Sleep problems are a common occurrence for many people and may include difficulty falling asleep, frequent night wakening and early wakening without being able to get back to sleep. Sleeping difficulties are important to address as they impact on learning, behaviour and can add to family stress. Sometimes peoples minds get stuck in a cycle of worry that may accentuate the sleep difficulties; Worry about not sleeping leads to anxiety, tensing and physical symptoms of stress which stimulates the body. This results in being on high alert, watching the clock and tossing and turning leading back around to worrying about sleeping.
Healthy sleep habits are beneficial for both physical and mental health. It helps to improve productivity and increases overall quality of life. The term used for a variety of habits, routines and practices that assist in healthy sleep quality is termed “sleep hygiene”. Each person will have different sleep requirements based on age, lifestyle and health. Children and adults both can benefit from good sleep habits. Below are a number of ideas that may be useful to incorporate into your own routines:
- Ensure the sleep environment is pleasant – Is it too light or dark? Too hot or cold? What are the noise levels like? Comfort? Sounds or disturbance of others in the room?
- Limit day time naps – for younger children ensuring that their day sleeps are not too late or for too long. For older children, youth and adults a nap does not make up for night time sleep and can act to maintain difficulties. However, a short nap of 20-30 mins may help improve mood, alertness and performance.
- Avoid stimulants after a certain time of the day and before bed.
- Exercising – avoid doing exercise close to bedtime however, during the day a walk, some fresh air, or other preferred types of exercise can be very beneficial.
- Try to get an adequate amount of sunlight –Our body is designed to be more alert when it is light and starts to produce a chemical known as melatonin that helps us sleep when it is dark.
- Establish a regular relaxing bedtime routine – having a particular routine prepares the body for sleep – ideas include going to bed and getting up at the same times each day, taking warm baths/showers, use lavender oil (what ever is enjoyable and creates a relaxing atmosphere), reading a book, having a sleepy herbal tea.
- Where possible try to avoid high emotions before bed – including upsetting conversations and activities.
- If there is something troubling you get into the habit of writing it down to address it the next day.
- Have a cut off time of 1-2 hours before bedtime for blue screens such as phones, tablets, televisions
- It may be useful to use black out curtains, eye shades or ear plugs if there are particular sensitivities.
- White nose machines may be useful for some people including fans and humidifiers.
- Keep bed for sleep not for other activities such as television, games etc.
- If you can’t sleep don’t lay there worrying about it – get up and do something that is relaxing such as quiet music or reading until you feel tired again and head back to bed.
- Avoid clock watching; put your mind somewhere useful. Can make use of mindful breathing, imagery, progressive muscle relaxation and other relaxation techniques.
If it is your child or youth that is struggling with sleep it may be useful to sit down with them and come up with some plans together. Sometimes it may just mean making one small change such as a cut off time for technology. Other times it may require developing a whole new routine. It may be useful to keep a sleep diary of what helps and what doesn’t. It may require a bit of trial and error. Try to make bedtimes an enjoyable process at the end of a hard day. A time to switch off and refresh your body, soul and mind.
Rebecca Armstrong, MAppPsy, Researcher, Parent to Parent