Though sleep is sometimes elusive, it is important. What to do?
By Judith E. Lipson, M.A., LPC
Sleep is necessary to restore the body and provide mental alertness for learning. Yet many children (and adults) have difficulty falling and staying asleep. Your child’s lack of sleep affects you, too. As the parent you worry and wonder: What is my child doing? Will s/he be alert for tomorrow’s lessons and tests? Should I MAKE him go to bed? Should I punish? Should I ignore it?
I’ve always believed that there are reasons behind situations. Rather than punish or ignore, I prefer you seek the cause(s) of your child’s sleeplessness and then help him/her to make some meaningful changes. Your child may be keyed up and unable to fall asleep, or may find sleep difficult because of uncomfortable thoughts or emotions. It is also possible that your child has both difficulties.
If your child is revved up and unable to quiet for sleep time, realize that s/he may not be following the natural rhythms of nature. Research explains that the body is intended to be agrarian (waking and sleeping with the rising and setting of the sun).
Some children benefit when you mimic these cycles:
- Dim the home or room lighting an hour or more before bedtime
- Use a bath to simulate the cooling of body temperature
In addition, develop a routine and provide quieting activities before bedtime. These can include a warm bath, reading (alone or together) or quiet talk-time. You may wish to have a family meeting to develop a ritual of calm interactions between all family members every night; and while you’re creating this change, strive for calmer interactions to begin the day as well.
Have your child go to sleep at a reasonable time that allows for sufficient sleep. Maintain the sleep pattern daily (even on weekends). A recent study from Brigham Young University reduced the previous recommendations for optimal sleep. They suggest that 10 year olds should have 9-9.5 hours of sleep, 12 year olds should be sleeping 8-8.5 hours, and 16 year olds need 7 hours.
I recently learned (from well known educator, Richard Lavoie) that if your child has an ADHD diagnosis it often affects sleep cycles. Your child may be sleeping, but most of that time is spent in the light-sleep stages allowing them to awaken easily from minor disturbances. S/he then doesn’t receive a sufficient number of cycles of deep, restorative REM sleep during the night.
Let’s talk a moment about the difficulties in establishing sleep hygiene for your teen. I advise a bedtime expectation that will allow for the recommended 7 hours of sleep. Since body rhythms seem to encourage adolescents to stay up late, s/he may not fall asleep by 11pm (for a 6am alarm), but you can require that your teen be in bed earlier than that. This might be the time to incorporate the quiet reading ritual and to discourage television, computer games, chat or social media.
Other considerations for all ages:
- Avoid caffeine (chocolate, tea, coffee, sodas)
- Avoid aerobic–type exercise prior to sleep
- Avoid computer, video and TV prior to bedtime; the light from the monitors stimulates the brain and nervous system and releases cortisol (a hormone connected with stress)
Does your child spend a great deal of time playing video or computer games? There can be negative effects. In addition to the cortisol that is triggered by the lighting and the (possible) effects from electro-magnetic frequencies, many psychotherapists theorize that your child is creating a distraction to avoid uncomfortable “negative” thoughts and emotions. To help this child, consider the following:
- Encourage your child to release these thoughts and feelings through writing, movement, music, journaling, talking or therapy.
- Have a regular practice of slow moving exercise like yoga, tai chi or qigong. These can help teach your child how to relax the body naturally.
- Limit exposure to negative news. While it’s important for your child to know what is happening, many children are intelligent enough to understand, but don’t have the developmental or emotional awareness to handle the insecurity associated with the information.
- Teach your child how to relax the body and use the breath to stay in the present (read Anxiety in Children to learn more).
I hope that some of these ideas will improve your child’s sleep. If you have continued concerns, you may wish to contact your child’s physician or another professional for advice.
Judy Lipson is a Licensed Professional Counselor and educational strategist in West Bloomfield. She helps clients of all ages who have learning difficulties; work or school related anxiety; ADHD; Asperger’s Syndrome or Autism Spectrum Disorders; and those who wish to Remember and Become Who You Really Are. Contact Judy at 248.568.8665 and firstname.lastname@example.org, and visit www. SpiralWisdom.net for more information.
Published in Metro You Magazine, April 2012