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Sleep As A Mom - a Chat with Emma Whiley

Mom life and sleep
Seeing as I'm not a mum (just yet), I've always been a bit in the dark when it comes to what the relationship with sleep is if you are a mum of tiny humans that have very different circadian rhythms (and, at the start of their lives, no circadian rhythms at all) to you. So, I asked my friend Emma Whiley - who is a copywriter extraordinaire - to weigh in on this topic.
1. Tell me a bit more about you... 
I'm Emma and I'm mum to a marvellous two and a half year old little girl with a baby brother on the way! I work as a freelance copywriter for brands like Warner Bros, The AllBright, Adidas and Dove, as well as some really great small biz superstars. The best thing about being self-employed is that my schedule is pretty flexible and even in non-pandemic times I got to work mostly from home meaning I could plan my work days around nap times and also get to spend as much time with H as possible. That being said, working at home with a toddler is not easy and I'm incredibly lucky that she has always been a good napper. I've certainly had days where I feel like I'm rushing around with my hair on fire, juggling thirty different balls at once. I used to think I was busy before I had kids but apparently I was living a life of leisure! It just takes more focus, planning and boundary setting now. Some days I would love to just throw in the towel and just focus on being at home with my littles, but I do love my job and I'm really grateful that I get to build it around my family. I think I've created some Frankenstein combination of a stay-at-home-mum and a work-from-home-mom and I am here to tell you – ALL mums deserve a giant medal, a giant brownie and DEFINITELY a good, long night's sleep. 
2. What’s your relationship with sleep, what did it used to be and how has it changed now that you have a toddler and a baby on the way?
Ahhhh sleep. How little I thought about you two years ago! To be honest I've always had a bit of an irresponsible relationship with sleep because I am a classic, true-blooded night owl. Which worked rather wonderfully when I was at university but hasn't translated so well into a world where everything runs 9-5. That being said, I did get more of it before H arrived. I think I've learnt how very important sleep is and how I need to prioritise getting it, but also that I can survive on surprisingly little sleep if I have to and not to idolise sleep so much that it becomes my focus. Sometimes I find myself stressing that I've gone to bed too late and then I can't get to sleep because I'm stressing about sleeping and it's a ridiculous cycle. Now I try and get to bed at a reasonable hour (between 10 and 11pm) and attempt to not be too frustrated when I have to get up in the night. Although I must say I have learnt loads about sleep hygiene and good sleep habits from Nightire's posts and newsletters so I'm always trying to implement those where I can. 
3. How has your sleep changed over the progression of your pregnancy?
In the first trimester I was hit with the famed pregnancy insomnia and utterly insane dreams. Now in the third trimester, I'm just uncomfortable and needing the toilet way too often for my liking! I guess a good outcome from this is that I'm now able to actually nap when H naps, which I was never able to do previously. But sleep is definitely temperamental in pregnancy.
4. What was your ’strategy’ in terms of sleep for H? Including naps:) 
A few things. We tried to keep her room as calming and free of stimulation as possible and then we stuck to the same routine every day. We worked to get her into a routine from about 5 months and she just thrived on it. It was frustrating sometimes having to leave somewhere to be home in time for nap time or not being able to do things at certain times, but it certainly paid off in creating a great napper who loves her routine. That being said she was never an amazing night-time sleeper, waking up multiple times through the night. My husband has a much more full-on and time-consuming job than I do and so I would do night duty during the week and he would take the weekends, but since I've been pregnant he's done it every night (legend, I know). Eventually we got to the point where my mental health just couldn't take the frequent wake ups so we decided to try some gentle sleep training and that made a huge difference. I know it's a controversial topic and not for everyone (and also won't work with every kid) but I think she just needed to be encouraged towards linking her sleep cycles and as soon as she slept through once it was like a switch flicked in her head and she realised it was possible. It was amazing to see the development and growth in her when she started getting good, long, uninterrupted nights of sleep. 
5. What is your bedtime routine, and what is H’s bedtime routine? 
I don't have much of a bedtime routine. I like to have a bath, and I often read in the bath, then I pop on PJs, make sure the house has been 'put to bed' (I do not like waking up to a messy house) and hop into bed. I'm trying to keep my phone out of my room but at the moment I am listening to hypnobirthing tracks as I fall asleep so I do have it on my bedside table for that. If H is going to wake up, without fail it will happen as soon as we get into bed but usually she settles quite quickly. 

H has a much more 'set' routine. She has her dinner and then bath time (one of her favourite times of the day!). Every few days we have a 'bath party' where we turn off the lights and throw glow sticks in the bath. On usual days we try and keep the lights low, and we also use toddler bubbles that have nice calming scents. Once she is clean and shiny and has had a good time to play in the bath she gets wrapped in a big towel and shipped through the dark to her room. We keep her room VERY dark and play a white noise machine every night but for getting her into her jaamies we use a starry night light. She has snuggle time with both of us and then my husband gives her her milk, sings her a couple of songs and pops her in bed. She usually drifts off to sleep then but the last few weeks this has not been the case! I think she is ready to drop her day-time nap because she now chatters away to herself for ages before she goes to sleep. We try and do everything in the same order every night and it's become such an ingrained routine now that it just happens without thinking about it. Watching how she thrives so much on routine definitely makes me realise how important it is to have one for myself. 

6. Is there anything that you’ve noticed that if you do / don’t do during the day, will affect both of your sleep markedly? So here I’m trying to figure out whether you have noticed whether naps / food / overstimulation of some sort / routine makes a big impact. 
I've noticed that if I spend all day sitting at my desk without taking a walk outside or stretching my legs a bit I find it very hard to fall asleep. This is obviously getting harder being nearly 8 months pregnant but movement is very important.  I also know it helps to write down my to-do list before I try and go to bed as I've been known to lie awake stressing about it for ages – it's much better to just get it all down. When H was younger, being out of her routine could really mess up the whole night but now that she is slightly older she has much more resilience and can cope with her routine being slightly out of wack every now and then, but sticking roughly to the same routine is incredibly helpful. I used to be someone who thought they would be a 'go with the flow' parent but routine has made our lives so much easier I can't imagine trying to do it without it. We also give H a banana every night in the bath (after reading on Nightire that they are good for encouraging sleep!) and that's made a big difference to her wake-ups too. Just gives her that little extra something in her tummy to carry her through the night. 
Chat hosted by founder, Nina Clark