We all know that getting a good night’s sleep is important. If you are a parent you know this even more. The difference between a child who has slept well the night before, compared to one who has had broken sleep is testament to and evidence of its importance.
Keeping sleep patterns regular and established has been difficult for many during lockdown. Many of you will also have noticed that vivid dreams and nightmares have been much more common. This blog is intended to cover why this is the case and to share some suggestions for promoting good sleep for you and your children. Check out https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ruhgyvn8qCE where sleep physiologist Stephanie Romiszewski from the Sleepyhead Clinic (https://sleepyheadclinic.co.uk/) talks about weird sleep and strange dreams from an expert’s point of view.
Sleep acts as an active way for the body to recover, process the world around us. The most common issue related to sleep is the inability for an individual to get to sleep within 10 to 15 minutes. In others, although they manage to get to sleep quickly, waking up in the middle of the night presents another problem. Being awake in the dark when everyone else seems asleep can be a lonely and discomforting experience, particularly for children. Many people feel that despite sleeping for most of the night, their quality of sleep is poor. This leads to individuals not feeling refreshed in the morning.
The sudden changes during the pandemic have resulted in additional problems. This is due to a number of factors. One of the most obvious, is the major change to our day-to-day routines. An increased amount of napping during the day, alongside less exercise and movement also add to the mix. Although some people may feel they are able to connect to more people through online activities, human-to-human connection is a very important part of socialising. For some, these changes to routines lead to a negative impact on mental health and sleep. During the pandemic, there have been an increase in dreams, particularly those of a graphic nature. In some cases, increased dreams can lead to some individuals feeling tired and anxious.
How can I make sure that I get a good night’s sleep
One of the key elements of securing good sleep at night times is to ensure that there are predictable and rigid routines during the day. That is true for all children, but particularly for those who have special educational needs and/or disabilities (SEND). There are some useful tips for doing this for SEND children online, but everything that is suggested for SEND children is just as useful for any child. Have a look at this great article by special needs today: https://www.specialneedstoday.co.uk/sleeping-and-special-needs-children/
One of the things that Stephanie Romiszewski talks about is making sure there is a fixed time in the morning when it is time to get up. The more routine this is over time, the more it will help promote a good night’s sleep. Having set times for meals, a time in the day for exercise and a regular wash mid evening can all help set the tone for the approach of sleep in the late evening. Create a routine that works for your family and stick to it as much as you can.
Getting my children to bed can often be challenging
For some, the approach to bedtime can easily become a time of conflict and argument. The routines of the day should help lead towards a period of time that helps prepare your child for sleep. Ensure your child starts preparing for bed early enough. It’s bad for sleep to go from one thing, such as watching television, to sleep. Work with them to plan a bedtime routine of ‘calm down’ activities. This could be sharing a story, reading or having a chat. Avoid sugary foods too late in the evening. Try a wholemeal snack instead which may help to promote good sleep. Wholemeal foods can help the body produce more of the hormone which helps us sleep. Instead of TV, some calm, relaxing music before bed may help put your child and you in a good frame of mind.
Individuals need to ensure that activities before bed help them to ‘wind down’ rather than ‘wind up’. These can differ from child to child. For example, some may view brushing teeth and washing as a ‘wind up’ activity. In this case, try to introduce these activities well before going to bed. It is also important that bedtime does not become a battle. Make sure the things that lead to bedtime are predictable and enjoyable. If your child hates reading, it might not be the best activity for them just before bed. The Action for Children website, which contains some useful ideas for creating a regular, predictable bedtime routine: https://parents.actionforchildren.org.uk/sleep/bedtime-routine
All of us in our family have noticed that our dreams are stranger than usual
There has been an increase in people experiencing vivid dreams and nightmares. The pandemic is a time of raised anxiety and there is a lot of new ways that we have been living recently, all of which is a lot for any child to process. Make sure you talk to your children about their anxieties, however small they might seem. If you have a teen, this can be difficult. The Relate website gives some great ideas to help: https://www.relate.org.uk/relationship-help/help-family-life-and-parenting/parenting-teenagers
One explanation for the increase in vivid dreams is that people are staying in bed for longer in the morning than they normally would. This means that some of us are experiencing our Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep just before we wake up in the morning. This means we remember more of what we have dreamed and it all feels more real. If this is true for your child, these dreams may well be making them feel tired. Try to keep to a consistent waking up time. This will help your child to get into more restful sleep habits.