Seven ways to guard your sleep

I’m keenly aware as we enter the season of colds (I’m in recovery from a fresh hit at the moment!) and British winter guarantees us many overcast or rainy days, that it’s really important to do whatever I can to stabilise my mood and sustain good mental wellbeing. That means it’s hugely important that I guard my sleep.

I am so good at making excuses for not getting enough sleep. It’s too tempting to stay up late when it’s the only child-free time I have. I also have a fifteen-month-old who is cutting lots of teeth and looks like she’s gearing up to walk soon. So, as you can imagine, that’s affecting her, and therefore my, sleep.

But by now I know that being overtired affects my ability to remain rational, calm or creative, and leaves me ill-equipped to be with my family (or anybody) as I want to be.

Recently, I’ve been working a lot harder at guarding my sleep and it stuns me just how much happier and more capable I am after a reasonable amount of the stuff. Here are a few things I’ve discovered which may be obvious to some but might just serve as a handy reminder for others.

Limit caffeine intake
I’m probably en route to cutting out caffeine altogether but I’ve had times when I’ve been a total junkie with many cups of tea and coffee a day. Over the past few months I’ve cut down to just one cup of coffee in the morning and I’ve been amazed at how much less anxious I have felt as well as physically happier to fall asleep come bedtime.

Remove sources of light
Most of my life I’ve had some sort of light source when sleeping. Even now, I tend to have a pink night light on (I can’t sleep with blue light at all) if we are staying somewhere where it’s pitch black as it really bothers me not being able to see the baby. But generally, I’ve come to realise that I really do sleep better if it’s as dark as possible. I’m currently being kept awake by moonlight and waking with first dawn (admittedly less of a problem at this time of year). I may have to dig out an eye mask and have a look at blinds on the VELUX website as a more long term solution.

Floss
This is going to seem such an odd tip to some but I’ve found that making sure I floss before bed really improves my quality of sleep. I find it hard not be distracted by physical discomfort at the best of times and if my mouth doesn’t feel absolutely clean, I’m prone to tossing and turning. Weird but I’m going to put it out there, hoping that I’m not the only one!

Get the temperature right

I’m prone to going hot and cold at night. After a lot of experimenting, I’ve realised I need to dress lightly, use a lightweight duvet and wear socks because my feet get cold while the rest of me tends to overheat. Laurence and I actually have separate duvets now because of this. He’s generally freezing while I’m plugging a fan in!

Unplug
It’s so tempting to go to bed with a phone, especially when you know you’ll be up for night feeds but I inevitably regret it whenever I do. I try to leave my phone downstairs when I go to bed and usually find I fall asleep a lot quicker when I’ve had to wake up in the night. Even if I really can’t sleep, reading a book with a lamp is generally more soporific than scrolling through Facebook on my phone.

Develop a bedtime routine
It’s easy to think bedtime routines are the domain of children but a lot of us adults would do well to establish healthy bedtime routines for ourselves. For me, this means planning to go to bed earlier and starting the routine well before I want to be asleep. Herbal tea, a simple yoga pose, some time praying – and a good floss – and away I go.

Nurture the space
After years of saying that I was just messy and couldn’t do anything about it, I have recognised that clutter is detrimental to my mental wellbeing and I’ve been working hard at changing my ways. The bedroom is a bit of a sacred space in this regard. I really feel it if I lie down in a messy room now so I prioritise putting things away, keeping it aired and cleaning any dust. It’s made a huge difference.

What do you reckon? Is there more I could consider? Dare I ask how your sleep has been lately?

This post was brought to you by VELUX


It’s OK not to be OK

I keep finding myself responding to any of the question “How’s the pregnancy going?” with “Fine, thanks. Just tired.” It’s not totally inaccurate.

Even compared to my own two previous pregnancies, I’m physically feeling positively spectacular to the point of sometimes forgetting that I’m even pregnant. That is if you don’t count the fact that I almost always need the toilet and even if you don’t see me making millions of bathroom trips when we’re out and about, you can bet “Need a wee” is there on my mental list of things I’m trying hard to ignore.

When I say “tired”, though, I mean crushingly exhausted. By 2pm most days all I can think of is lying on the sofa and letting the kids do their thing, checking in with me now and then. Any afternoon activity that requires my involvement has become something I will pay for later, usually by needing a 7pm bedtime, which means stuff that needs to get done in the evenings does not get done.

That has a knock on effect with the other thing I’m not saying in “Fine, thanks. Just tired.” I know that I’m a bit depressed. I have been for a while.

Most days involve mustering all of me to get out of bed, stay out of bed, do the basics and try to be present with my kids. It helps that we have commitments to meet with other people most days and even if I don’t talk about what’s going on, the company and the change of scene help.

Heaviness and hurt walk around with me most days, with a little anxiety joining us when I’m not expecting it. I find myself obsessing over every detail of the day when I wake up for the loo in the middle of the night. What happened? What did I get wrong? Why did I say that?

There is actual stuff going on in my life that I can’t talk about here but mostly, I have every reason to be happy. And I am. I enjoy my children and my husband immensely, work has slowed but is still coming in here and there (probably for the best with the lack of time and energy), we are comfortable and I am really looking forward to meeting this baby.

The girls have dubbed her “Butterfly”. “Heh-oh, Buh-fy!” Ophelia says to my tummy, stroking and kissing it. Who could but melt? She really does seem to understand there’s a baby in there now.

On the flip side, I find myself getting needlessly stressed over small day-to-day details, I am irritable with my family, I often feel like I’m not doing anything well, I am not enjoying getting bigger, needing to wee all the time, having little energy, and at 22 weeks pregnant, I’m still scared about what adding another child to this family means.

She is unquestionably wanted but the thought of spreading my resources in yet another direction, of establishing breastfeeding again, of sleepless nights, of coping with my other two children’s changing needs, of helping my Ophelia transition from being the baby of the family, of delaying other things I want to do a bit longer, of the general upheaval that comes with a new baby, of the thousand other things I can’t help worrying about…

No amount of anyone saying, “You’ll be fine” actually sates these thoughts. Because along with some of the perfectly valid stuff on my mind trundles a whole load that doesn’t make any rational sense, not even to me. Yet they are taking up as much space. And that’s probably because I am so often feeling like I’m not coping right now.

At the same time, it’s been difficult to identify for myself that something is up, rather than that I’m just being a bit pathetic. This isn’t like the crushing lows I experienced pre-kids years ago where I was literally out of action and needed to be medicated or else.

I have been depressed at times since having children but I’ve somehow managed, as I am now, to keep going, even if I am operating at a lower level than is normal for me. So, I’ve remained reticent, questioning how bad it has to be before I can call it what I know deep down it still is, depression.

I see the strangeness in being unable to say this face to face yet being willing to speak it into a computer screen, knowing that people who do and don’t know me will read it. It’s been a back and forth debate over whether to talk about it here either.

Anything I write about here opens me up to criticism and well-meaning but sometimes misguided attempts to solve a problem that can’t be solved by someone else. It’s one of the reasons I tend to only blog about the hard bits of parenting through the lens of what I feel I am learning from them or once I’ve reached some sort of resolution I can reflect on.

Yet even though I’m only at the point of knowing that I need to do something, I feel it’s worth sharing in case it helps someone else feel less alone, and that maybe it’s OK to not be OK.


Five ways to embrace an Autumn outdoors

With the nights drawing in and the days getting that bit colder, it’s definitely starting to feel Autumnal. A friend recently found a conker so that feels like proof that the new season is almost here. I didn’t grow up with Autumn. In Trinidad and Tobago, we have dry and wet season. But over the past ten years, I’ve grown surprisingly fond of this particular season. Here are a few ways I’m gearing up to face and embrace an Autumn outdoors. Join me if you like.

1. Take a photo every week
Choose a nature spot to observe the change in season. It could be your garden. It could be a park you work past on your way to work. Taking photographs can help you to take a closer look at and gain a deeper appreciation what’s happening at this time of year.

2. Make sure you’re properly geared up
This is one I’ve made mistakes with too many times in the past. Not having the proper attire means that I either prefer to hide indoors or head out feeling miserable and a bit frumpy. No one’s saying you have to unleash your inner fashionista but if having decent layers and boots that are up to the task of dealing with the wind and the rain while making you feel cheerful about your appearance helps you to take more autumnal walks then the investment is very much worth it, in my book.

3. Book in seasonal events
Commit to local outdoor events happening this season. It could mean signing up to a term at a local forest school with your kids or getting a date in the diary with friends to go to a bonfire and fireworks display for Guy Fawkes Night. Last year, we loved walking around Westonbirt Arboretum (pictured here) with my brother and his wife to see the Autumn colours.

4. Make the most of the elements
I’m told this is a great time of year to go for a swim in the sea as it’s at its warmest – I’m actually intrigued to give it a go. It’s also fairly windy, so if you get a day that’s windy but not wet, it could be a great time to take your kids out to fly a kite. We bought the girls a brilliant kite at Bristol Kite Festival this summer so I’m hoping to get some Autumnal kite flying sessions in before we need to be fiddling with winter gloves.

5. Commit to outdoor exercise

This is probably the ultimate in refusing to be holed up indoors this season. It’s probably the weirdest time of year to be taking up running but I’m getting started this Thursday with local friends and really hoping to make it through the season.

Five ways to embrace an Autumn outdoors

Will you be doing any of these? Do you have any ideas to add to the list?

Post made possible by Leona S. Green of Interactive Media


HeyWorkout – live group webcam fitness classes for mothers

I used to say that I would like to take an exercise class but I didn’t have the motivation to go out after looking after a baby/toddler all day. Then I got pregnant again and felt so tired, I added that to the hurdles in my way. I’d also say I’d take an exercise class if I could drive. Then I got my license. But by then I also had the second baby. And it started to look like I’d never run out of excuses.

The thing is I know how important it is to exercise, physically, mentally and emotionally. I’m utterly convinced. It frustrates me that my conviction hasn’t led to action. I walk lots, carrying a heavy toddler most of the time, but there’s nothing like 30 minutes straight, getting your heart rate up and working specific muscles.

I know that part of that is needing a regular class to get and keep me going. The plan is to eventually find something I love doing outdoors but for now I need the commitment and sociability of working out at a regular time with other people. I also need to have someone I can reach out to if I have questions about what I’m trying to do.

So, I was intrigued to hear about HeyWorkout when they offered me a chance to try out their service. It’s a subscription program which gives access to live group webcam fitness classes specific to mothers’ bodies. All of the instructors are either mothers themselves or are experienced in working with mothers.

How it works is that you click on the class you’d like to attend and enable your webcam (you don’t have to if you don’t want to). Your instructor can see you and chat with you; others in the class can’t. It’s like being in a class, perhaps without the atmosphere and being in a minimalist studio but also without the extra step of having to get on the bus or into your car and going somewhere.

So far I’ve done the Vinyasa Flow Yoga class (Legs, bums and tums, full body workout and stretch are also available). It was a gentle but thorough workout. I was surprised by how much it challenged me, which is exactly what I needed. I haven’t had my webcam on, though I definitely see the benefit of doing so and will at my next class. I’ve actually got a lot out of hearing the instructor give others feedback.

The class was engaging, easy to follow and the instructor friendly and helpful. The program is extremely simple to use. On the whole, it’s perfect for someone like me, not just because I can be a bit of a homebody these days but because Laurence is sometimes away for work or back late. Using Mummy Workouts means that I don’t have to cancel my class last minute or face a month of having to sort babysitters.


My first time with reflexology

I am sitting in a treatment room at the Chiron Centre for Natural Health in Westbury-on-Trym in Bristol with a reflexologist called Anne Brunton. She looks at the clipboard form I’ve just filled in, noting that I’ve called my sleep “broken”. She, entirely reasonably, assumes that it’s because I have a young baby. I feel the need to say that Ophelia actually sleeps quite a lot and that I am, in fact, depriving myself of sleep. I cannot shut off. This has been going on for months.

It’s one of the many indicators of the stress I’m struggling to admit to myself; the stress that leads to too many cups of coffee, at times questionable eating choices, impatience with my children and barbs prodded at Laurence. The stress makes me question everything I do and arrive at ungenerous conclusions. It’s the stress that leads to more stress, that will not let me sleep.

I don’t go into all of this, of course. I’m just here to try reflexology. It feels like a treat. I feel a little guilty to be here because it feels undeserved and decadent. Decadent – when will I be able to use that word without giggling at The Apprentice?!

reflexology-2

Anne explains a bit about reflexology’s long history and what it actually involves. It’s a well-established holistic therapy, using specific points in the feet or hands to treat other areas of the body. It makes sense to me that there are physical connections in the body. I look forward to beginning, not yet quite sure why I’m here.

I lie on the treatment table with my feet exposed. Anne has put on a CD of ocean sounds I’ve said “yes” to. She approaches my feet respectfully. I couldn’t say what I’d been expecting, but though she touches only my feet, it feels as if my whole body is being treated.

I am soon in a state of rest I haven’t been able to achieve for months. In fact, embarrassingly, I think I may have drifted in and out of sleep a few times. Sorry if I snored, Anne!

We talk about tensions she notices and what that might be related to. She accurately guesses that I get cramps in my legs at night and suggests zinc. Most of the time I just zone out and enjoy the experience.

reflexology

I leave feeling completely blissed out. I get into my car, amazed at how much looser everything feels. She’s mentioned that I might feel a bit tired the next day. That does not happen but I take advantage of my relaxed state by getting straight to bed. For days afterward I feel calmer and better able to cope. It’s hard to say whether it’s related specifically to the reflexology session but my back (ever a problem!) feels much more comfortable.

I didn’t go with specific concerns this time (though I certainly benefited) but reflexology is believed to target stress, low mood, headaches, back pain, digestive issues – you name it, really. An hour’s treatment with Anne is £45, £25 for half an hour, which is a fair bit cheaper than some other therapies I’ve had. I’m keen to have another session some time and to try some simple techniques on my girls that she described to me. We probably could all do with a bit of reflexology.

Do you have any experience of reflexology? Would you give it a go?

I was given a reflexology session at The Chiron Centre for Natural Health by the Association of Reflexologists for the purposes of this review.


Top Five Alternative Easter Basket Ideas for Children

If you’re anything like me, you’re probably doing the last-minute thing, figuring out what you’ll be giving for Easter. Today I’m welcoming five alternative Easter ideas from ASDA George.

Easter is just around the corner, and while plenty of people, young and old, will be scoffing their body weight in chocolate over the course of the Easter holidays, others will have treated their loved ones in other ways. Chocolate eggs have long been a tradition when it comes to gift-giving at Easter, but they certainly aren’t the be-all and end-all of gift options as an Easter present.

Easter baskets are deeply rooted in the Pagan and religious Easter traditions, while also having their place in the welcoming of springtime. Nowadays, Easter baskets are a way to give gifts to loved ones that are a little more thoughtful than chocolate, with all manner of goodies being bought and added to the baskets for something truly special to open over Easter weekend.

While you could just go wild and pick up a few bits and pieces to create an Easter basket for your loved ones, you could opt for an alternative, unique idea that will be even more special as well as being tailor-made to the recipient. There are plenty of options for you to choose from if this is the route you wish to take:

Healthy
Since when do Easter baskets have to be unhealthy and super sweet? While part of the joy of Easter is the almost justifiable sugar high, it doesn’t mean an Easter basket can’t be healthy if you want it to be. Make it fun as well and your child will barely notice that there’s not a chocolate egg in sight. Choose to fill the basket with non-sugary goodies, such as small toys, raisins, bath toys, great value fancy dress costumes, stickers or packets of nuts, for a fun alternative to mountains of chocolate that they’ll be eating until summer.

Arty
Does your child love to draw, paint or make? Create an Easter basket perfect for those with a creative side and fill it with crayons, paints, paintbrushes, craft activities and colouring books. It’s a great way to stock up their art cupboard, while also providing plenty of things to do on the inevitable rainy days during the Easter holidays.

Alternative Easter gift ideas.jpg

Colour-Themed
Have a little fun putting the Easter basket together and stick to items that are of their favourite colour. Perhaps your child loves red? A red soft toy, some red crayons, red glitter and red beads would be ideal to add to it. You could throw in some Lindor chocolates wrapped in red foil for a sweet touch.

Outdoors
Do they love to be outside? Perhaps some sporty goodies, such as a new ball, some outdoor chalks or some water balloons would suffice. Maybe they’re a little green fingered – packets of seeds, their own gardening tools and a little watering can would be perfect!

Superheroes
What kid doesn’t love superheroes? Theme the basket around their favourite heroes and villains; you could include action figures, a LEGO set, a DVD, stickers and one of the many fancy dress costumes that will enable them to become Superman or Batman whenever they liked, for a super fun Easter gift.

Make their Easter basket extra special this Easter and give them something exciting and fun to open over Easter weekend. A chocolate egg wouldn’t go amiss either, if you’re feeling particularly generous!

In Association with ASDA George