Many parents develop sleep problems themselves while they are struggling with their LOs sleep. Luckily, there is an equivalent to baby sleep coaching, called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I), and it shares many of its main principles.
Transcript:Hello, everyone. It's Anna. Thank you so much for tuning in today. You are listening to The Baby Sleep Project Show, the place to learn about baby sleep and sleep coaching.
Hello, everyone. I'm back after more than a month's break. If you've been listening to this podcast since the beginning, you know that this podcast started as a challenge in September. I planned to post one episode per workday for a month in September, and I was relatively successful in doing that. I think I only missed a few days except for somewhere at the end of September when I had sinusitis and my voice was so hoarse that I couldn't record anything.
So I finished September which 15 episodes and I really liked doing it. But after a month, I realized that posting an episode a day is not possible for me because I had very little work done apart from this podcast. So I had to figure out what's next. And October was a crazy month for me because my son was in quarantine for two weeks. He was home with me for two weeks so it was really difficult to work. And the reason was that one of his kindergarten teachers tested positive with COVID-19. Everyone is safe and healthy now, so everything is back to normal.
Right after that was the autumn break for my daughter who was home for a week with me. So, basically, I had only one week to work properly in October. But now, it's November and everything is back to normal. Also, my podcast provider, Buzzsprout, just informed me that my podcast just had 1,000 downloads, which is great. I also got my first question from someone who wants her question featured in the show. So these small successes made me want to go ahead.
So I have decided to continue the podcast, but not as a daily show because that's not realistic in the long term. Instead, I will publish one episode per week. I will try to do it on Mondays, starting from next week. For today, I found a quite funny question on Reddit. Sorry, Sandie, your question came a bit late for this week's episode because I've already started preparing the show notes for this one. So I will select some of your questions for next week's episode.
So here goes the question, which I have found on Reddit: "My baby naps for 45 minutes at a time. And whenever I try to nap when he naps, I find myself laying awake for 20 minutes before I finally manage to fall asleep if I manage to fall asleep at all. It made me realize that I think I also need sleep training. Is there sleep training for adults? It's funny, but also, I'm actually serious."
I like this question a lot. And actually, it reminds me that I had exactly the same problem. If you have listened to the first episode of this show, you know that my daughter had seriously problems from the age of nine months to almost 12 months. And after we successfully sleep-coached and sleep-trained her, and she finally slept through the night, we had exactly the same problem. So the baby was sound asleep and me and my husband were just staring at each other and we couldn't go to sleep.
We even woke up in the middle of the night and we just couldn't go back to sleep for hours. It was obviously because we got used to this routine that we woke up in the middle of the night, but also because we were still stressed and our circadian rhythm was so messed up that it was just difficult to fall asleep and to stay asleep. We were also very stressed and alert and it was difficult to go to deep sleep. We got used to the fact that anytime we heard the baby cry, we were super alert and we woke up to the smallest little noises.
Even though we knew that our daughter slept through the night already for days, our brain just couldn't believe it. And we still were prepared to do the routines and wake up with her and do the things that we did before. So we actually needed, I would say, two weeks before we could go back to normal sleep, which was really annoying because we were so tired. And now we had the opportunity to sleep, but we just couldn't sleep. Also, this frustration made it more difficult, but we got out of it.
For us, what we needed was only time; two weeks to just go back to good sleep. So that's my number one advice; to just wait it out. If you have just sleep-trained or sleep-coached your baby, then you will need time to feel your sleep properly. Just give it a few weeks. But to take it more seriously and to be able to answer this question apart from my personal anecdotes, I actually looked up sleep training for adults. And it turns out there's a method called CBTI or cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia. And it is basically sleep coaching for adults.
It's a holistic approach to treating sleep disorders, which involves a lot of methods. It turns out that it is really similar to baby sleep coaching. Many of these methods involve things that we do with our baby when we are trying to help her sleep better. So described many of these methods in my book in week two of my sleep program. And it basically boils down to designing your schedule, your routine, and environment.
So how does it look for an adult? First, when you design your schedule, basically, for an adult, if you don't nap during the day, you just have to decide how much you will sleep daily. What is your bedtime and what is your wake-up time? First, you have to calculate your daily sleep need or asleep quarter. To figure out your sleep quarter, go to bed the same time every day, and then wake up without an alarm clock for a week. At the same time, keep a sleep diary. So every day you write down the time you went to bed, which is supposed to be the same time everyday, but then in the morning when you wake up, you try to remember how long it took for you to fall asleep.
So you calculate the time you spent in bed, but you subtract the time that you took falling asleep. Also, you subtract anytime you were awake at night. So if you woke up in the middle of the night, you just write down the time. And then in the morning, you try to remember for how long you were awake. So you calculate the time you spent in bed, and also the time you were actually asleep. And you can calculate your sleep efficiency from these two numbers. Sleep efficiency is basically time of sleep divided by time in bed. And you should aim for 85 -95% sleep efficiency.
This means that if your sleep efficiency is lower than this, like 70%, 80%, or even 60%, it means that you spent too much time in bed awake. And this can cause several problems just like with babies. Too much time in bed can make you associate your bed with being awake. And if you suffer from insomnia, that usually means that you worry about not sleeping well, or you worry about being tired the next day, which means that you associate your bed and going to sleep, or going to bed with these negative thoughts. This, in turn, will make it even more difficult to fall asleep. So it's a vicious cycle.
So when you calculate your sleep quarter, when you have that number, which should be between six and nine hours per day, you try to design your schedule in a way that you actually go to bed when you have to fall asleep. So if it takes one hour for you to fall asleep and you want to fall asleep at 11:00 PM and you go to bed, usually, at 10:00 PM, now don't go to bed at 10:00 PM. Just go to bed at 11:00 PM when you actually have to fall asleep. This will cause a little bit of sleep deprivation at first because you won't be able to fall asleep right away. But the goal is that sleep onset latency or the time you take to fall asleep reduces.
Your goal is to reduce that time. And by going to bed when you actually have to fall asleep, you will be able to fall asleep faster. And as this gets better and better, your negative thoughts associated with your bedtime or with your bed or going to bed or trying to fall asleep will reduce. Next, designing your routine. For adults, it also means taking some steps during the day that sets you up for success for the night. For example, try not drinking coffee in the evening, or even the afternoon. For some people, four hours before bed is enough. Others might need six hours or even more to not drink coffee, but you can experiment with this.
Also, alcohol is prone to destroying sleep quality. So drinking before bed makes it easier to fall asleep, but it destroys sleep quality. And many people wake up in the middle of the night or in the wee hours if they drank the night before. So try to quit alcohol at least for the first few weeks when you try to fix your sleep. Also, the third thing is exercise. A good exercise, especially outdoors really helps you with your sleep. Four, avoiding heavy food. As you might know, heavy your food for dinner tends to destroy sleep or sleep quality. So try to eat something light for dinner.
Also, it has been shown that a glass of warm milk makes it much easier for many people to fall asleep. If you don't like the taste of milk, try to put some cinnamon or vanilla in it so that it's tastier. So no coffee, no alcohol exercise, no heavy food, and a glass of warm milk. These are just steps that you should take in your afternoon and evening to set you up for a successful sleep at night.
So that is your daily routine, but what about your evening routine? Make sure that you wind down. Decrease stimulation, dim the lights, cool the temperature before you go to bed. Trying to wind down in bed is a mistake because then you spend too much time in bed and that can lead to difficulties as I mentioned before. So try to wind down while you are still walking around or sitting around in your house and decrease stimulation until you get a little bit drowsy.
You can do things like taking a bath, reading, knitting, whatever you to do, watering your plants, et cetera. And there's a really difficult thing to do. Switch all screens off at least an hour before bedtime. If you have very serious insomnia, make it two hours before bed. I know this is really difficult because I did it. Just a few years ago when both my kids were already sleeping very well, I actually found myself not being able to go to sleep in time. My kids, like an alarm clock, woke up around 7:00 AM every morning, which meant that I had to be asleep by midnight to get enough sleep.
And just like with many parents, evenings and nighttime is when we can get to do whatever we want. It's like a mini vacation when the kids go to bed, right? I actually sometimes feel like my nervous system is healing from all the noise and tantrums and everything that the kids did in the afternoon and in the evening. But after they go to bed, it's time to relax. And that means, for many of us, to do something on our laptops or watch TV, or check our phones, et cetera.
But the bad news is that the blue light that screens emit triggers alertness. It actually prevents melatonin production and makes it much more difficult to fall asleep. So there's a physiological explanation for why it is harder to fall asleep if you watch any kind of screens before going to bed. But there's another reason, especially when you're browsing the internet or you're reading news or social media, or if you work on your devices, it is usually not relaxing. It can trigger anxiety, for me, especially the news.
So whenever I open up my favorite news site, what I used to do, I'd just browse through the site, looking for something pleasant to read before bed. And I was imagining that I would just read two or three nice articles and that's it, and then I switch off my phone. But I always saw some horrible headlines like accidents that happened, or climate change, or natural disasters here or there, or a killer on the loose, or anything like that, and it would trigger my anxiety. And then I tried to look for something nice, something pleasant to read.
But as I scrolled, I just found more of these horrible things. And even if I didn't click on them, just the headline made me not be able to fall asleep. The other thing is if you just browse Facebook or Instagram, that also has this effect that it kind of glues you to the screen and you want to get your daily hit of good news or daily hit of positive reinforcement. But what I found is that I never seemed to be satisfied with it. So it's never ending. It's the infinite scroll.
When I found myself having this problem falling asleep, it was partly because I was always on my phone or on my laptop. And I couldn't stop myself from doing that. And I always procrastinated switching these devices off. Also, when I switched them off, the anxiety that they triggered penetrated my thoughts and I couldn't fall asleep now because of my negative thoughts. I worried or made up problems that I never had, or I saw small, tiny things as problems that during the day don't really bother me. That's why I couldn't fall asleep.
So I asked my friends what they do before bed. And one friend of told me that he switches off everything one hour before going to bed. And I tried it and it works wonderfully. I couldn't imagine this tiny little thing making such huge impact. So I decided to switch everything off at 11:00 PM and that's it. I don't even have to be in bed by 11:00 PM. I just switch everything off. So whatever emails I wanted to check, whatever films I wanted to watch, I just stop it at 11:00 PM. And that little thing freed up one hour for me before bedtime.
And I try to fill that one hour with pleasant things. So I take a bath, and usually after that, I go to bed and read. And what I like for reading before bedtime is exclusively fiction. If I read nonfiction, that also can trigger negative thoughts. For example, if I read something for my work or some self-improvement books, those always increase my to-do list and it's not relaxing. So I always try to find some good novels that kind of bring me into this made up world, and they always make me sleepy. So, after a bath and being in bed at 11:00 or 11:30, just 20 minutes or half an hour of reading can make me really sleepy.
And the nice thing is if you read fiction before going to bed, when you close your eyes and turn off your lights, you will be in that world. You won't think about your stressful life. You will be in the novel's world. And what I find is that usually my thoughts still revolve around whatever happened in the book, and then I just drift off to sleep. So if this is the one thing that you do, it's worth it. It will make your sleep much better.
But if it's not enough for you, you can try other things and you might need some professional help if these are not the things that you already know how to do. You can try meditation, guided visualization, mindfulness exercises, breathing exercises. You might want to learn some these things if just reading a novel is not enough for you. And there's also technical, progressive muscle relaxation when you tense up parts of your body, one by one, and then relax them. For some people, counting backwards helps them drift off to sleep.
So after you've designed your schedule and you've designed your routine, you should design your environment, just like with babies. That's the third chapter in week two in my book. Think about making your bedroom a pleasant place. Think about your bed, your sheets, pillows, your duvet, the lights, the smell. Is it pleasant? Do you like it? Just try to make it in a way.
You don't have to invest in a lot of things to make it picture-perfect and Instagram-ready, but just make it pleasant for you. Fill it with things that you have happy and relaxing associations with. If you have a huge pile of folders next to your bed, on your nightstand, full of work stuff, that probably has more stressful associations. You should just not bring it into your bedroom. Just leave everything out of your bedroom that could remind you of your to-do list, or your duties and your responsibilities.
A more practical thing is that blackout blinds can really help. I told you that melatonin in your body makes it easier for you to fall asleep. And melatonin is primarily produced when it's dark. So if your bedroom is not dark enough, if there's a streetlight outside, or if you live in a country where the sun is still up when you go to bed, then it's best if you invest in some blackout blinds. Also, they could help in the morning if the sun's up before you have to get up. This can be a really good investment,.
Or you can try eye masks if they don't bother your hair or faith when you sleep. Also so think about noise. Is it noisy where you sleep? If there are too many cars, noise of traffic or ambulance, you can try ear plugs or a sound machine for white noise to mask out these noises.
So that's it about designing your environment. Just make it pleasant for you and keep out everything that's stressful. If all of these didn't help, you can try a technique that resembles sleep training for babies. The idea behind this is that if you have insomnia, you might already associate your bed with anxiety and inability to fall asleep. You already think that you won't be able to fall asleep, and that makes you anxious. That, in turn, will make you not be able to fall asleep.
So you have to recondition yourself to associate your bed with being sleepy and asleep. To achieve that, there are several techniques. Basically, all these techniques are based on sleep restriction and that makes sleep pressure higher so you will be able to fall asleep easier. The easiest thing to do this is not going to bed too early. So if you cannot easily fall asleep with your present schedule, then try to go to bed an hour later. And if that works, then do it for two days or two or three days, and then make your bedtime half an hour earlier. And if you can still fall asleep easily, then you can increase your sleep until it is convenient.
The other technique to do, and I think it could be a really hard, I have never tried this, if your insomnia involves waking up in the middle of the night and not being able to go back to sleep. If you wake up in the middle of the night and you can't go back to sleep within a few minutes, you have to get up and sit in a hard chair for 30 minutes and do something soothing or even boring. You can go back to your reading, or you can try knitting or whatever. But the important thing is to wake up and sit in a chair where you cannot possibly fall asleep. You want to go back to your bed to go to sleep, to associate sleeping with your bed.
And you have to get up for the same reason. You have to get up so that you don't associate your bed with struggling to go to sleep at night. After sitting on a chair for 30 minutes, you will probably be quite sleepy when you go back to your bed and you will be able to fall asleep. If it doesn't happen, then you will have to go back to the chair again. I'm not sure how I would be able to do this, but those who tried said that it really works. After just a few nights, you will be able to sleep through the night.
If you're interested in more, look up sleep hygiene on the internet, or cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia. And if none of this helps, just see professional help, because there are a lot of other methods in professional settings that could help you. I hope this helped and see you next week. Bye.
So, that's it for today. I hope you found this episode useful. If you would like your own questions about baby sleep coaching to be answered on my show, you can send them to me at [email protected]. You can check out my book about sleep coaching at shop.mybabysleepproject.com. See you tomorrow.