I have been using a formula “gratitude improves sleep” to get families sleeping better for the last 5+ years, and of course I use the method personally as well. I have to tell people again and again, “no, I am not a sleep trainer”. Some wonder if I, like many others, are advertising a tear-free bedtime solution that will not live up to its promise. That it will be some dressed up version of cry-it-out. Because, how else can we get parents sleeping better, right? We have to make the kids wake up less, we have to train them to put themselves to sleep, right?!
Baby sleep is completely misplaced
It is my opinion that our focus on baby sleep is completely misplaced. Culturally, we have been trying to force infants into fitting into our schedules for sleeping and eating, and many parents and caregivers have lost sight of where the control really lies, and what will give us the most return on our investment of time and energy. We cannot truly control others (that includes our children). Sometimes training efforts will result in short-term changes, but human beings have a way of asserting their autonomy quite persistently.
When parents shift focus onto their own habits and behaviours, what is within their ability to affect, the trickle down effect is quite amazing. And yes, this will lead to more sleep for a tired parent(s)!
As this long weekend in Canada approached, the act of gratitude and the art of letting go has been on my heart and mind. Both have been scientifically proven to positively affect quality of sleep! The bonus is, incorporating the following suggestions also leads to less depression and anxiety, which are also common among sleep-deprived parents.
Here is a real life, recent example: The other morning I was annoyed because my toddler Beau woke me up early. My husband had actually woken up Beau by getting up to turn on the white noise machine. So I was annoyed at him too. Then our 6 year old Julien woke up, and out the window went my expectations of how the morning would roll. I reeaaally wanted to sleep in!
What effect do you think this could have had on my day, and the rest of my family’s?
Without a doubt, focusing on the negative in a situation will give more of the same. If I had skulked around all morning I probably would have a poor attitude when my kid asked to play a board-game, or when my toddler asked for the orange sippy cup. My tainted lens would cloud my view which would inadvertently sabotage the rest of the day. If I let it.
Suddenly, I called myself out. “I am feeling sorry for myself,” I thought. “And that’s OK. But can I also take a moment to be grateful? If my husband was not home today, I would have twice the work to do around the house. I would not get any work done, and I would be missing him. So would the boys. This is a wonderful, fleeting bonus day of time all together as a family!” I looked at my husband with love in my eyes, and initiated a good morning hug and kiss. The shift in everyone was apparent. I tend to be the emotional barometer of the household, and while this can feel like a burden at times, I can see it as a honour too. My role in my family helps me practice self-regulation which I am modelling to my children.
After being grateful, going one step further and letting go of what cannot be changed removes burden and opens up more possibility — and more joy.
I could not change what time it was, and that we were all up, and that my sleep-in was not happening. My toddler is going through a major separation anxiety phase, and there is nothing I can do to rush him through that either.
Ruminating over what cannot be changed, and repeating phrases (even internally) such as, “it’s not fair!” or “why me?”, would only keep me stuck. While being disappointed and feeling that fully is important, it does no good to stay in that place for too long.
What is next for you? What do you really need, and how can you get it in the near future?
You are likely entering a weekend of seeing relatives and going to different homes. Maybe you even arranged special outings like apple-picking or the petting zoo. You might be excited about this, or you might be dreading it, but either way, it is a good idea to put these suggestions into practice this weekend.
Ideas that are scientifically proven to improve sleep
If you have children under 4 years of age, you need to do all the things that help you get better sleep, right? Try some of these “unconventional” ideas that are scientifically proven to improve sleep:
1. Spend some time saying thank-you:
You wake up and you are in that half-asleep mode, nursing the baby half-hoping s/he will go back to sleep, but knowing it is not likely. This is a perfect time to start making a mental list of everything you are grateful for. Your baby, the opportunities that await you today, the food in your kitchen that will nourish you, etc.
2. Release preconceived ideas or judgements:
Sometimes we visualize the worst if we are about to see extended family — meltdowns, nap-skipping, judgement from others and unsolicited parenting advice. Say to yourself instead, “my family loves me deeply, and I love them. I appreciate that they want the best for me.” If anything negative does occur, say your mantra to yourself, smile and ask someone to pass the dinner rolls!
3. Remember, it isn’t about you anyway:
OK, if your toddler has an epic meltdown, if your mother-in-law makes a snarky comment about your baby’s sleep habits or that you are “still” nursing, and if your partner forgets to thank you for all your hard work — you can actually let all that melt away too. That does not mean you ignore it or don’t deal with it. You may need to put out a fire or two over the long weekend, and many of us will for some reason or another. The fires are much more easily extinguished without the ego’s involvement, so let that part go. Everyone has their own story and context they are coming to terms with, and it really is not a reflection of you.
4. You cannot say “thank you” too often!
I remember when my second was an infant, I had no preconceived sleep expectations, because of the hundreds of families I had worked with over the years, plus my own experience with my high-needs first born. It was easy to smile and be grateful for this little baby, even at 4:00am, because in my perspective he was a miracle. Coming from various situations and many of us with little to no support systems, I recognize this can be a challenge. And I urge you to give it a try. The next time you feel frustrated or annoyed, say a little thank you in your mind and shift it onto what is so worth your appreciation. There is always, always something to be grateful for, I assure you.
In my opinion these little tweaks have got to be the best kept baby sleep secret. It has been vigorously studied and strong evidence shows, gratitude improves your sleep, reduces depression and anxiety.
We would love to hear how your weekend goes, if you did implement some of these ideas, and how it went for you. While this long weekend may have some hiccups and be full of the unexpected, we hope you too can choose a cup-half-full mentality and enjoy sweeter zzz’s tonight
Brandie Hadfield is the co-creator and facilitator of our Infant Sleep Educator Certification program. Her work as a Parent Educator and Sleep Expert provides parents with an alternative method of sleep support that fosters healthy, long term sleep habits for the entire family. She is the mother to two boys, president of Attachment Parenting Canada, a Dr. Sears Health Coach and an admitted work-a-holic. She loves to play video games with her boys as much as she loves to play outside.
Ricotti, S. (2009). The Law of Attraction, Plain and Simple. ; Create the Extraordinary Life That You Deserve. Hampton Roads Publishing Company, Incorporated.
Emmons, R. A., & Mccullough, M. E. (2003). Counting blessings versus burdens: An experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, 84(2), 377-389. doi:10.1037//0022-3522.214.171.1247
Korb, A. (2012, November 20). The Grateful Brain. Retrieved October 03, 2017, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/prefrontal-nudity/201211/the-grateful-brain
Lifestyle, C. (2017, June 09). 6 Scientifically Proven Ways Gratitude Rewires Your Brain Body for Health. Retrieved October 03, 2017, from https://www.consciouslifestylemag.com/benefits-of-gratitude-research/
Bernhard, T. (2011, October 13). Letting Go of What You Cannot Change. Retrieved October 03, 2017, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/turning-straw-gold/201110/letting-go-what-you-cannot-change
5 Keys to Accepting What You Can’t Change. (2017, May 11). Retrieved October 03, 2017, from http://youhaveacalling.com/emotional-health/5-keys-to-accepting-what-you-cant-change
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