A Big Ol’ Sleep Post

Sleep.

From how long we sleep to our assortment of idiosyncrasies, sleep is now categorized as another branch of “hygiene” – as if there are clean and dirty ways to get our shut-eye.

Since such a large portion of our time is spent sleeping (or trying to sleep or trying to get someone else to sleep), it’s also a topic that permeates everyday life for all humans on the planet.

So let’s talk about sleep, including some weird (but true) quirks about my own sleep habits.

weird but true

  • In high school I hated making my bed and, at some point, decided to sleep in a sleeping bag every night. My parents were 100% okay with this decision. I feel like I might resist my own children making a similar choice, but I’m not sure why? It just seems like a weird habit in retrospect. I had a giant wicker basket that I would stuff my sleeping bag into during the day, so making my bed took seconds. I loved this arrangement.
  • I sleep on the same side of the bed, even at hotels. This might not actually be uncommon, but I once talked to someone who said she and her husband would just randomly pick a side if they weren’t home in their own bed. Um, no. This simply would not work.
  • For over 30 years I slept on my stomach every night. When I was a teenager I happened to see a snippet of an Oprah show where a guest (a chiropractor, maybe?) was suggesting viewers wear a baseball cap to prevent rolling over onto their stomachs. Or, alternatively, the suggestion was to stop sleeping with a pillow. I chose the latter. I was so attached to stomach sleeping it was one of the hardest things to avoid during pregnancy and I slept on my stomach almost immediately after giving birth. Now it hurts my lower back and I rarely sleep on my stomach (but I sleep with a VERY thin pillow and if I do happen to spend any time on my stomach, I put my head directly onto the mattress).
  • I wash my sheets infrequently. I will not share how infrequent this is but will let your imagination run wild (let’s just say it would be horrifying to any once-a-week folk out there; I had an aunt who was a once-a-day sheet washer. We clearly do not share the same genetic profile on this habit). I tend to shower most evenings, though, which has to count for something?
  • Speaking of sheets, I no longer use top sheets. Just a fitted sheet (over a mattress protector) + a duvet. Life is too short for fighting with top sheets.
  • My nighttime routine is getting more and more complicated. I use a white noise machine and wear an eye mask. I cannot sleep without either of these things. I must use the washroom about 10 times or I am guaranteed to wake up in the night. And if my feet are cold I can’t sleep so I often warm up Magic Bags. It’s a gong show.

nighttime bathroom breaks

I can remember drinking a full glass of caffeinated pop (soda, depending on where you live) right before bed as a teen and my Dad would always shake his head and say: “I don’t know how you can do that and not be up constantly.”

How I miss that young bladder. Baby #2 did away with my bladder of steel and regardless of how little I drink in the evenings, I often wake up to pee and then struggle to get back to sleep.

This is so frustrating and I feel like I’m too young for this issue. I do have significant scar tissue from my C-sections and have had osteopathic adjustments which have helped with scar adhesion to my bladder. But still. I definitely don’t have the guts to drink a full glass of anything before bedtime these days.

insomnia

A defining theme of my childhood was my mother’s issues with sleep. She struggled for decades with insomnia. I can only now begin to appreciate how hard it must have been for her to show up for her family, at her workplace, and complete her myriad responsibilities in a regular state of sleep deprivation.

I’ve mostly been an okay sleeper, but have had periodic issues for over 10 years which, coincidentally, matches up with when I became a mother. Hmmmm. That said, both kids have been excellent sleepers. If the kids aren’t sick (or desperately hungry, a recent theme with someone going through a growth spurt), we don’t see them between 8 pm and 7 am. So outside of the baby stage, I can’t really blame them for sleep disruption, though I think having children just makes one sleep less deeply as I’m always, always attuned to their noise. In fact on the morning I’m writing this post, I thought I heard someone knocking on the door at 4:56 am (it was either a false alarm or something happening within my dream), but it woke me up just the same.

The DST change back in November 2021 seemed to set off my worst-ever period (several months) of insomnia. I was getting 3-4 hours most nights, and I definitely fall squarely within the “needs 8 hours” category. It was awful.

I’ve done all the “right” things – I’ve gone weeks without caffeine, I incorporate regular exercise, I shower an hour before bed, eliminate evening snacking, and keep the temperature low. Etcetera.

The full moon definitely impacts my sleep – pretty sad when I start blaming lunar cycles, eh?

I’ve tried Magnesium Citrate (hate that stuff), Valerian Root, Passionflower, and Melatonin. Mostly now I try to read my body. If I can’t get to sleep or wake up in the night, I don’t fight it for very long. I get up and do some low-impact activity (often reading or writing) until I feel tired. In a real pinch, I take one of my OTC drowsy allergy pills, which helps with my relatively persistent allergy symptoms and acts as a sleep aid.


Thankfully, sleep has improved lately, but I know it’s a cyclical thing that will almost certainly impact me again. Such is life.

That’s all I’ve got for today. For any mom reading with small kiddos at home, I suspect sleep is on your mind a lot these days. Does anyone have weird quirks surrounding sleep hygiene they’re willing to share?

Header photo by Laura Chouette on Unsplash

29 thoughts on “A Big Ol’ Sleep Post”

  1. I’m a pretty decent sleeper; I get around 7 – 7/2 hours a night, more on weekends. I always get up at the same time and go to bed at the same time (early on both counts). I have some trouble sleeping right before my period – which is soon – and last night our new neighbour’s house renovations kept me awake. The contractors were hammering something loudly until 10 – within bylaw regulations but way after my bedtime. Normally it wouldn’t faze me but they were working on the side of the house that is nearest my bedroom. I AM TIRED. I wear earplugs to bed because my husband occasionally snores and because the boys go to bed way way way after I do; this keeps me asleep when they’re getting ready for bed.

    1. I’m relatively consistent with sleep/wake-times – the extremes tend to happen if I nap (and stay up later) or have a bad night (and go to bed earlier) to compensate. But when all is going well, I’m generally 10:30 pm – 6:30 am. I definitely am not able to sleep in, even when the opportunity presents itself. That said, I love a broad margin to when I have to get out of bed.

  2. Well… since you admitted it I can too. I also don’t change my sheets as frequently as I should. Like you, I’m not willing to disclose just how infrequently this is. I’m going to guess we’re in the minority here (or maybe not? I’ll be interested to hear.) Most people would probably say they sleep better on clean sheets.
    Ah yes, the nighttime bathroom visits. Last night I only got up ONCE, which means I had an incredible- by my standards- night of sleep. It can be two, three, or even more times some nights. My biggest problem is that I just don’t get in bed early enough- I always stay up too late reading. Last night as I was getting in bed I realized that if I feel asleep within one minute and slept the whole night, I would get seven hours of sleep. Obviously neither of those things happened. It’s my own fault- I could have gone to bed an hour earlier, but I love that quiet time when everyone else is in bed and I can read without interruptions.
    I only have very occasional bouts of insomnia- I feel bad for you because it’s just so miserable being tired like that. Sometimes if I haven’t slept well I use this trick (can’t remember where I heard it): Instead of dragging myself out of bed miserably in the morning, I tell myself “I got the perfect amount of sleep! My body knows what it’s doing!” It definitely makes me feel a little better.

    1. Thank goodness I’m not alone in the infrequent sheet washing (and it sounds like there are a few other brave souls willing to admit this as well).
      Misery also likes company in the nocturnal bathroom visits, though I wish you didn’t struggle with this too. It wouldn’t bother me if I could get right back to sleep. I have a friend who mentioned getting up 3-4 times a night…but she said she immediately goes back to sleep. Sigh. I wonder how much of it is a mental block at this point too? Just waking up to use the bathroom makes me spiral into worry I won’t get back to sleep?!

      Twice last week I was awake in the night; Friday night into Saturday morning from 3:30-5:30. I will admit it was rather wonderful; I got so much accomplished in the quiet when everyone else was still asleep. I’d rather sleep through the night, but sometimes when I get up, I do secretly wish I had that time every night (but it’s not sustainable for me as I REALLY do need a lot of sleep).

  3. Magic bags are great but the real game-changer for me is our bedwarmer. Have you ever tried one!? It’s just a fitted mattress pad (that goes under your fitted sheet) with dual controls – one for each side – and it warms the bed gradually over 30-45 minutes to whatever setting you pick. I turn it on when I put our kids to bed and then by the time I put myself to bed, I climb between toasty warm sheets (well, fitted sheet and duvet since I also have no use for top sheets) and it is HEAVEN. I turn it off before I actually go to sleep, but man – it really makes climbing into bed at the end of the day the literal best. I think it was under $150 on Amazon for a king size and well worth every penny. I often joke that my love for our bedwarmer is only a tiny smidge less than the love I have for my husband and kids!

    1. I don’t own/use one, but my mother does and she SWEARS by it. I’ve considered it before…but really appreciate the control I have with the Magic Bags. I like the heat concentrated on my feet and usually one near my stomach as well. But I’m prone to get overheated (sheesh – I am very high maintenance with temperature), and can just kick them out of the bed.
      If things get desperate, though, this is a great idea for my back-pocket!

  4. Ugh sleep. I would pay 6 figures to be able to fall asleep in less than an hour, and actually sleep straight through until morning. I truly cannot remember a time in my adult life (even in college) where that happened! It’s unbelievable to me that some people can sleep until 10-11am or even later, past their teen years!

    Here is a small sampling of my sleep quirks:
    1. After kid #1, I had a LONG bout of very, very bad insomnia. My baby would sleep, but I couldn’t for the life of me stay asleep and I was going insane. I did get prescribed a low dose antidepressant to help me stay asleep and it did help, but had to stop taking it when I got pregnant again. Weirdly, that hasn’t happened again since!
    2. I have always had a tough time sleeping without white noise – I’ve had a fan, and now have a wonderful white noise machine that I love, and use the white noise app on my phone anytime I’m away from home. My kids are similarly addicted to white noise. When I studied abroad in college (in London) I had 5 (FIVE) roommates and slept with a sweatshirt basically tied around my head to muffle their sounds 😛
    3. I specifically need to sleep in the side of the bed farthest from the door, and I HATE sleeping in cavernous rooms/open lofts. Something about it makes me feel like something/someone will creep up on me in the night?? Especially if I’m sleeping without my husband! Very strange.
    4. Like an above commenter, I do also have a few nights of worse sleep before/during my period.
    5. I take melatonin EVERY night and I do think it helps me significantly with falling asleep!
    6. I also have to pee about 10 times before going to bed, and if I’m lucky I might make it all night! Usually I’m up at least once though.
    7. Also a VERY infrequent sheet washer here!!!!!

    1. I can’t sleep in. On good stretches of sleep, I definitely can fall asleep almost immediately. In general, I don’t have much trouble falling asleep 5-10 minutes…it’s waking up, sometimes after only an hour or two of sleep.
      I now get out of bed much faster; if I can’t get back to sleep after 30 minutes, I’ll get up. Then I usually putter (downstairs, so I don’t wake anyone else up) on things on my to-do list. I actually had a list in my AnyList App titled: “4 AM Get-er Done List” for various odds and ends I could do when I was awake in the night.

      1. I went on an SSRI in December for the first time ever because of how bad my insomnia got. I did find it helped me sleep a bit better, but gave me a lot of other really awful side effects.
      2. I love white noise. I used to listen to Christmas music every December when I was a kid, and had a month of bad sleep in January when I stopped listening to that at night. If I travel I use an app on my phone. My favourite is big box fans, but now I just use a white noise machine.
      3. Me too! I’m the furthest from the door as well.
      5. Melatonin never seems to help me…but maybe I haven’t tried for long enough?
      7. This is wonderful news – I really did feel like everyone else (at least the people that blog about such things) wash their sheets once a week. I actually can’t imagine. There is little I dislike more than changing sheets. Once a week is unthinkable (and my aunt that did it every day actually blows my mind). I’m not sure why I hate it so much (and washing sheets isn’t very fun either…and it’s physically impossible to fold a fitted sheet, despite what the 100 You-Tube videos have to say).

    2. I also had a long bout of insomnia after baby #1!! I felt like I was going crazy but thanks to the internet, I’ve found out it’s at least not as uncommon as I had thought (although none of my close friends or family experienced it!) since then my sleep is typically good but I definitely go through bad spells. Kids have definitely changed things- and I have great sleepers but still!

      1. Yes, I have great sleepers, but still…having kids has likely changed my sleep patterns forever?! Along with just getting older. Sigh.

  5. I broke my left leg about ten years ago. Now I hate to have weight on that leg, so I have to sleep on the side of the bed that allows that foot and leg to be outside of the blankets. I do not deviate from this – whether I’m sleeping in my own bed next to my husband, am alone in a hotel room, or I’m visiting someone’s house. Also, using a sleeping bag is terrible for me at this point in my life because I can’t squirm that leg out. It shocks me that some people switch up what side of the bed they use!

    1. I don’t like the sensation of a sleeping bag at ALL now. I don’t know if I found it annoying as a teenager but just put up with it because of how easy it was to make my bed?
      Sleep was just…so much easier in general back then.

  6. I sleep well, but I always wake up in the middle of the night. Wide awake. I’ve always been like this so the idea of a full night’s sleep for me is in two-parts. I rarely get up, instead just lay there and think about plans, or people, or blog posts. I eventually fall back asleep and in the morning remember what I was thinking about. I rarely remember my dreams though.

    1. I think they talk about this being the standard back in the Victorian Era (and people might even have had a semi-meal in the middle of the night). There is some wisdom in that.
      If I lay there too long I start to go stir-crazy and like to get up and putter…mostly on planning things or drafting blog posts 🙂

  7. This post is so timely. I devoured it with interest! Because last night is literally the first night in FOREVER that I slept the whole night through. When the alarm woke me this morning I was literally gobsmacked. In fact, I felt completely confused! (Not to say a little annoyed as I had been dreaming about opening a piano bar on a Greek island.) At the moment it’s actually our 16yo dog that wakes us up each night with regularity…she needs to pee generally, which living on a boat makes it quite the pain. Oh how I long for a door that opens onto a garden! However, I have also come to think that since having a baby (now 15!) sleep is just never the same again. I’ve never fallen back into my pre-pregnancy state of sleeping for 8 hours. I have tried everything…herbs, foot baths, sprays, meditations, reading until my eyes close with heaviness. The one thing I haven’t tried, though, is regular washing of sheets (so happy there are few people here following the “rules”—ha!). Perhaps that’s the key!

    1. Maybe my insomnia and bedtime bathroom breaks would all be solved if I washed the sheets a little more frequently?…

  8. Oh sleep. Yes it is a topic that I think a lot about. I would not describe my kids as good sleepers, but maybe they will be when they are older? That is my hope. Sleep was really really awful in the winter. It’s improved since then but there is still room for improvement! I am a high maintenance sleeper, too! I need a face mask AND ear plugs! And I go to the bathroom at least once a night, too. I did that even before kids but I am not great at limiting my water intake in the evening. I just feel so thirsty and like to drink water to my heart’s content! And I do not wash our sheets as often as I could/should. I do better when we stop using flannel sheets because we have 2 sets of summer sheets so I can change the bed without having to wash the bedding. I did that yesterday afternoon! But we have only one set of flannel sheets so we wash our sheets less often in the cold months.

    I have suffered from insomnia in the past and it is AWFUL. Luckily I have not struggled with it as much since becoming a mom, outside of a night or 2 in the early weeks and I attribute that to hormones. But in 2015 my sleep was awful and it just became an awful cycle where I would dread bedtime because I worried it would be another bad night and it sort of became a self-fulfilling prophecy. I broke that habit after I saw a sleep doctor and did what I called “sleep training for adults.” It was not fun and I am glad that is behind me now. I think because our kids are poor sleepers, I am so tired that insomnia just doesn’t hit me for the most part. So I guess I have them to thank for my ability to fall asleep faster and stay asleep!

    1. Okay – I am definitely not alone with infrequent sheet-washing. I’m pleasantly surprised I’m not as unusual as I thought on this practice!

      I always find I’m thirstiest at night, but I do try very hard to limit liquids after supper time.

      I’m hoping your kids end up being great sleepers as they age. I will say that my kids have different sleep needs for sure; one needs a lot more than the other. What gets so much easier is the fact that they can be independent in their rooms. With both kids I almost always put them down asleep, so they are quite used to going to sleep solo, which I think helps as they age? But it’s also a lot less boring for them now that they can read, play quietly with toys. Even if you kids never need a lot of sleep, I can almost guarantee the impact to you will continue to lessen as they become more and more independent. Hang in there!

  9. Like everyone else that has commented here my sleep definitely changed when I became a mother, particularly after the birth of my second child. I could sleep ten, twelve hours a night easily whatever time I went to bed. I could sleep anywhere and fall asleep easily and quickly, and stay asleep. My second child did not sleep through the night until she was nearly four, she sleeps really well now but that four years nearly killed me. I was exhausted all the time and my own sleep patterns too years to settle again, they are not fantastic now but way better than they were. I found giving up gluten for a year worked wonders for my sleep, it was like a great reset. I eat it a little now but nothing like the volume I used to. I came across information about Ayurveda and sleep which suggests that the time you wake is related to a part of your body which is related to why you are likely to be waking up. It also talked about good quality sleep being important to keeping your hormones in balance which makes sense to me. My mum and brother are terrible sleepers and I am so glad that I have not been like that for most of my life, my sleep is generally good these days (I had another recent time of poor sleep whilst I was peri-menopausal) and a poor night’s sleep is a rarity.

    I am a regular sheet changer, once a week here. I do love to get into a bed with clean sheets, although I would never wash them everyday, I don’t have enough sheets to do that especially in the Winter!

    1. You’re the first person to comment about washing sheets once a week. I thought this would be the majority, but so far it seems like that is more frequent than most!? I’m quite shocked, I’ll admit. It is nice to crawl into clean sheets, but oh how I dislike the hassle of changing and washing sheets.

      Four years of nightly wakeups sounds…awful. I’m glad you emerged eventually (and that your daughter is now a good sleeper!).

  10. 100% No to Top Sheets. It’s not a thing in Germany and it’s something I did NOT adopt in the US (it’s weird to me) – we have a fitted sheet and duvet cover at our house!

    Luckily, I am a great sleeper. I hardly ever have trouble falling asleep (and when I do, I feel hard for people with insomnia, because it’s truly awful!) and I also usually sleep through the night, which I know is an issue for many people. I am thankful every day for being able to sleep so easily.

    1. I hate top sheets and when I’m traveling now it feels…so odd and frustrating to wrestle with top sheets!
      So glad you’re a great sleeper. I’m a huge proponent of celebrating what we have, so I’m thrilled you’re thankful for having such great sleep experiences!

  11. I’m a terrible sleeper. Not sure when it started, but I’d guess with the start of motherhood. I have a hard time falling asleep. I don’t think I’m worrying about things (well, not much, LOL), but that seems to be prime time for my brain to think every thought it’s “forgotten” about during the busyness of my day.

    1. Ugh. I also don’t feel like I wake up anxious (I tend to get to sleep okay, it’s staying asleep I struggle with, at times)…but my thoughts do race, mostly about things I want/forgot to do. Not in a panicked way, but maybe my mind is still just too busy to relax and get back to sleep.

  12. Oh gosh, I could talk about sleep for so long. I wrote two very long posts about the subject a while ago. https://stephanywrites.com/all-about-sleep-part-i/ and https://stephanywrites.com/all-about-sleep-part-ii/.

    I think the weirdest thing about my sleep patterns is how many pillows I have on my bed. I have 6 currently and I sleep with 3-4 of them under my head and two tucked onto either side of me. I loooove lots of pillows when I sleep.

    I’m also way too embarrassed to admit how long I go between washing my sheets, especially considering how much time I spend in my bed + the fact that the cats sleep on my bed. I want to be one of those people who changes my sheets weekly but I’ve never gotten into the habit.

    One of my weirdest sleep stories is how, when I was in 6th grade and suffered with insomnia for the entire year, I would start every night sleeping on the floor. I would get my pillow and blanket and a book and flashlight and try to fall asleep on the floor. It was the only thing that seemed to work. Eventually, I would wake up in the middle of the night and transfer to my bed.

    1. I used to sleep on the floor too, in high school. I forgot about that phase! I’d do the same thing and move to my bed.
      The other odd one – one summer crows (like a huge bunch of VERY large crows on a field right outside my window) would wake me up at like 4:30. And I would plug my ears and turn upside down (head at the bottom of the bed, feet at my headboard), and this was the only way I could get back to sleep. And I still, occasionally, will do this – put my feet on the headboard and switch direction in bed. How odd, right?
      I mostly sleep on my side now and like to wrap my arms around a big pillow but put my head on a tiny, thing little one!

  13. Ah, sleep. Such a fraught topic – particularly for those who have children, or other issues (like pain) that affect our ability to get a “good night’s sleep”. Funny how the definition of that changes over our lives, isn’t it? (I’m not saying it’s *good* that it changes – far from it! but change it does… sigh…) I know you have really struggled with insomnia, and I am so sorry that it’s had such an impact on your quality of life. That said, I hope the little improvements you’ve seen continue.

    I share some of the same challenges as other commenters… multiple night wakings, pain/stiffness that makes it a necessity to change position every few hours, and, of course… waking up and letting my brain get going. That’s the worst, I think. When I have to get up for a physical reason, I’m okay with it. But when I can’t get back to sleep because I start thinking… that’s when it gets annoying.
    No kids = no outside interruptions, for the most part (noisy neighbors, yes, but that’s so infrequent it doesn’t factor in), at least?

    I always wash my sheets weekly. Always. And, I have Very Specific Ways of making it. (I went to college at a time when making the bed properly was still taught in nursing programs. I am not sure if it is, anymore, but it is amazing the difference clean sheets and a well-made bed can make for patients in the hospital… seriously, it really is the little things sometimes!) My favorite night is Thursday night – clean pajamas, and clean sheets. Ahhh…. 🙂 However, I don’t honestly worry about others’ habits. As long as I don’t have to sleep on your long-unwashed sheets, I’m okay with You Doing You. 🙂

    1. I think I should clarify: I clean guest bed sheets before every guest. It’s just my own sheets I’m not fussy about 🤣
      I agree about the frustration of waking up and then having racing thoughts. Most of the time this doesn’t seem to be my issue, but once I wake up to use the washroom I just…don’t feel sleepy?!

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