 floors below the one she’s sleeping. I could’ve been a ninja and it would have been no use.
Free earplug samples often go a long way, and you don’t have to spend a penny on them. The sets you can get at airports often combine both a sleep mask and earplugs and if you can’t find a good one, there’s always uncle Amazon.
Pro tip: Noise cancelling headphones. By now they’re even available as in-ear versions, so you can even lay on the side while wearing them. These ones are for actually for running, but only cost $25.
I personally have only tested these premium ones from Bose (non-affiliate link), but can confirm that the noise cancelling on them is terrific. I would recommend the cheaper option starting out though, if this is something you just want to test and don’t use the headphones for other purposes (like running) as well.
Change 10: Cut your caffeine intake at 3 pm
Coffee is great. I’m a huge fan. But it shouldn’t come at the expense of your sleep quality.
Having coffee late in the day might be something you’re used to. If you drink several cups per day, the effect of course wears off, so it might be no problem for you to drink a coffee at 5 or 7 pm and still fall asleep at 10 pm.
The underlying problem is it makes you more likely to wake up in the middle of the night.
Studies have shown that, especially for early risers, coffee has the capability to disrupt their sleep.
For night owls this was less likely to happen, but still a possibility.
After going caffeine free for 100 days this year, I decided to add coffee back into my day.
(tracked with coach.me)
I enjoy the ritual, the smell, and the taste. Consumed in moderation, its antioxidants even have health benefits.
But I limit my intake to one cup in the morning. I sometimes have a decaf cappuccino in the afternoon.
Since the half-life of caffeine is about 4 to 6 hours in humans, I suggest you stop drinking coffee at 3 pm, or switch to decaf at that point.
This way you can make sure the effects have worn off by the time you and your little one go to bed and the leftover caffeine won’t wake you up at night.
Note: Should you happen to be in the market for a new coffee maker, I can highly recommend this one by Nespresso (non-affiliate link). Ever since my parents gave it to me for my birthday in 2012, I go all George Clooney when people ask me what coffee I drink: “Nespresso, what else?”.
Even though I didn’t use it for 2.5 years when I was studying abroad and moving around, it still works like on its first day today.
(my awesome Nespresso coffee maker in action)
Change 11: No alcohol before bed
You might want to reconsider those few after-work beers as well. A nasty thing called rebound effect, can interrupt your sleep right when it’s best - in the NREM (non-rapid eye movement) phase - which is a deep sleep phase, the sleep that’s most regenerative.
There’s nothing wrong with a glass of wine at dinner or a Gin & Tonic on the weekend, but don’t overdo it.
A blood alcohol level of 0.06 - 0.08 (the latter being the legal limit for driving) takes about 4 to 5 hours to be reduced back to zero again.
So if you have more than one drink later in the day on a regular basis, be sure to stop asking for a refill around 4 hours before bedtime.
Note: Don’t worry if you can’t remember all these. I’ve compiled a checklist for you for later. Grab that here.
Change 12: Stop drinking water at the right time
Waking up at night to go to the toilet is a very common interruption, but it’s actually easy to avoid.
I find that when I stop drinking water around 1 to 2 hours before going to bed, I can sleep through the night without waking up.
This is predicated on two factors though:
You drank enough water during the day (at least half a gallon to a gallon)
You didn’t consume something very dehydrating before bed (like a very salty dinner or snack, like chips, or coffee).
It’s a wonderful feeling to close your eyes at 10 pm and only open them at 6 am for the first time. The days when I slept through the night are usually the ones where I feel most rested and ready to tackle my day.
Pro tip: If you stop drinking water ahead of time, you’ll probably be a little thirsty by the time you go to bed. Have a little sip of water (or a shot glass of it), to get rid of the dry feeling in your mouth and feel hydrated before falling asleep.
Change 13: Take care of outside noises
Making your room pitch dark and wearing a sleep mask and earplugs should take good care of that already, but there might still be noises from outside, which wake you up.
In that case, make sure you keep your windows and doors closed, and let the blinds down all the way (no cracks left open!).
(I sometimes make this mistake too)
Pro tip: Close the doors and windows in adjacent rooms as well, sounds often travel further than you think - blocking them before they even get to your room helps.
If you still hear distracting noises, try replacing them with natural sounds. White noise is supposed to help us relax and fall asleep. There are many Youtube videos, like this one with a fan sound, rain sounds (my personal favorite), and even tools like Noisli, where you can create your own custom mix of different, soothing sounds.
Change 14: Adjust the temperature
Maybe your bedroom is too hot or too cold?
The ideal sleep temperature has been shown to be 60-67˚F, so check your thermostats and make sure your room is roughly at that temperature.
I found that if my room gets too hot (especially in the summer), I sometimes wake up at night and even have a headache in the morning, because the air quality really suffers.
This problem is exaggerated when you sleep in one room with a partner, because both of you use the same supply of oxygen in the room. If your bedroom is not very big, like mine, it might get sticky.
Be sure to ventilate your room well (open the window entirely for a few minutes, then close it again) before going to bed and set the temperature right.
Change 15: Put your phone in airplane mode
Don’t you think your baby clamoring for your attention is enough? Don’t let your phone do the same!
Put it in airplane mode, or at least completely silence it, so the vibrating, or even worse, ringing, doesn’t wake you up in the middle of the night.
It actually feels good to be “not available” for once, since we’re usually always on during the day. What’s more, most nights you’ll have your loved ones right around you while you sleep, so there’s no need to worry about any emergencies.
Pro tip: If a family member stays out late, knowing in advance can help. You can then set your phone to only allow calls from them to go through. The iPhone also allows you to have a caller be able to reach you if she calls twice in a row within 3 minutes (which suggests it’s urgent).
Step 3: Adjust to your baby’s sleeping schedule as best as possible
This is the big one. Of course, no matter how much you try and how good you are at sleeping interruption-free on your own, your baby will wake up.
And make sure you know it’s awake :)
To a degree, waking up at night is normal and just a part of the process. Here are some ways to make it through the times when you do wake up at night as best as possible.
Change 16: Don’t check the time when you wake up
This might seem counterintuitive at first, but if you don’t check the time, you can’t panic about how late or early it is.
When I wake up at 5 am and I actually want to sleep till 6, whenever I look at the clock I instantly think: “Crap, only 1 hour left, I hope I fall back asleep fast. After all, today I want to finish this article. Oh AND go for a swim. Grocery shopping is due too, dammit!”
And before I know it, I’m wide awake and talked myself into getting up.
(your brain spins even faster than this)
If I don’t check the time, I just think about how tired I am and fall asleep again much faster.Whether I still have 3 hours left to sleep, or 10 minutes, it doesn’t matter. I’m just trying to get the most out of my sleep time.
It’s the same with your kid. When your little one wakes up and you have to calm her down and you see it’s 2 am and “you just know she always wakes up at 4 as well” you’re very likely to talk yourself into just staying up.
Don’t check the time at night and give yourself some peace of mind this way.
Change 17: If you have to get up, leave the lights off
As you learned in change 1 and change 8, lights, especially unnatural ones, have a stimulating effect on your body.
Instead of turning the lights on when you wake up at night, and waking yourself up even more, learn to navigate in the dark.
I’m always surprised by how well our eyes adjust to the dark (even when they’re closed). And let’s be honest, even with all your electronic lights turned off, most times there’s still enough light from outside, the moon, etc. that makes sure you see at least enough to get around.
Pro tip: When you wake up, stay in bed for a minute or two before getting up. That way you’ll give your eyes some extra time to adjust to the dark and see better.
Change 18: Take naps during the day
Timo mentioned this in his post a while ago. Yes, you might have only slept from 10 till 4, because your baby terrorized you early in the morning, but you can always catch up.
Especially if you’re a stay-at-home mum or dad, nothing speaks against a 30 minute or 1 hour nap in the afternoon, to make up for some lost time at night.
It’s true that naps aren’t as good as more sleep at night, but they’re better than losing an entire day’s worth of work due to feeling too tired and groggy.
Pro tip: Take a nap right after lunch, as that’s usually a time where your body is tired anyways, because it works on digesting your first big meal of the day (if you have a fairly light breakfast, that is).
Change 19: Adjust to the baby’s sleep cycle
Playing captain obvious here, but if your baby sleeps at 8 pm, guess what’s a bad idea?
Going to bed at 12 am.
Try to adjust to your baby’s sleep schedule as best as possible.
(knowing your circadian rhythm helps)
You don’t have to be in bed at the same time (although it helps, if you can), but try not to have a gap between you going to bed and the baby starting to sleep, that’s more than an hour.
Newborns often sleep only up to 4 hours at a time, meaning you could be woken up only 2 hours after you went to bed, if you go to bed 2 hours later than your kid.
This gets better when the baby is 4 to 6 months old, but especially in the beginning it’s important to sync up your sleep with the babies as much as possible.
Note: Know who else needs you to adjust to them? Your partner! I came up with 5 more ways to improve sleeping in one bed together. That mini report comes as a bonus to this post.
Change 20: Put a quote on your baby’s crib
Waking up at night to a screaming baby is a painful thing. Heck, waking up to anyone else’s scream is annoying.
It’s so easy to get frustrated and of course, blame the other person.
But, especially with a baby, it’s a temporary situation. So why not remind yourself of it when you most need to hear it?
Put a post-it note with an inspiring quote on your baby’s crib, to remember this.
(Image via Pinterest)
This way, when you go to pick him or her up at night, you’ll see it and it will help you put things in perspective.
I like these ones:
Nothing lasts forever.
This too shall pass.
Et illu transit (this too shall pass in Latin).
Change 21: Learn what your baby needs
What’s the fastest way to going back to sleep when your baby wakes up at night?
Giving her what she wants!
The better you get at reading your kid’s needs, the sooner you’ll be under the covers again.
Learn your baby’s language, get some materials, don’t be afraid to invest.
If you can instantly tell whether your baby is hungry, in pain, or just needs to be carried around, you can immediately do it, instead of spending 20 minutes guessing what she wants.
Over time your nightly interruptions will get shorter and shorter, and your body will thank you for it.
Time to wrap up
Phew, that was a lot! I hope you see there’s plenty of angles for you to improve your sleep quality, with or without a kid.
It’s easy to make excuses.
But it’s just as easy to pick one of these changes and implement it.
I don’t want to take any chances though.
That’s why, to make absolutely sure you take action on this blog post, I’ve created a bunch of bonuses to help you do so:
My checklist of all the changes, so you can easily put them into action and check them off one by one.
A mini bonus report that shows you 5 more changes you can make when sleeping in one bed with your partner.
One week of free sleep coaching with my friend Paul. He’s a real sleep expert and has helped me with many of these changes. During your free week of chat-based coaching with him, he’ll guide you through implementing all of these changes and more.
Access to Paul’s bestselling course “30 Days to Superhuman Sleep” for only $9.99. This course takes gives you an action item to improve your sleep each day. You can go through it at your own pace, one change at a time. The plan includes some of these changes, and a few more, providing helpful background information with each step. This deal is only available for the first 50 people though, so be quick!
You can access all these goodies completely free in the special bonus section I set up for Productive Superdad readers.
Meanwhile, I’ll be sleeping like a baby, in spite of my crazy neighbor :)
Nik is a freelance writer and habit coach on coach.me. He writes at niklasgoeke.com about overcoming fear, building willpower and making habits stick. If you’re ready to stop sitting on the fence and take action, join his free newsletter.