It’s a cruel twist of dad life. You’re totally zonked, but when you finally hit the sack, your precious slumber is interrupted by one of your kids waking up and hollering for attention. No problem. You dutifully tend to them and chase away the monsters / get them a drink / stroke their head / persuade them to lie back down.
But that 15-minute window of frantic cajoling has snapped your mind back into alertness. Despite your exhaustion, you now can’t get back to sleep. So you lie there in the dark as the minutes tick by, grimly aware that you’re wasting a much-needed opportunity to recharge.
Next time that happens, use these hacks to accelerate your return to the land of nod.
Start the countdown
“Counting sheep is kind of antiquated,” explains Chelsea Pottenger a sleep expert from EQ Consulting who specialises in delivering cognitive tools to recharge the human brain. Her advice: count backwards from 1000 to one.
“It gives your brain just enough of a focal point not to dart around, but it’s also very, very boring by nature. So you’ll drift off somewhere between that count.”
For a one-two punch combo, Chelsea recommends first listening to a sleep-guided meditation app like Headspace or Calm before you start the countdown.
Stick to two standard drinks
Booze has, of course, been the proven lifesaver of frazzled dads since the dawn of time (or at least the invention of the bottleshop). Unfortunately, it also plays havoc with your sleep.
While alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, it’s more likely to disrupt sleep than caffeine or nicotine.
“People metabolise alcohol at the rate of one drink per hour but the withdrawal effects persist for another two to four hours, which is when people often feel restless,” Chelsea says. “More than two standard drinks will interrupt deep REM sleep.”
Take some magnesium
Magnesium can help usher in deep sleep by maintaining healthy levels of GABA, a neurotransmitter that promotes quality slumber.
You can dose up with a magnesium supplement, but Chelsea recommends getting your fix by putting some Epsom salts in a bath or slathering a magnesium gel on the soles of your feet. “It actually gets readily absorbed better through the skin.”
Keep your socks on
What you wear in bed matters. “Your brain needs to drop its temperature by a few degrees to initiate sleep and pyjamas keep you warm rather than cool you down,” Chelsea says.
Her advice: ditch the PJS but keep your socks on. Not only is this a v.sexy look, but Chelsea says: “You will coax the blood away from your core and thermal dump the heat required for a good night’s shut-eye.”
No caffeine after noon
Downing espressos before bed is obviously a bad idea. But drinking any tea or coffee after midday could also stop you getting back to sleep.
“Only 10% of the population can metabolise caffeine before bed, the rest take 4-8 hours for it to be eliminated from their system.”
If you’re a smoker also be aware that nicotine is a central nervous system stimulant and disrupts sleep in a similar way to caffeine.
“Smokers may experience a sense of relaxation, but their heart-rate and blood pressure will increase, keeping them awake.”
Avoid the screen test
Get an alarm clock rather than relying on your phone to tell you the time. Staring at a bright screen will sabotage your efforts for getting back to sleep.
“The exposure to light pushes your biological clock in the wrong direction and affects your production of melatonin,” Chelsea says.
If you really can’t sleep, try reading a book rather than scrolling through Facebook. Your best bet: avoid the temptation completely by keeping your smartphone and tablet out of the bedroom.
The EQ Sleep 2.0 program is a 28-day regimen that features tools and resources to improve sleep, how to videos and a selection of downloadable guides to improve sleep hygiene at home or on the move. Buy it here