Sleep issues often lead families into crisis, sleep deprivation is after all used as a form of torture. Becoming a new parent and interrupted sleep go hand in hand, those first few months can be utterly exhausting, but for some families sleepless nights with their children can go on for years, putting a real strain on family life.
Getting into good habits around sleep can help families to thrive in the long term. Sleep is vital to support mental, physical and emotional health and therefore needs to be valued and nurtured.
Just last week I met a family in sleep clinic who were utterly exhausted. The parent's relationship was under significant strain, work was being affected and they were both very emotional. They told me they'd tried everything to get their 5 year old son to sleep. The constant night waking's were really taking their toll.
While the family had tried many things and read a multitude of books on the market, what was clear is that they hadn't established consistent routines to support their little one's sleep patterns.
Working in partnership we developed a routine that they felt they could implement. We explored their son's areas of interest to ensure that pre-bedtime activities would engage him in a positive way. The curtains were drawn and bright light avoided to help to produce the sleep hormone melatonin, and a set bedtime was decided on and perhaps more importantly a set wake up time was also agreed. Having set times at both ends of the day can help to strengthen a child's body clock and support a better night's sleep.
A week later and mum got in touch to say that their son's sleep has significantly improved. Not only has the whole family benefited from improved sleep but they have enjoyed spending family time together in the run up to bedtime.
They now spend their evenings colouring in, model making or working on a new jigsaw puzzle. Bedtime had become a positive time and an enjoyable time for them all. The family are also benefiting during the day time. Aside from the fact that they don't feel as tired, their son's daytime behaviour has significantly improved.
Many children who are sleep deprived display symptoms of hyperactivity leading parents to often believe that their child simply does not need to sleep.
Turning off electronic gadgets in the hour leading up to bedtime is important. The blue light in screens can suppress the sleep hormone melatonin from being produced. Often parents are concerned as to how their child will react to the new 'no screen' rule, yet if we can provide alternative engaging activities this time can provide quality family time.
The Children's Sleep Charity recently delivered a project to families of children with autism. One parent reported back that her child was loving the new approach to bedtime and actually switched the television off an hour before bedtime announcing nightly 'the television is now off limits'.
Developing a sleep routine and sticking to it can be challenging, particularly when you are tired. The benefits however for family life can be tremendous.
You can find out more about the work we do at. www.thechildrenssleepcharity.org.uk