If you’re a parent, you know that one of the hallmarks of parenthood is sleepless nights. Whether you have a newborn or a preteen, you may think that you don’t sleep as well as you did before having kids. For its second annual sleep study, “Sleep Uncovered: How Parents Sleep,” Mattress Firm set out to find out just how parents are sleeping. The results show notable differences between parents and nonparents, including in emotional health, how rested they feel and how they value sleep.
In collaboration with SleepScore Labs™, this study surveyed more than 1,400 adults, including 1,047 parents with children ages 1-12 living at home and 368 nonparents. The results found that the more children a parent had, the less they slept: 68% of parents with three kids agreed they slept better before having children. Older parents and single parents also experienced diminished sleep. Of all ages groups, those whose youngest child was between the ages of 6 to 12 reported 50 minutes less sleep per night than parents with the youngest child between the ages of 1 and 5.
The study found that parents were less likely than nonparents to prioritize sleep and more likely than nonparents to fit exercise or taxing activities into their time before bed. In fact, less than 42% of parents said sleep was very important to them, compared to 65% of nonparents; this is likely due to competing family priorities that push sleep to the backburner. It’s crucial for parents to start prioritizing sleep in order to maintain their health and well-being so they’re at their best when caring for their children. While it’s widely accepted that sleepless nights and disrupted rest are just a normal part of parenthood, it doesn’t have to be. If you find it difficult as a parent to sleep well, check out these four tips to improve your sleep hygiene for a restful night’s sleep.
1. Stick to a regular sleep schedule
About 41% of parents reported getting out of bed at different times throughout the week, compared to 23% of nonparents. It can feel like a luxury to sleep in on the weekends when you don’t need to get your kids off to school, but doing so can disrupt your body’s circadian rhythms.
According to the Mayo Clinic, having a consistent sleep schedule reinforces your body’s sleep-wake cycle. The occasional lie-in is fine, especially if you’re catching up on sleep debt, but if you want regular restful sleep, you should aim to go to sleep and get up at the same time every day.
2. Relax before bed
Many parents establish an evening routine for their children, such as limiting screen time before bedtime, bathing, brushing their teeth and getting tucked in with a story. A similar bedtime routine can help parents sleep better, too. Sleep.com recommends starting your bedtime routine at least an hour before going to bed, reducing blue light (including from phones) and minimizing food and drink. Use this chunk of time to engage in self-care, which many single parents can find challenging to do during the day. According to the survey, 21% of single parents said they make time for self-care throughout the week, compared with 37% of partnered parents.
So, put away the electronics, dim the lights and engage in soothing, relaxing activities like reading a book or listening to a podcast — Chasing Sleep has a whole episode about sleep and parenting — taking a warm bath or drinking herbal tea.
3. Stress when the sun is out
Once your kids are asleep, you may find yourself catching up on bills and other tasks you couldn’t get to during the day. However, anxieties can rile you up and keep you from being able to turn off your mind for sleep. To help keep your to-do list from interrupting your nightly sleep, set aside time each day to tackle the most complex tasks. Behavioral sleep psychologist Jade Wu, Ph.D., also recommends making what she calls a “mental litter box” to hold all of your worries. She recommends letting your mind worry about any looming issues for a few minutes during the day, then putting those concerns back into the mental box so that they don’t pester you while you’re trying to sleep. After all, getting good sleep can help you feel more emotionally resilient to tackle the big stuff. “It’s a lot harder to weather setbacks, feel upbeat, be patient and do all the other things required as a parent when you don’t sleep well,” Wu says.
4. Create a soothing sleep environment
About 61% of parents agree that changing their bedroom setup would result in better sleep. With just a few adjustments, you can create a space that will have you falling asleep quickly and deeply. Dr. Chris Winter, MD, neurologist and Mattress Firm’s Sleep Health Expert, believes creating a soothing bedroom environment begins with the five senses. To create the perfect sleep foundation, Dr. Winter recommends keeping the room dark, cool and quiet, as well as sleeping on a comfortable mattress and linens and using a pillow based on individual sleep needs. It will take time to establish new sleep habits, but with a little patience and effort, you can improve your chances of getting consistent, quality sleep. Using these four tips, you’ll be on your way to better sleep so you can wake up refreshed and ready to take on a new day. To learn more about the “Sleep Uncovered 2023: How Parents Sleep” report, visit MattressFirm.com.