Sleep 101 – 3 essential foundations for good quality sleep

Sleep 101 – 3 essential foundations for good quality sleep

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!)
120830_OziPadKinderMain.grid-8x2I 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.

girl-pizza.jpg.653x0_q80_crop-smartJust 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…

If you want to see the program for yourself click below.

Halloween has been – but not necessarily gone ~ Helping a child who has been scared by something fictional they’ve seen.

Halloween has been – but not necessarily gone ~ Helping a child who has been scared by something fictional they’ve seen.

I’m pretty sure it is not just me getting older, but I have been really struck over recent years by the amount of ‘Halloween’ in the shops and on the telly.
Stampa I’m not just talking about pumpkins and broomsticks. It seems that a more prolific and much darker element to costumes and decorations has swept through even the tamest of shops. TV programs on at prime time family viewing have had some really effective, but scary looking make up.
This year has been a long run up (I saw my first Halloween thing in a shop in August!!) to an event so many people have mixed views on…but love it or hate it, nobody, big or small, living an everyday life has been able to escape from it.
But now it is November. The parties and trick or treating are finished. It is over, and we can all start to focus on fireworks and Advent calendars… right? (Whilst possibly still munching through the masses of carving-leftover, pumpkin-based food items still in fridges/freezers).
One of the things that I have seen over and over again through my many years as a children’s therapist, is that what goes in the ‘eye gate’ stays in, until it can get properly processed.
We all understand that children shouldn’t be watching 18 horror films.
We know that certain images are not appropriate for little eyes.
But we seem to forget that what we as adults find OK, can be terrifying for children…and I’m not just talking about X-rated, or seriously scary stuff.
This is why it was so important to speak out about the impact the graphic HEADBOMZ campaign was having on some kids.

Dr Who. 


Holby City

The News…

…are just some of the TV programs children I have worked with, have watched and been bothered by. Then there are the films or computer games, and images on social media – all affecting children enough that they need to reprocess what they have seen in play therapy sessions.
[Incidentally these are things that no adult has EVER mentioned in referral meetings as something the child is struggling with].
I know that for many children the chance to dress up and pretend to be something scary is just lots of fun.
However, just in case you are around a child who has been bothered by what they saw in relation to Halloween, or any other time of year, the tips below might help.

How to help a child stop being bothered by something fictional they have seen.


Be aware that if they have been affected by something on TV, Youtube, online else where or something in a shop that has been referred to by an adult or another child as ‘just make up‘ or ‘just a costume’ or ‘just an advert‘, admitting it has scared them will be 100 times harder.


If you tease a child for being scared, if you tell them they are being silly and there is nothing to be scared of or in any other way let them know you don’t think they should be scared, then it is likely they will not feel understood by you. It is fine for you to be clear you are not scared, but if you make them wrong for being scared when they ARE feeling scared and now they are SCARED AND WRONG, and therefore it is not safe to open up to you.


Fears that are not expressed outwardly, get trapped and distorted, and for children, often end up becoming nightmares. It is quite possible that children who are becoming more reluctant to head to bed in these next few days and weeks may be suffering from bad dreams because of something they have seen in the last few days weeks.


Everyone gets scarred by different things. That is a fact. There isn’t one person who is never, never scared.
Hiding the things we find scary makes them bigger inside us and makes it feel like they have more power.


We can get them out in the open. Drawing or talking about or making them in play doh, junk-modelling boxes etc with people we feel safe with, is like putting the light on and they often shrink down to size. It also gives us chance to think about -or make up- their possible weaknesses (for the Wicked Witch in the Wizard of Oz it was water).



Talk about the fact that however old we are, sometimes when we have seen something not nice on TV it can end up in our head when we are awake or in our dreams.


Ask the child to think about something that would be more powerful than the scary monster, witch, zombie etc. It can be a made-up something of course. Get them to describe in detail what makes that new power so powerful. If possible, if they feel safe with you, get them to draw it, make it (with your help?), talk and talk about it.


Then offer them the chance to create a story where the scary thing meets the good powerful thing..and let them decide how the good powerful thing will deal with the scary thing. (For many this will involve some method of killing it.)


Simply wonder out loud in a curious, but not interrogatory way, “I wonder how it feels to know that the …..(good powerful thing) was more powerful than the scary thing?” and then really listen to what the child says.

Let me know how it goes. I’d love to hear in the comments below or send me a private message.
Let’s vanquish the monsters and let creative light shine to over power darkness.
Occupational Hazard – secondary trauma at work

Occupational Hazard – secondary trauma at work

I don’t watch much TV, but yesterday I caught 2 interviews that moved me.
The first was a politician in local government who had taken up the cause over the last 2 years, of numerous people who had been sexually abused as children.
The second was a firefighter – one of the first responders to the London Underground on July 7th, 2005.

Q : What could these 2 men living at opposite ends of the country, have in common?
A : Both of them were in a state of post traumatic stress as a result of the work they do.

So often we think of ‘trauma’ as being connected with things that happen in personal lives. Maybe abuse…or being a direct victim in a horrific life-threatening experience.

Enduring FreedomWe understand that the military are exposed to traumatic situations in their ‘day job’ when they head to the front line. Sadly, many people still think PTSD is only really associated with war veterans.

However, there are so many professionals doing jobs that require them to put themselves in the line of life-threatening danger… Or require them to deal with horrific scenes…. Or get their heads around the details of the worst of society.

The TV interviewer made some comments about people not really thinking of a politician developing PTSD and co-morbid depression through his work. And maybe there are many other jobs that people don’t think could lead into the muddy pit of PTSD…

For example, would people outside of education think that those working closely with families and children in main-stream schools could be at risk of secondary trauma?

Infact, do those INSIDE those very same, local, down-the-end-of-my-road, mainstream primaries have any concept of how this is increasingly becoming an occupational hazard?

As anyone who has heard me speak about this will know…Secondary Trauma, or Vicarious Trauma is real and powerful.
AAEAAQAAAAAAAALQAAAAJDlkYTY4OTRhLTRhMWItNDU0MS1hYmY0LWZmM2Q0NDZjZDRmNAFlashbacks, poor sleep, altered moods, increased aggression, depression, tension, trouble concentrating, relationship break downs, addiction, not being able to switch off and be fully present away from work, needing to talk over and over about things, or not speaking at all, are just a few possible symptoms.

Child & family support workers, mentors, inclusion teams, TAs, LSAs, teachers, heads, deputies, child protection officers, therapists… anyone who gets close to children and families and their stories, are all at risk.

The impact of trauma is huge – some are calling it an epidemic in our time.
Around the world, military are increasingly being prepared: being educated, being helped to build their resilience and being equipped with tools to reduce the impact of trauma on their bodies and minds BEFORE they go to the field.

Today is the tenth anniversary of the 7/7 terrorist attacks on London.
It’s a wild and ‘out-there’ kind of thought I know, but wouldn’t it be amazing, as part of the positive legacy of that and all the other events that have taken or altered so many lives here in UK, for all workers in jobs where they are at risk of secondary trauma, to get the education they need to be fully aware and the equipping with tools that really work, to help them be ready and to minimize their risk of developing PTSD from their day-job?

‘You can say I’m a dreamer…. ‘
…but it feels like the right thing to do.
The honoring thing for employers to offer,
….and the wisest economic decision too.

I’m proud to be working with schools choosing to journey in this very direction. It’s a start!