Last week there was a documentary on British TV about children and sleep; a crisis hitting our younger generation.
I’m sure we all know the horrible feeling of not having had enough sleep – it happens to us all from time to time. However, the additional knock-on effects of so many children not getting enough sleep as a regular occurrence, are huge. The consequences are being faced by teachers, charities and the NHS. It is a problem on the increase – referrals to a sleep lab at Sheffield Children’s hospital have increased a staggering 10-fold in the last decade.
The program explored the impact of sleep deprivation. Even just 1 hour of missed sleep, affects alertness, brain function, concentration and problem solving. Some children in schools are functioning up to 2 years behind their peers because of the impact of sleep deprivation. Everyone knows poor sleep will impact emotional regulation and behaviour (whatever age you are), but not everyone knows that sleep deprivation can also lead to weight gain, obesity, and other health issues.
If you missed the 30 min program, I have posted the link at the bottom of this blog so you can watch it on iplayer (UK only I think).
Sleep is an issue I have talked with parents about over and over through the years.
It is becoming a more frequent topic with my adult clients too, so I watched the BBC Panorama program with interest to see what angle the media were going to portray (what comes out of my television is not always information I agree with especially when it comes to topics of children, health or well-being!)
I was glad they highlighted the impact that screens are having in children’s (and adults brains); how screens stimulate brains and get them more alert. Children are more and more frequently handed a screen to ‘keep them quiet’ while adults get on with other jobs. Whilst the volume of noise coming from a child whilst they focus on a screen may be significantly less (!) their brain is being woken up and stimulated – the exact opposite of the ‘calming’ that parents think is happening. Children who are handed a phone or tablet screen for a bed-time story or allowed to watch some ‘calm down TV’ or videos are actually being handed the very tool that will be causing them to struggle going to sleep.
Just as a brain is stimulated by the blue light in screens, so other chemicals going into the body can have the same impact. The big factor here are the chemicals known as ‘food and drink’. Children who are given foods with a high sugar content (from glucose or processed carbs) for their evening meal and drinks containing sugar and/or caffeine, are being handed stimulants that will spike their blood sugar and create a bedtime nightmare for everyone.
3 Essential Elements for Easier Sleep
1. At least 1 hour of screen-free time before expecting to go to sleep.
This includes phones, tablets, computers, TV, and anything else that emits ‘blue’ light.
Screens in their many variations are widely understood to be addictive. If you have created a bedtime-screen routine for you or your children, that is based in addiction then of course it will be ‘interesting’ to change the habit. It will be your decision whether to try the ‘cold turkey’ approach or a slower ween. Either way it will be totally worth it for the better sleep from having a brain that is ready to slow down and rest without the stimulation of the blue light.
2. From after school no sugar-fueled ‘food’ or drink.
Too much sugar in the blood triggers the production of too much cortisol…which again adds to the stimulation in the body. Cortisol is a stress hormone that sends a message to the brain that we need to get ready, stay alert because ‘we are not safe’. No one found it easy to go to sleep harbouring a feeling of not being safe. It is against our primeval survival coding.
3. Choose carefully what you focus on before sleep
It seems obvious to say, but arguments and tension, anxiety and fear never help as pre-sleep factors (and yet so many parents think that shouting and raising everyone’s stress levels until a child submits, is the best way to go). Quiet colouring, listening to a story CD, reading a ‘real’ book, writing, drawing or talking about any worries from the day as well as things to be grateful for from the day and things to look forward to tomorrow, are all ways to slow heart rate down, calm the brain and get the body ready for sleep.
For many children and adults, these 3 factors alone can make a huge difference to their ability to go to sleep at a reasonable time, and improve the quality of sleep that follows… and the level of functioning the following day.
Do you know a challenged sleeper?
Have you tried these?
I’d be interested to hear how you got on…
For children who still struggle, even when all these foundation factors are happening regularly – it can be time to explore sleep concerns level 2. These weren’t covered at all in the program, and I’ll be writing about them next…