Everyone likes a restful night’s sleep. For those of us suffering with insomnia getting the kind of restorative sleep needed to maintain good health is a challenge. Overcoming insomnia takes dedication to making changes in how we approach getting to sleep. We have to make sleep a priority, starting by establishing good habits for sleep hygiene.
According to psychiatrist Dr. Tom Jackson, sleep hygiene refers to the set of habits and guidelines that promote consistently restful and sufficient sleep at night and complete alertness during the day. It’s what you can do (and in some cases, not do) to help your child (and you) sleep easy and well.
Establish good sleep habits
It is best to begin good sleep hygiene habits early on in life in order to promote the retention and sustaining of those good habits throughout a child’s lifetime. A bedtime routine will help signal that it is time for sleep and help the transition into a restful state.
Poor sleep hygiene
So what does it look like when a child has poor sleep hygiene? Well the clearest signs are he/she experiences nighttime sleeplessness and/or daytime sluggishness. Other signs include:
• Bedtime resistance
• Anxiety about sleep
• Sleep onset delay
• Nighttime wakings
• Inadequate sleep duration
• Difficulty awakening in the morning
• Morning moodiness
• Daytime sleepiness
The list is long but the hopeful aspect is that each of these problems can be alleviated.
What is key to resolving these issues are:
• Bedtime Schedule
• Bedtime Routine
• Environmental Conditions of the Bedroom
• Daytime Behaviors and Habits
Create a Bedtime Schedule
For any bedtime schedule to work, it requires two key components:
• It must include both a regular bedtime and a regular waking time. Make sure the times you select are practical and realistic for you and your child’s other life schedules.
• It should stay consistent 7 days a week. When adjusting for weekends, don’t adjust it by any more than an hour in either direction, or else you defeat the whole purpose. Their physiology simply will not know when it is time to sleep or be awake. And this goes double for teenagers.
Create a bedtime routine that works for you and your child, and then stick to it
When you set the bedtime schedule you are setting your child’s “biological clock.” Set it right and your child’s bodily rhythms; circadian rhythm will begin to naturally run like clockwork.
Clarify a regular bedtime routine, about 1/2-hour long leading up to bedtime itself. A bedtime routine involves engaging in comforting and familiar activities that are also relaxing.
Thirty minutes before bed is the time for a child to start winding down, not up. To be avoided during this critical time period are:
• Heavy emotional conversations
• Video games
• Active, rough-and-tumble play and cardiovascular/aerobic exercise
• Caffeine (chocolate, caffeinated teas, and some sodas)
• Lots of liquids (water, juice, milk)*
• Big meals and sugary snacks*
* remember to keep bedtime snacks light. Foods with predominantly carbohydrates and proteins (like milk and cookies), and foods with tryptophan (like milk and turkey) both can actually help a child, once fallen asleep, to stay asleep.
Create Bedtime Routines to Include:
• taking a warm bath
• reading a story together
• quiet, relaxing family time
• listening to tranquil music, nature sounds or a relaxation CD
As children grow older you can be more flexible with bedtime routines. Older children may want to retire to their room to read, listen to music or work on a favorite hobby before retiring for the night.
Environmental Conditions of the Bedroom
Certain qualities of the setting in which you set your child down to sleep can play a significant role in the quality of his sleep.
• Set a bedroom temperature that’s comfortable and will remain consistent throughout the night. Setting on the cooler side than an excessively warm room supports healthful sleep.
• Make the room sufficiently dark; a small nightlight is okay, if needed, but too much brightness interferes with restful sleep and may lower the production of melatonin.
• Ensure sufficient ventilation/air circulation such as by cracking the door open or using a ceiling fan set on low but refrain, however, from leaving a window wide open all night for both safety and health reasons.
• Provide your child a quiet sleeping environment, for reasons that should be obvious
• Shut off the television, and what’s more take the television out of your child’s bedroom; recall from Bedtime Routines above that all television-viewing should cease at least 30 minutes before bedtime anyway
• Keep the bed for sleeping. In other words, associating the bed with anything other than sleeping, such as playing, reading, eating, or watching TV sends confusing signals to the nervous system.
• Provide your child with a comfortable mattress and pillows, bed sheets, blankets and pajamas. Comfort is key.
Daytime Behaviors and Habits
The following are suggestions of daytime behaviors supportive of good sleep hygiene:
• Expose your child to sunlight first thing in the morning, as soon as possible after waking, as it helps to set his circadian rhythms for the rest of the day, and long-term for the rest of his/her life.
• Avoid using your child’s bedroom for punishments or time-outs, as a child must feel comfortable, safe, and happy to be in his bedroom in order to fall asleep and sleep soundly—all of which are prevented when he starts associating his bedroom with punishment.
• Monitor the content of your child’s television viewing, internet surfing, and video game playing, as exposure to excessively violent, disturbing, or confusing images could be responsible for many sleep disturbances, such as nightmares.
• Confront bullying or other prevalent emotional issues in your child’s daily life, as any number of daily stressors could direly impact your child’s sleep.
• Discuss your child’s medicines with the pediatrician, as some children’s medications (including prescription drugs, over-the-counter medicines, and all-natural/herbal remedies) could have side effects that interfere with your child’s restful sleep; if your child turns out to be on such a medication, your doctor can usually help you find adequate alternatives.
REMEMBER: Improvements in your child’s sleep patterns likely won’t happen overnight, but once you begin implementing good sleep hygiene practices you’re bound to notice positive results in due time.
Light therapy. If the circadian rhythm — your body’s natural sleep-wake pattern — is off, light therapy may be worth a try. Morning light may help adults improve daytime alertness and focus. A case report found similar benefits for younger patients.
Cognitive behavioral therapy. People who sleep poorly can become preoccupied with problems while lying in bed. Cognitive behavioral techniques can help them slow their thoughts down while building more confidence that they can enjoy a good night’s sleep.
Medications – Preliminary research in children with ADHD and insomnia suggests that melatonin in the evening may help them regulate their sleep cycles. Antidepressants and other medications to treat co-occurring disorders, such as depression or anxiety, may help if obsessive thoughts are the problem. There are also a variety of sleep aids, but these have generally not been studied in children.
Essential Oils – For thousands of years individuals have used the following essential oils either topically or diffusing to create peaceful, restful sleep without chemical side effects: Lavender, Vetiver, Roman Chamomile, Ylang Ylang, Bergamot, Sandalwood and Marjoram. Daily training and coaching sessions are offered in the application of these oils.
Bach Flowers – Since 1938 these remedies are used for every age group and pets with astonishingly outstanding results. These include: Sweet Chestnut, Cherry Plum, Impatiens, White Chestnut, Five-Flower Formula, Star of Bethlehem, Aloe Vera, Vervain, Mimulus. Daily training and coaching sessions are offered in the application of these oils.
Emotional Freedom Techniques – EFT – Training and coaching sessions are offered weekly to individuals and families alike. EFT brings into harmony the body’s major energy systems.
ADHD and Insomnia
Millions of children and adults struggle with symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), a condition marked by problems with concentration, impulse control, organization and memory. It can be a frustrating and difficult condition, stigmatizing and often isolating for those who suffer from it.
But what if some of those who’ve been diagnosed with ADHD are, in fact, suffering from another disorder altogether – a sleep disorder?
Many adults being treated for ADHD have symptoms that are difficult to distinguish from the effects of poor quality and insufficient sleep. Difficulty concentrating, trouble completing tasks, problems with organization, and memory lapses are all common struggles for adults who’ve received an ADHD diagnosis….and adults and children with sleep problems.
That’s the provocative and important question now being considered by neuroscientists.
In our next letter we will consider this provocative topic, ADHD or Sleep Disorder? Stay tuned.