You’re probably more used to googling how to get your kids to sleep more/better/later than actually thinking about your own sleep (well beyond googling can you die from sleep depravation amiright?).. But because as mums our sleep - or lack of it - is pretty much solely determined by our little ones we tend to just roll into bed when we can with little more than a silent f-you to our snoring partner beside us.

This week is Sleep Awareness Week - and while we’re all very aware we’re not getting enough - sleep expert Dr David Burton says we need to focus on quality sleep which is essential for our mental and physical wellbeing. So while we might not have much control over how much sleep we’re getting at certain points in our lives, what we can control, is making sure when we are closing our eyes, we’re getting quality Zzzs.

“Having quality sleep is important as it allows our body and mind to successfully recover and recharge from the previous day,” says Dr Burton. “When we have not had restorative sleep, our brain is unable to perform at an optimal level. Due to a lack of NREM and REM, our physical, mental and emotional health is compromised as our brain, muscles, nerves, neurons and complex internal systems are slow to respond and unable to function or perform well.

So what are sleep stages and what does REM and NREM mean exactly?

“The stages of the sleep cycle include non-REM (NREM), which is a four-phase process that we go through before entering the final sleep stage, rapid eye movement (REM),” explains Burton. “During NREM, brain waves slow down and, as we enter into deep sleep (the last two phases of NREM), the body rests, recovers and repairs, and our immune health and energy levels are recharged. When the sleep cycle reaches REM, our brain becomes more active. It’s during this stage that we dream, and it’s when our memories are processed and organised.”

Here are some tips, tricks, gadgets and no brainers (but that we sometimes need reminding of) to try to help get the most out of your sleepy time.  

1.     The obvious things your nan could tell you. Yep these might seem simple but they do actually work:

·      Run a warm bath (and preferably don’t take your phone in with you) but rather use it to wind down and switch off – and soothe all those aching muscles. Bonus points for adding Epsom salts, magnesium or lavender oil. 

·      Enjoy a warm cup of chamomile tea – or whatever your tea of choice if you’re not into chamomile, but whatever you choose just make sure it’s got no caffeine in it.

·      Early to bed early to rise – yep the old saying is true, sure you can stay up all hours scrolling on Insta (we’re all for that) but when you’re kids aren’t sleeping well or in those early days, try and resist the urge to stay up and get to bed as early as possible. Your morning self will thank you for it.

2.     Speaking of scrolling – switch off your devices and turn off the TV (better yet get it out of the bedroom altogether). You’ve probably heard a lot about blue light exposure and how it can keep you awake at night, but what does that mean exactly?

“Melatonin levels drop sharply when our skin and eyes are exposed to blue light. Melatonin is a hormone that’s vital for healthy sleep,” says Raymond Seubelan founder of EXYRA eyewear. “So by lowering melatonin levels in the evening, blue-light exposure can cause sleep disruption.” 

While ideally your best bet is to put down that phone or laptop and turn off the TV at least one hour (if not more) before bed, the reality isn’t always so easy if you need to work once the kids go down – or you’re binge watching the latest season of Real Housewives – so blue light glasses can help to reduce some of this exposure and relieve eyestrain.

3.     Supplements

You should always talk to your doctor before taking any form of supplements (especially if pregnant or breastfeeding), but you might want to think about a magnesium, melatonin supplement – or a specified sleep formula such as The Beauty Chef, SLEEP Inner Beauty Powder which includes lemon balm and passionflower and turmeric which are traditionally used in western herbal medicine to induce sleep and to relieve nervousness, restlessness, help with stress and aid digestion. 

4.     The power nap

You know that feeling when you wake suddenly from a nap and you have no idea what you’re name is, what time or day it is (for mere seconds before your screaming kids swiftly remind you) and you feel worse than you did before your nap? Well it might be because your nap was either too long or too short.

Dr Burton says the ideal amount of time for a nap is between 10 to 30 minutes. The reason being that during this length of time people will only enter the earlier, lighter, stages of NREM sleep.

“Waking up after naps that last 30 - 60 minutes can cause sleep inertia,” says Burton. “This is because it is during this period of time that a person enters all four stages of NREM sleep including deep sleep (the last two stages of NREM) where brainwaves markedly slow down. Waking up at this point can cause someone to feel groggy and lethargic as it is difficult for the brainwaves to speed back up again from deep sleep levels. when it comes to naps you really have 2 options: 20 minutes or 90 minutes – and anything else will likely leave you feeling worse.”

Thus a power nap is ideal for giving you that quick energy burst and means you’ll find it easier to get up because you haven’t yet hit the deep sleep stage. While nothing compares to quality nighttime sleep, a power nap will help improve mood and focus - and your ability to handle the rest of the day.

5.     Make your bedroom a sanctuary 

This might seem a little indulgent, but we’ll give anything a go! So spend some time making your bedroom a place of calm and zen, so tidy up (clutter on the floor can extend to clutter in the mind), make the bed – invest in good quality sheets in natural fibres that breathe and don’t feel harsh or cause you to sweat, ensure you have soft lighting, run a diffuser with lavendar essential oil (or if you don’t have one of these a few drops of lavendar on your pillow will do the trick). Also make sure that when you go to bed and turn all the lights off your room is completely dark – if black out blinds aren’t cutting it try a sleep mask.


6.     Get moving

Exercise during the day not only keeps you fit and healthy to keep running after the kids, but it will also help improve the quality of your sleep at night. Try not to do any vigorous exercise an hour before bed though as the endorphins will still be pumping and might work against you. Some meditation or gentle yoga stretches before bed however can work a treat to get you feeling sleepy.

7. Avoid alcohol and caffeine

Stick with us here! Sure some experts might recommend cutting these out altogether, we know that life is too short so if you enjoy tea and coffee and a glass of vino at night, just keep the caffeine early in the day (ideally before midday, but you’ll know how it affects you - some people can drink a coffee after dinner and still fall asleep no problems), or have your wine at least a few hours before you plan on nodding off. Sugar can also be a sneaky culprit so if you’re munching on sweets right before bed maybe try and cut back on this and see if it helps - or just munch on them earlier in the night ;).