Many of us lost our schedules last Spring: no more school, no more commutes to the office or the corner cafe.
The lack of bright sunlight and routine to start the day left many of us off-kilter. As a single mom of two school-age children, I did my best to keep myself on track by getting up early, meditating outside on my lawn chair to soak up the sun.
After a brief meditation, I'd head to the basement for a 20-minute workout and then start my day with breakfast for my girls, maybe a quick shower, and I'd log into work.
I found some things for my girls to do, but they were often on their own between assignments painting, crafting, maybe doing an activity that didn't require too much intervention while I was on Zoom calls and working. This included the not so surprising reality of them using the iPad, playing Minecraft, Roblox, TikTok, and all the tech I like to limit.
We love the outdoors, and as the weather got warmer I'd break away for a quick outdoor hike or time to do anything to get them outside. But the girls were in fear of exposure to neighbors or exposing them and had lots of resistance about even being in our yard.
Staying inside most of the day was rough and made for a long day without summer camp. But we had a routine that allowed for early evening outings to the lake, the bike path, the ocean.
All of it worked reasonably well until the Fall, when the lack of sun and cooler temperatures along with a new hybrid school schedule meant our "schedule" would be all over the map.
Kids in school two days a week, at home three days, and one day a half day. Add to that a visitation overnight midweek with their dad, and we'd lost all rhythm.
One of my children is diagnosed with ADHD, and both have SPD (Sensory Processing Disorder). A lack of structure for kids with these issues is exceedingly tricky. I had no idea what I was in for with them on this schedule during the Fall.
The shorter the days, the shorter their tempers. And the less time outside in warm daylight, the harder it was to stick to a bedtime and wakeup schedule.
Before I knew it, the hours were creeping later at night and wakeup longer. I was pooped before my kids were, and I was pretty much pleading with them to get in bed so I could fall asleep.
“Too little light exposure during the day and too much artificial light exposure in the evening will negatively impact your ability to sleep well at night.”
– Shawn Stevenson, Sleep Smarter :21 Essential Strategies to Sleep Your Way to A Better Body, Better Health, and Bigger Success
1. Enter Sleep Cycle.
Sleep Cycle is an app that I’ve been using to track my sleep and keep me accountable to sleep hygiene for the last 6 years.
However, the way I use it shifted during quarantine, and my tracking and dedication wavered to keep myself sane and get enough sleep. Or so I told myself. I’ve been a night owl and a bit of sleep rebel for as long as I can remember. That’s why I got it in the first place.
Sleep Cycle tracks multiple things: when you go to bed, the time you fall asleep, time in bed, wake up time. It’s an app for my phone, so I put it on airplane mode, set it on my nightstand, and it “senses” when I’m moving around or awake.
I saw that my patterns shifted tremendously, and my new goal was not just to track but to get back to my average of 6.5+ hours of sleep and a “regularity” rate of 85%. Regularity is the time you go to bed each night.
Sleep Cycle Screens for iOS
I've learned that our natural sleep cycles last 90 minutes, and the idea is that waking at the end of one sleep cycle will help you feel more refreshed than choosing a mid-cycle wakeup time.
In general, we should aim for a minimum of 6 hours or 4 sleep cycles.
“Even if you get a full night’s sleep, you can still wake up groggy if your alarm goes off during the middle of one of your sleep cycles.”
–– Shawn Stevenson, Sleep Smarter :21 Essential Strategies to Sleep Your Way to A Better Body, Better Health, and Bigger Success
Shawn Stevenson also shares that the peak hours for restorative sleep are 10 pm – 2 am, and I was determined not to miss that window. My goal was to get to sleep between 10 - 11 pm every night.
Tracking my overall sleep quality, depth of sleep––the deep dip in the sleep curve, and regularity have helped me push for all of us to spend more time in daylight in the morning to cue our natural sleep rhythm, limit blue light from tablets, laptops, and phones at least 30 minutes before bedtime.
For the most part, this has worked to get my kids and me on track. Solid sleep and exercise has made us all easier to be around.
But, I’m not going to pretend that being the only adult living with two kids 24/7 is easy.
One of the most challenging parts of being a single parent is the lack of adult conversation and connection regularly. It’s a lonely road for sure, and putting a pandemic with homeschooling two high-needs kids on top of it was a recipe for depression.
2. MoodNotes to the rescue
I knew my internal dialogue; that little voice in my head was getting darker.
Instead of waking up to optimistic thoughts, my first thoughts didn’t seem to be my own, and boy, were they dark. You know the ones where you beat yourself up or begin seeing the world through dusty glasses. That was me.
I heard a lot about CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy), and I knew it could help me shift that dialogue.
Moodnotes for iOS
Through research online, I discovered that CBT online, also know as ICBT, is effective and often takes just 10-20 sessions to create change. Unlike other therapies, there's not an expectation of continuous visits with no end in site.
The tool prompts you to record your current mood via a mood meter that results in emoji faces: smiley, neutral, frown, angry. Then asks you to write about how you’re feeling and explore thoughts, identify feelings more specifically as well as the things that make you feel good, and explores ways to work around or solve challenges.
Tracking gratitude and patterns allows me to see where I go dark and pushes me to think outside the box and explore new ways to solve problems.
Plus, it’s private, I can do it on my own timeframe, and when I finally locate a therapist I can decide whether to share these observations.
3. Whipping life into shape with Notion
One of the patterns I saw that was affecting my outlook and the chaos in our home was that instead of doubling down on a consistent schedule and more planning to make up for the lack of routine in our lives, I let life creep in and take over. I needed to take life by the reins in a big way to take charge of my work and our family schedule.
I already had a paper planner, but it wasn’t enough on its own. I needed something on my phone where I could dump all my ideas and to-do lists without carrying a planner around and without losing a bunch of stickies with “To do” lists and details.
Notion for iOS
I had purchased a template in Notion from a career coach many months before, and though it was a bit confusing, I decided to try Notion without the template.
The task and to-do lists were easy to create, drag and drop, and then send a link to myself or anyone else via email. I started tasks for my long-term projects and broke them down into bite-sized chunks, and found myself able to complete major projects like a website re-brand, redesign, researching, testing, and moving podcast websites.
And all of these required hiring and managing help but with Notion, I was able to stay on track and get it all done.
Stevenson, Shawn. “Title of Chapter or Article.” Sleep Smarter: 21 Essential Strategies to Sleep Your Way to A Better Body, Better Health, and Bigger Success, Illustrated edition, Rodale Books, March 15, 2016, pp. 262.
5 Tips For Comparing Depression Apps: https://www.uplift.app/blog/compare-icbt-depression-apps