When you’re a new parent, you kind of accept that your chronically sleep deprived state is an unavoidable consequence of having a baby. Even if your baby is a healthy one who sleeps well, it’s pretty realistic to expect you will be roused from sleep during the night by your little beloved. Well, my kids are now now 3 and almost 5 years’ old, so they rarely wake us at night and when they do, they go straight to Daddy (hehe …😏) for a quick cuddle and then back to bed. So although I almost never make it to bed before 11pm, I didn’t even consider sleep deprivation when I was trying to problem-solve my tiredness, lack of energy, and moodiness late last year. I realised I’d had sleep issues only after things improved, quite unexpectedly, due to resolutions I made back in October (that blog post: ‘The art of finding balance’) but only started putting into practice with the new year.
The first, and in hindsight most important thing I did to improve things was I listened to my husband (!) and I started walking the dog for half an hour every morning straight after waking in the morning. It helped that it was the height of summer when I started this new ritual, and so at 6am the sun was already rising and the weather was fine every morning for weeks! The first couple of weeks I had to force myself, as I felt physically tired by the time Truffle and I were on the other side of the park and ready to turn around and head back, but after that I noticed I had more strength and energy during our walks, but also for the rest of the day. After a few weeks, I found I was waking up at 6am looking forward to our walk as much as Truffle did, and if I woke up a bit late the others just had to wait for their breakfast – in fact, Daddy started making breakfast on such days because the noticeable improvements in my mood and energy meant he was very keen for me to keep up my early morning walks!
Naturally, I assumed that the magic missing ingredient in my life was this extra exercise, which was giving me the ‘zing’ I’d been looking for. There’s no doubt it helps, but I recently discovered that my early morning walks were effecting these positive changes for another, quite different, reason. A few weeks’ ago, I listened to a podcast featuring nutritionist and ‘sleep expert’, Shawn Stevenson¹ (who is a very engaging speaker, by the way!). He talked about his own health journey and explained why sleep plays such an important role in healing. At the end of the interview, he was asked to give a couple of very easy, manageable suggestions that even mothers of little babies could take on to improve the quality of their sleep (and therefore their health). His response really surprised me, because he answered by saying that two of the best things you can do to improve your sleep have to do with how you START your day. The first is exposing yourself to daylight (preferably sunlight), and the second is getting some physical activity, both before around 8.30am! He also stressed that a mere 5 minutes of both/either will make a difference to your sleep quality, by helping to reset your cortisol levels and balance those hormones which affect sleep. As I listened to him talk, I realised that indeed, my sleep had been much better since starting my walks – I had been sleeping through the night undisturbed most nights. I hadn’t made the connection until now, and I guess I’d just assumed it was good luck that I wasn’t being woken by my husband snoring, the crickets chirping, or the call of my bladder in the night!
The second, very little change I made to my life (and sleep) this year was adjusting my computer and mobile phone screens so they turn yellow and dim at night. The blue light emitted by electronic screens completely messes with our bodies’ circadian rhythm, and when we’re staring at screens while it’s dark outside, our bodies are being prompted to make more ‘daytime’ hormones like cortisol, instead of getting us ready for sleep. In an ideal world I would turn off all my digital devices at dusk, but I never said I was perfect – I am writing this post at 8.40pm because the kids are in bed and it’s nice and quiet. But my laptop screen is dimmed to minimum brightness, and I have the display set so it automatically switches to ‘night light’ from dusk till dawn. Even my mobile phone has ‘eye comfort’ setting!
The third thing I’ve added to my life in an effort to improve my sleep quality is not on Shawn’s list at all, but it’s an absolute essential for me now: ear plugs. Unfortunately for me, my husband and love-of-my-life SNORES. We bought him an expensive custom-made mouth guard a few years’ ago and it definitely helped, but unfortunately its effectiveness entirely depended on him putting it into his mouth before bed 😒 …and there’s only so much nagging a wife can cope with, right?! So after he broke his collarbone and wasn’t physically able to sleep any way other than on his back 😱, I headed straight for the pharmacy and bought myself a pack of beeswax earplugs. They were absolutely magic, and they were made of 100% safe, natural products (beeswax, lanolin, and cotton). I was hooked. Unfortunately, they’re only really good for about 10 nights and then you need to get another pack – consisting of two natural and biodegradable ear plugs which come in two plastic cases …inside one larger plastic case …inside a cardboard box with a plastic window. Such is the irony of buying ‘natural’ things; they always come packaged in a gazillion layers of plastic! So I settled instead for a pack of plastic-foam snore-blocking earplugs and set to work inventing my own natural zero-waste earplugs. The foam earplugs really hurt my ears so I had an extra incentive to invent something quick. I’m happy to say that I’ve been using my own homemade earplugs for a few weeks now, and they work great! I plan to sell them in the Mrs Goodness shop very soon, in 100% plastic-free packaging of course! However, if you’re more the DIY type you may want to have a go at making them yourself, so I’ll be sure to share the recipe with you in a near-future blog post.
And the last tool I have added to my sleep-improving toolkit is my homemade magnesium oil spray. You may have noticed magnesium oil on the shelves of your local organic wholefoods / health shop. Unfortunately, it’s always sold in plastic containers and it’s really quite expensive, especially if you want to use it daily as I do. So instead, I buy magnesium chloride flakes in bulk and dissolve them in rose water to make a really affordable magnesium oil deodorant spray. I use this every morning after my shower, except when I’ve just shaved my armpits because then it stings. …Hmm, now I am thinking this is worthy of its own blog post 🤔. Stay tuned. Well, for now I will just say that magnesium is a mineral which an estimated 80% of us adults are deficient in², but which is essential for good health and in particular, good sleep! Our bodies use magnesium to maintain normal nerve and muscle function, build a healthy immune system, keep the heart beat steady, and maintain bone strength. Magnesium also helps regulate blood glucose levels and aids in the production of energy and protein. Magnesium is naturally present in foods like spinach and other dark leafy greens, dark chocolate, nuts and seeds, avocado, yoghurt/kefir, and bananas; and then whatever is lacking, my body can access from dermal application of the magnesium oil. It is often recommended to improve sleep, and it just so happens that magnesium is a great body-odour-buster too! A happy coincidence and very convenient 😁. When I first started using it I found it unbearably itchy so I had to dilute it a lot, but because I’ve been using it regularly for a while it doesn’t itch anymore. Apparently the itchiness can indicate a magnesium deficiency, but I don’t know about that one for sure.
So, what are the main benefits I’m experiencing due to my improved sleep quality (not quantity unfortunately, just quality!) …? Well for one, I’m not nearly as moody, grumpy, upset, anxious, stressed, sad, tired, or frustrated as I was before, and my husband and father-in-law are very happy about this. 2. I don’t really experience 3:30-itis anymore. Mind you, I have also quit coffee, caffeine in general, and sugar, which no doubt helps. 3. When I get out of bed I’m awake, unlike Daddy who needs about an hour after getting out of bed to wake up properly. 4. My arms don’t ache anymore and my muscles feel stronger inside. I have more energy throughout the day – I wouldn’t go so far as saying I’m a big ball of energy (!) but I certainly don’t feel I need to collapse on a park bench whenever I see one nearby! 5. My skin looks better, especially on my face. I have fewer blemishes and I’m sure my skin tone is more even. 6. I don’t crave junk food as much. I hardly eat junk food anymore anyway, but still, the cravings have pretty much gone. That could just be to do with breaking my food addictions though, who knows. I do know that despite still sleeping one hour less every night than I’d like to, I feel rested these days, and I don’t feel like a zombie by the time I have to start cooking dinner. Unfortunately, as daylight savings comes to an end, sunrise has shifted almost an hour later so I’ve been going for my walk an hour later too. I just hope I’ll be able to keep up my new good habits through the bleaker weather and extended dark hours of winter. For now, I’m just enjoying all the benefits of improved sleep (and a bit more exercise!).
¹ Podcast on Wellness Mama, featuring Shawn Stevenson: “Why sleep is more important than diet and exercise combined”
² Dr Axe .com – “Should you be taking magnesium supplements?”
And for your interest, an article from Shawn Stevenson’s blog, The Model Health Show – “Sleep Problems? Here’s 21 tips to get the best sleep ever”