Sleep quality and duration is so important for a family. Lack of sleep affects development and learning, mood, decision making, emotional tone and even your immune system and physical health. Matthew Walker shares a great overview on the importance of sleep (for all of us) here...
So what are the key ingredients for improving sleep hygiene and getting a good night’s sleep?
1. A good routine. A bedtime routine should last roughly 30 minutes and include winding down activities, such as a bath and a story. It is good to include a bath in a bedtime routine as this results in a dip in body temperature (when getting out of the bath) which promotes melatonin release (the sleep hormone). Decreasing physical activity is important because it tells the body and mind that it is time to relax. I have worked with many families who have tried to ‘tire out’ their children immediately before bed by e.g. running laps or jumping on a trampoline. This will not tire the child out if done immediately before bed, in fact, quite the opposite. The exercise will wake the brain and body up! Having said this, it is important to get enough exercise and exposure to natural light during the day.
2. A room that is adequately dark, with a good ambient temperature (18-19 degrees) and NO blue light! Blue light interferes with circadian rhythms and suppresses melatonin production, so it is a no-no at bedtimes. This means no screens an hour before bed (especially phones/iPads that are held close up). Ensure that night lights use orange or red light.
3. A child that falls asleep on their own (in their cot/ bed). This is a big one and something that ‘sleep training’ often aims to address. The truth is that it is completely normal for children to wake up several times throughout the night - because we all do it - every night. Our brains cycle in and out of deep sleep at various points throughout the night and at times when we enter light sleep/ REM (dream) sleep, we may very well wake briefly, open our eyes and shuffle around, before drifting back off. Imagine if you woke up in the middle of the night and noticed that your duvet or pillow was missing, would you be likely to wake up more or roll over and go back to sleep? My guess is that you would be wide awake until you could find those items. They are your sleep associations and if a child falls asleep with a parent in the room (which is extremely common) then you are their sleep association, and they will continue to wake to find you. There are numerous ways of trying to break the parent-as-sleep association (or other sleep association) habits, each with their own pros and cons. One thing you can be sure of though - if you need to be there when they fall asleep - then you will need to return in the night when they wake up!
If you have tried all of the above and are still struggling, or if you are having difficulties at step 3 (getting your child to fall asleep on their own), then it might be worth thinking about whether it is time to seek help from a qualified expert. Emma at Solutions Educational Psychology has had specialist training in paediatric sleep disorders, including in sleep disorders that affect many of our children and young people with SEN. She has expert knowledge in techniques to ensure that babies, children and young people fall asleep easily and on their own, at a reasonable bedtime and that they stay asleep for longer periods of time. Please get in touch for more information.