We work so hard as mothers to do the best for our children, and this applies to sleep, especially for those of us who have worked so hard to create a consistent bedtime routine. But what happens when we strive for “perfect” sleep 24-7? Sleep perfectionism can sneak into our lives and turn normal irregularities in your child’s sleep schedule into a source of anxiety.
Perfectionism is typically characterized by setting high standards and expectations and being overly self-critical. The quest for “perfect” sleep can lead to increased stress and anxiety. Instead of relaxing at nap time, you are stressed watching the monitor and worrying if today will be a short nap day. Instead of enjoying time with your little one in the evening, you are watching the clock worrying about starting the bedtime routine on time. Or one that recently happened to me, when your child gets sick and is up multiple times per night, you worry that you will never get them back on track!
Here is the good news. Perfect sleep doesn’t exist! We all have good nights and bad nights. Just because your child has learned the skill of falling asleep independently, doesn’t mean that they won’t have times where sleep is a struggle. Understanding this is the first step in letting go of “perfect” sleep, and luckily there are more strategies that will help!
- Understand Sleep Patterns: Newborns don’t follow a regular sleep-wake cycle until they are about 3-months old because their circadian rhythm hasn’t developed. Once the circadian rhythm has developed your child will cycle from light to deep sleep and may wake briefly between cycles. None of these occurrences reflect your competence as a mother.
- Create a Consistent Bedtime Routine: A bedtime ritual is a great signal to your child that it’s time to wind down and sleep. It can involve a warm bath, story, or meditation. Being consistent over time holds more value than doing everything perfectly. Creating a safe soothing environment is what is most important.
- Use a Pause: When your child wakes in the night, instead of rushing in, pause before responding. Children often self soothe and fall back to sleep on their own when they are given the opportunity. This helps them develop the ability to self soothe and reduces sleep related anxiety for you.
- Limit Screen Time: Blue light from electronic screens can interfere with the sleep wake cycle. Limit screen exposure, especially close to bedtime. Instead engage in calming, screen-free activities, which will help sleep come easier and fulfill that much needed 1:1 time.
- Practice Self Care: Taking care of children is hard work. Remember to take care of yourself too. Simple activities like a short walk, relaxing bath, or moment of mindfulness can help reduce your anxiety. When you are calm and relaxed, it’s much easier to handle sleep disturbances without escalating into anxiety.
- Ask for Help: Connecting with other mothers who are experiencing similar challenges in the form of a support group may be comforting. Share your frustration with your partner, friend, or family, so that you can get additional support. Motherhood is not a journey that should be traveled alone!
When you strive for “perfect” sleep, you can easily slip into sleep perfectionism which only amplifies anxiety and stress. Remember, perfection is a myth in sleep and motherhood. You’re doing a great job regardless of how your child is sleeping. Breaking free from this trap will allow you and your child to have a more restful night!