Mama Bear Self Care: Make the Dream a Reality

The Dream: after the kids fall asleep, Mama Bear settles in to relax and enjoy what remains of her evening. She shuts off her computer and phone, pours herself a glass of wine or a cup of tea, takes a warm bath, and finally climbs into bed with a good book. Eventually she too drifts off to la la land, waking ready to face the day after a refreshing eight hours of slumber.

The Reality: after the kids are FINALLY in bed, Mama Bear’s work begins. She cleans up the kitchen and loads the dishwasher. She gathers dirty clothes and starts a load of laundry. She puts away toys and books and shoes. She makes lunches, packs backpacks, and sets alarm clocks. She checks and answers emails, writes a to-do list for the following day, and pops over to YouTube to see if April the giraffe has given birth yet.

Admittedly, these two scenarios fall at the far ends of the bedtime routine spectrum. But if your days and nights look anything like mine, you find yourself closer to “the reality” rather than “the dream”.

Back in February I reached my breaking point. Despite feeling exhausted, at the end of the night I couldn’t relax and fall asleep. My brain kept churning, and as a result, my hands continued to pick up my phone to jot down a note or send another message. Around the same time, I realized I hadn’t finished reading a single book since last October. I considered the possibility that these two situations were connected (that when I stopped reading as part of my bedtime routine, my schedule went haywire), and decided to attempt to make my nights more positive and restorative…with a reading challenge.

I committed myself to reading 10 pages of a book – no magazines, no online articles – every night for the entire month of March.

At first I would climb into bed at or after 11pm and begrudging read my pages before going back to my phone to wrap up the night. But as time went on and I began to lose myself in my book, 10 pages became 20 pages became 40 pages. I found myself managing my days more efficiently with the goal of lessening my evening workload and increasing the amount of time available for reading. I stopped picking up my phone for one last message. I started falling asleep more quickly once I had finished reading and sleeping more soundly throughout the night. I woke better rested and without the neck ache I had been dealing with for months. One small change to my bedtime routine dramatically impacted both how I slept and my life as a whole.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, sleep affects our mood, energy level, and overall health and well-being. And while we know and understand sleep guidelines and recommendations, getting enough sleep – especially as Mama Bears – can be tough. We can’t do much about babies who need to eat, toddlers who have bad dreams, or preschoolers who wet the bed in the middle of the night. So instead, let’s focus on what we can control. We can exercise daily and limit caffeine in the afternoons and evenings. We can stick to a regular schedule, sleep in a comfortable bedroom (low light, low sound, cool temperature), and sleep on a comfortable mattress. We can turn off all of our electronic devices an hour before we would like to fall asleep and open a book instead. Just as we create calming, restorative bedtime routines for our kiddos, we can create calming, restorative bedtime routines for ourselves.

“Make sleep a priority…don’t make it the thing you do only after everything else is done – stop doing everything else so you get the sleep you need.” The National Sleep Foundation’s recommendation makes sense, but if completely overhauling your evening and bedtime routines feels too daunting, just make one small change. Take one stressful task off your evening to-do list, or add one relaxing activity to your bedtime routine…even if it’s just reading 10 pages of a good book every night. The benefits will eventually reveal themselves, and Mama Bears deserve every single one of them.

Mama Bear contributor Erin Ferris is a wife, mother, and writer living in College Station, Texas. She loves snow, tulips, donuts, cowboy boots, kittens, musical theater, college football, crime dramas, young adult fiction, and the color red. After working for the American Red Cross for nearly 10 years, she stepped away from the nonprofit world to focus on her favorite part of that job: telling meaningful and impactful stories. She will contribute a monthly “Mama Bear Self Care” post to the Mama Bear Dares blog, and you can find her at Chasing Roots.