What My Baby Taught Me About Sleep

I didn’t realize how bad my sleep habits were until I had a baby.

I’d never been much of a scheduled person myself, going to sleep when the Zzzs overtook me and waking up whenever my reporting interviews required, like 10 a.m. That’s why the early days with a newborn baby weren’t so difficult for me, because my baby didn’t upend any rigid regimen.

But according to all the parenting books I read, as the baby grew she would need a routine, to put order to her day, keep her calm and give her confidence – especially when it came to sleeping. As I learned what a baby needed in a sleep routine, I learned what I probably had been missing in my own life.

Regular Sleep Time Matters

It’s good for everyone – not just babies – to have a regular bedtime. That way our bodies can prepare to relax at the same time every day. I can’t remember the last time I went to sleep at a designated hour. Some nights I’d stay up until 2 a.m. working on a story, other nights I’d crash at 11 p.m. Sure, flexibility is important: got a big deadline or a party? It’s OK to bend the rules sometimes, as long as those late nights don’t become the rule.

A Bedtime Routine Is Key

No matter the exact hour, for baby the order is always the same: dinner, bath, books, bed. It helps her transition from one stage to the next and anticipate how to move through her night and naptime.

But what about me? Falling asleep in front of “The Daily Show” isn’t really a healthy routine. Sure, I brush my teeth and wash my face, but if I want to sleep better, I need to signal to my body that it’s time to wind down. I need to change into pajamas, turn down the bed and the lights and open my favorite book a good half-hour before I want to fall asleep.

Recognize Your Sleep Cues

We must get the baby down by her third yawn, otherwise she’ll become cranky and overtired and harder to put to sleep.

Adults have sleep windows too: Sometimes I feel so, so, tired, but I persevere in organizing that closet or something else that I shouldn’t be doing at midnight. And then I feel wired, energized – not a good feeling when it’s time to go to bed. I lie there thinking, Why am I not tired? Duh – it’s because I missed my sleep cues.

From Zoom to Zzzs

It’s not enough to plop the baby in the bedroom. She needs to know that playtime’s over and it’s quiet time. So I dim the lights for her and talk in a softer voice.

I certainly cannot fall asleep while my brain is buzzing. And nothing gets me going like reading work emails that get me riled up (can you believe he said that?), or even mindless Facebooking that gets my head spinning as I jump from one article to another until I’ve got five windows open and six new ideas.

I think we all need some winding down. For most of us, that means cutting out technology. An hour before bed, I put down my phone, close my computer and put my iPad on sleep mode. Better yet, it’s a good opportunity to charge all my devices while I’m recharging.

Have I been successful? The baby is sleep trained, and I hope someday soon, I will be, too.