I said it and immediately knew I’d crossed a line.
I arrived from a twenty-four hour day of travel with endless delays, mishaps, a night in a suspiciously unglamorous Crowne Plaza in Austin, Texas, and a tantruming three year-old (who refused to nap for the third day straight) to a decidedly adult birthday weekend. When I walked in the front door, several of my best girlfriend’s other best friends were standing around the kitchen, opening up bottles of wine and talking about what type of workout they would be doing that afternoon.
God I envied them.
I looked at one of my bff’s childhood friends and said it plain as day. Those seven words that I could never take back; they still haunt me and make me legitimately question my own consciousness.
“Being a mom is just too hard.”
I recalled the first time I ever threw in the towel, so to speak, on being alive while momming. My son was about 15 months old and I was just about out of my marriage, at that time.
I hired a babysitter with the accounts that would soon be suspended in my divorce and said, “can you come over for a few hours… so I can nap?”
Seventy dollars later and a three-hour nap under my belt (that I swear took seconds), I had bragging rights on the “$70 nap” that saved my life. (Or at least my week.)
Sleep is freaking critical.
And for most of us, it’s impossible to obtain when we need it.
This isn’t an article about getting more sleep.
But it’s about getting the sleep you can when you can and for as long as you can.
Since becoming a mom, I’ve cut caffeine and most alcohol. I workout more than ever and shut my screens off the moment I can after work, lest it fucks with my precious sleep.
Because, if I haven’t mentioned it already: sleep is LIFE. And as a mom, it’s the best thing we can do for self-care.
Most moms work, and most moms do most of the household tasks. (Enter hundreds of statistics by reputable sources here.)
When we get home from work, we’re generally taking care of a home while juggling the role of primary caregiver – or at least the one on whose hips kids prefer to remain attached until some double-digit age.
I once read about an orgasm that was supposed to be so magnificent and life-altering that people compared it to taking a drug like ecstasy and nicknamed it the “kingdom of heaven”.
When I became a mom, a good night’s sleep was as close to this heavenly orgasm as anything on earth.
I’ve never coveted something this elusive in my life.
Not getting enough sleep, according to expert David F. Dinges, Ph.D., leads to irritability, moodiness, and disinhibition. It hampers your ability to multitask, remember basic things (I once forgot the word spatula… for days), and can cause you to nod off while driving. Many authorities even compare sleepiness to drunk driving (1).
Do you find yourself practically running into a median on the road or screaming at your lover? It’s probably a lack of sleep.
Psychologists and other scientists who study sleep disorders illustrate how sleep affects your brain and nervous system, metabolism, immune system, emotional disorders, and alcohol and drug abuse, among other grave disorders and diseases. (1)
So what’s a self-loving and Conscious mama bear to do?
Cut Stimulants and Depressants…
Number one: cut the caffeine to the best of your ability. I know it’s really cute to read the memes about not functioning before coffee, but caffeine almost categorically screws with sleep for everybody.
On the other hand, I cut caffeine and ONLY use it when I’m having a day that is actually-that-exhausting; and it can be an effective tool for just making it to bedtime.
Next meme I want you to ignore is the constant marketing of rose or tequilla to moms. It’s not cute; it’s a crutch. I’m a huge fan of a shot of tequila now and then or a great bottle of wine. But mothers who make 5:00 a seven-day-a-week alcohol license aren’t just getting poorer sleep, but they’re driving themselves into a self-imposed guilt cycle about ostensibly not losing their baby weight. Booze turns into sugar. Sugar is stored as fat in your body. Both sugar as well as alcohol cause you to get less quality sleep and prohibits your body’s natural circadian rhythms to let you know when you’re ready for bed.
Regarding booze: just leave it to special occasions. (And then how very special it is!)
Limit Disrupting Your Child’s Routines
Limit your travel during exhausting times. I wrote the BOOK on baby travel (find it here), but once my son turned approximately 40 months old; we took a three month travel break. From March until July of 2018, we took no less than twelve plane trips. It was normal; I consult and work all over the country and periodically bring my Sun on trips because I am his primary caregiver at this time.
However, one day he had enough of it. I fought with him for months, and found that every trip we took left him enraged with sleepiness and tantruming for days; and it left me with horrific infections caused from the stress of traveling with a maniacal toddler.
What’s more, you know that idea that you need a vacation from a vacation? Moms made that up. And it’s never been so true.
Sleep disrupts our natural circadian rhythms; our bodies’ ability to tell us when to wake up, when to go to sleep, and, when honored, how to heal and refresh during our sleep times.
Keep your kid in a good routine; even if it’s going to hinder your preferred jetsetting existence.
Get The Kid On A Sleep Schedule. (Just Do It, Already…)
I’m that mom whose kid used to stay up until 11 p.m. because I just “couldn’t get him down”. Once I let him cry in his room or play for hours quietly in there because he was not allowed to be “up” in the rest of the house; he got the point.
I regret more than anything taking years to get my son on a great sleep routine, but it’s totally altered my life, and my ability to decompress sufficiently before midnight for a 12-12:30 bedtime. Now my little man is up at 7:15 a.m. on the dot every day and down between 8:15-9 p.m. I wouldn’t change my commitment to his sleep routine for just about anything I’ve done.
I tried crying it out, coddling, nursing until he was three, and everything else I could to coax him to sleep. I don’t know what worked. But I suspect it was my single mom ass finally deciding that I was ready to date (and that meant, hopefully, share my bed with a man and not a baby!) …that put me over the edge.
I’m just being real, here, ladies.
Make A Sacred Sleep Space
Once I got divorced I became a little obsessive about feng shuiing the crap out of my living space.
Furniture is intentionally placed here and there. Colors and photographs were meticulously chosen for their peace-bearing qualities. Cool tapestries and rugs went everywhere.
We sleep with sound machines. We began to smudge weekly, if not daily. Hot baths before bed and essential oils like lavender next to the bed (or under the pillow) became standard.
We ideally sleep in cool environments (about 68 degrees is best for sleeping) and limit all lights (especially artificial ones) in our sleep space.
Screens are absolutely banned after 5 p.m. (for baby, that is) and we have special markers that tell us it’s sleep time.
My Sun needs at least one special toy with him (he doesn’t have stuffed animals he is attached to), his oil diffuser, and at least thirty minutes to an HOUR of book time before bed.
I know, he’s spoiled. But he sleeps through the night like a champ; and I usually do, too.
Get Some Headspace…
Yeah, there are about a million different mindfulness apps out there. And I love a lot of them.
But for busy mamas, here is something you can do that costs nothing to try (10 sessions free) and will radically transform your mood in minutes.
Headspace was started by a guy named Andy who studied Sports Science and then became a Buddhist monk.
Millions of users across 190 countries use Headspace to help with insomnia, relaxation, and even to help call in prosperity or fight addiction in their lives.
As a recovered sufferer of eating disorders, I find that meditation will categorically help me resist urges to engage in unhealthy food consumption or restriction.
And as a fiery Italian from Chicago, I find that meditation helps soften some of my otherwise hard edges. My boyfriend says, “you can take the girl out of Chicago, but you can’t take Chicago out of the girl…” Headspace helps with that.
Just like yoga or other sports, meditation is a practice, not a perfect science.
The more you do it, the better you’ll get.
Sometimes I meditate on a single word, like “hope”, and close my eyes and breathe deeply while letting hopeful thoughts and images (or no thoughts at all!) enter my mind.
Often when I meditate I breathe deeply and count by breaths; 5 seconds in and 5 seconds out.
This radically calms me down when life is chaotic.
Still other time I tell my brain to scan each part of my body from my head to toes, helping create synergy with my body and mind while helping me relax completely.
If you want the world’s easiest meditation trick, check out what Courtney Lynn Harris teaches parents in this video I created for you today:
Take A Nap… Even If It Costs Money
Do you know what I’ll take over a new bottle of M.A.C. concealer or frilly new bra and panties set… 10 times out of 10?
Yep, it’s sleep.
I told you the story earlier of my $70 nap.
But there’s a larger lesson here.
You see, sleep is obviously super critical. And for moms, super elusive, too.
Sometimes it literally costs big bucks for me, as a single mom with no family around, to get some z’s.
But I do it.
I periodically miss important work meetings.
I generally don’t make it to social outings after 6 p.m.
BUT, I have one of the best bods among most women I know, even those who haven’t had kids.
I seriously have the sweetest, most loving child on earth. He’s definitely spoiled, but mostly with a Present and Conscious mama. I’m not ashamed.
My natural energy (on days I get sleep) is through the roof. So is my productivity, thanks to my honed in superpowers of multitasking and efficiency because, well, I’m a mom and have to.
I’ll leave you with one final story.
It’s a few weeks ago…
I’m sitting in my kitchen with my Sun fussing on my hip. He somehow especially needs cuddles when he knows he’s been insufferable. He energetically feels my desperation; even when I try to keep my cool and act calm. Maybe he’s embarrassed after he tantrums all day. I don’t know, but when he’s especially difficult, he wants to be all up in my business. I do kinda love it… to be sure
My Sun is still in single-digit percentile for height and weight; so although he’s three and a half, I can manage holding him for extremely long periods of time.
I coo and coddle the boy out of one side of my mouth while I tilt my head and try to inconspicuously touch up my fingernail polish with a black permanent marker and chat up houseguests out the other.
One guest in my home raises her eyebrows with surprise and obvious judgment. “That’s toxic.”
“Yep, I respond. It’s not my first choice to paint my fingernails with a permanent marker. But today, there’s definitely no other option.”
“Set him down and let him cry is an option.” She says with a smile, although her smug tone initially pierces my ego. “Or YouTube, even.”
Yeah, setting him down would be nice today. NOT reading the same digging dog story fifty-eight times before eight a.m. would be lit. Skipping his bath. Sesame Street. YouTube videos of kids opening up toys; I hear it’s really that easy…
And this week, all that actually sounds pretty freaking amazing.
I’m exhausted. Daycare has been on summer break for weeks and, because I’m the primary parent at this time, I’ve had almost two and a half full weeks off work. Day in and day out I’m with my son. To say that it’s exhausting is a gross understatement.
During his break, he grew at least an inch (we know because he checks how tall he is every time we go to the amusement park – so close to being tall enough for the Alpine Coaster!)
He paired the growth spurt with a new level of food consumption that had me seriously pondering if I need to rework my entire household budget; which isn’t hard to manage with a vegetarian and 100% organic child who doesn’t consume cow’s milk…
He decided that he’s done with naps; although I fight it. If we didn’t find nap time in the car, my son would fuss for over two hours until finally falling asleep; exhausted mostly from fighting me on sleep. Which means I’ve been dealing with temper tantrums on top of nonstop days for over two weeks; no nap means no break for mama!
What’s more, my boyfriend has told me that my son is categorically the most spoiled child he’s ever seen. “He needs your attention day and night. He’s so demanding.”
Yeah, I’m that mom who doesn’t have a TV.
I’m that mom who is committed to playing board games and Go Fish and reading books; sometimes for over five hours throughout a day, with my toddler.
I think we’ve literally played Thomas The Tank Engine for four hours straight some mornings.
I’m that mom who takes my Sun to amusement parks on Tuesdays, different libraries every week, playgrounds daily, and out for caviar binges at Apsen sushi restaurants. He’s spoiled AF, to be sure.
And me? Today I’m tired AF.
Some days I get the sleep, and others I don’t
This isn’t an article meant to preach about the benefits of sleep and why you need it.
Nor is it a guide to all the self-righteous and helicopter-parent-like things I do to get sleep.
But it also kind of is.
Sleep is the best thing we can do to make it through these tough years.
Just do the best you can.
You deserve it.