26th August 2017
Back to school – what it means for your child’s sleep
The summer holidays are rapidly coming to an end and we start to think about getting back to school. This could signal a few tears of sadness for some parents or for others a sigh of relief. But however we feel the start of the new term is almost upon us and you need to consider what being back at school means for your child’s sleep. How do you avoid those morning meltdowns and hideous bedtimes come September?
We tell you how…….
Back to school preparations – don’t leave it ‘til the last minute:
Two or three weeks before the new term date and your little ones’ go back to school, start to put your child to bed earlier by 15 minutes.
Help your child to feel sleepy:
An hour before bed we recommend:
Twenty to thirty minutes before bed we recommend:
Back to school preparations – the morning is just as important:
Being back at school means an early morning start again form many families. Morning is when we reset our body clock so it’s very important children are woken at the same time each day. A big dose of light will help to get your child up and running, so open the curtains straightaway. Light suppresses melatonin – the hormone that makes us feel sleepy.
How to dissuade your child from starting their day too early – especially in the summer when mornings are light at 4.00 am.
Early rising is one of the most difficult sleep issues to resolve because, unlike their parents, most young children feel refreshed and ready to start their day if they wake at this time.
There are a number of measures parents can try to overcome this problem:
Helping your child cope with loss
As much as we’d like to protect our children from difficult times, the loss of a pet or grandparent, divorce or separation often feature in their lives, exposing them to the effects of grief.
At these times parents often struggle in knowing how to manage the impact of these events on their children’s lives. Children’s expression of grief varies greatly depending on factors such as their age and understanding of a situation. For example, a toddler with limited understanding of death and little experience of separation may show signs of disturbed sleep. Other responses to loss in young children may lead to a change in eating habits, crying, regression to earlier behaviors such as bed wetting, tantrums, fighting and angry outbursts.
Whilst an older child of ten or eleven might also suffer from sleep disturbance, the impact of loss may lead to problems at school or withdrawal from friends and family. As children grow older the effects of loss may lead to worries about physical health, fear of dying, risk taking behaviors, or avoidance of difficult feelings.
You can help your child to cope with loss in a number of ways:
Be honest and tell the truth.
Although it often feels easier to avoid talking about difficult issues, hiding information that children ask for can lead to confusion. Using the language that your child understands and the correct words for death instead of phrases such as “going to sleep” or “losing” someone will also avoid confusion. Accept your child’s responses and let them know that they are normal responses to sad events.
Create opportunities that encourage your child to talk and ask questions.
Check out any misunderstandings and areas of confusion. Children will often seem to dip in and out of grief, one minute seeming very sad and the next forging on with the ordinary tasks of daily life as though nothing has happened. This process provides the function of a safety valve, allowing your child to take a break from difficult emotions and so set their own pace in experiencing loss. As a parent this often feels difficult to manage. Offer opportunities for a cuddle and a chat when your child is experiencing strong emotions. Your child’s understanding of a loss or separation will shift and change over time so have more than one conversation about their experience.
Children like adults need to experience closure to a loss so involve your child in any routines such as hospital visits or rituals such as funerals, in whichever way is most comfortable for them.
As well as talking about their experience of loss help your child to express emotions privately through a dairy or art. Encourage them to collect keepsakes and maintain memories of someone special they may have lost.
Loss or separation are often a very sad experiences. Your child may also feel abandoned by the pet or person they have lost which can lead to feelings of anger that are often directed at you as a parent. Give your child the opportunity to express these emotions and let them see your sadness too. Modeling appropriate responses helps children feel safe in expressing their thoughts and feelings. You yourself may experience particularly strong and dramatic emotions at these times that may alarm your child, so seek to share these privately with another adult.
When to get help
Whilst we know that most children seem to adjust emotionally and return to healthy functioning both at home and school within about twelve months of their loss or separation some find it very difficult in adjusting and are most at risk during this first year. Other children may have apparently moved on in their lives only to be confronted with their loss two or more years later at a time when they have more understanding or a different view of a difficult situation. If you feel that your child is struggling with their grief our team is here to help.
Some useful references
Muddles, Puddles and Sunshine By Diana Crossley
Always and Forever By Alan Durant
The Copper Tree By Hilary Robinson
Urban Dreams Edited by Elias Thompson
Dr Sione Marshall CPsychol., AFBPsS.
Chartered Clinical Psychologist
*Grief and child sleep problems *Child Sleep Problems *Sleep Training *My child won’t sleep
When should I stop using a baby monitor to listen out for my baby waking in the night?”
Many parents find using a baby monitor very reassuring and when you decide to stop using one, is entirely down to personal choice. However, here are some facts and tips that may help you to decide:
Responding to every low level sound your baby makes past six months can leave you exhausted.
15th June 2017
Sharon and Brendan had little time for themselves. The whole family was tired and grumpy and their 8 year old’s school work was affected.
Their two children, 3 ½ year old Thomas and 8 year old Jessica, both had sleep problems. Thomas has special needs and does not like change and Jessica’s sleep had been an issue since her brother was born. Jessica screamed in the night, often waking her brother who she shares a room with, until she was allowed into mum’s bed.
Here is their story….
Before our consultation our children’s sleep patterns were up and down. Our 8 year old daughter fell asleep in our bed and wouldn’t fall asleep on her own. Our son fell asleep on his own but kept waking during the night. We were all exhausted.
After our consultation with Millpond, our daughter sleeps in her own bed. We’ve established a routine for her which now sees her sleeping in her bed. We’re still working on getting her to self settle but bedtimes are no longer a chore.
Our son has additional needs; he could fall asleep quickly but found it hard to sleep through the night without waking.
We now have an established pattern which sees him asleep within 10 minutes and 60% of the time he sleeps through the night. We are doing the gradual retreat method which has worked really well.
The programme Juliet devised worked really well and we were offered further support as we had to take a break because I became ill. The advice given was so beneficial and we’ve seen a huge improvement in our children’s sleep patterns.
There is nothing I would change. We thought the service was superb!
How dark should my baby’s bedroom be?
Many parents ask us how dark should their baby’s bedroom be. Darkness is essential to our sleep and we know from numerous studies that even a small amount of bright light in the evening can profoundly effect our ability to go to sleep. The hormone, melatonin, is produced in response to darkness sending a signal to our brain that it is time for us to sleep and it initiates the body’s processes to prepare us for this essential activity.
But we now rely heavily on artificial lighting enabling us to spend more time in the evenings doing chores, reading, relaxing or working. Where would we be without it….well getting more sleep for sure!
So how can we ensure the lighting we use at this time does not impact on our sleep…
Image: Levi Gruber
Sleep well in the summer
We love the warm sunny days with the chance to get outside with our children and enjoy time together. But at the end of a long day playing how can you ensure your child has a good nights sleep in the heat of a sticky bedroom?
Cooling the bedroom
Darken the bedroom
Our biological clocks are regulated by light. Getting the balance of enough dark time in the summer months can be difficult. Make sure your child has plenty of exposure to light during the day (not direct sun) and ensure their bedroom is as dark as you possibly make it at night. Darkness triggers the production of the “sleep hormone” melatonin.
Black out blinds are invaluable for blocking out bright morning light and long summer evenings. Try to make sure your child is away from bright light an hour before sleep. This includes all screens and bright bathroom lights too.
Wind down for sleep
Have a wind down time prior to sleep. You should encourage your child to change their activities to something relaxing in the hour or so before bedtime e.g. read to your child or listen to a story tape together.
Have clear and consistent boundaries at bedtime, when you say two stories mean two stories, if your child knows what to expect they are less likely to argue.
Aim to carry out the same series of steps every night, about 30 minutes before your child goes to bed:
Your child should be asleep about 15 minutes later.
If your child wants a bedtime snack encourage a snack of foods that contain tryptophan. This amino acid is thought to make some people drowsy such as a banana, warm milk, an oat biscuit, whole grain cereal ,chicken and turkey all contain good levels.
Regular outside exercise
If possible encourage regular periods of outdoor play 20 – 30 minutes three or four times a week. Research has shown increased physical exercise promotes sleep; however aim not to exercise within 3 hours of bedtime.
Reward children with praise every morning when they have kept to the “rules”. A special trip out or small reward will do wonders do encourage them to keep going.
If you would like help with your child’s sleep please call us 0208 444 0040 or email us for a free assessment.
How to survive the first few weeks with your baby: For many of us having a baby may be the first time we encounter sleep deprivation. No amount of reading about it or hearing other parents talk about it can prepare you for it! Tiredness can make you feel irritable and tearful and studies have shown a link between sleep deprivation and postnatal depression.
Are you too wired to sleep when your baby sleeps?
Try to take a nap or have a rest when your baby is sleeping. Don’t worry if you if you feel you haven’t slept. If you are lying down with our eyes closed you may well be asleep without realising it. Numerous sleep studies have shown, subjects awakened from the first stage of sleep often denied having slept at all. A nap of very light first stage sleep will probably make you feel less tired. Even 3 minutes of deeper sleep can have recuperative effects.
Keep your baby nearby for night feeds.
If you are breastfeeding, you are likely to get more sleep if you keep baby nearby; a bedside cot is a safe way of doing this.
Only change your baby’s nappies at night if you think its really needed.
If your baby is asleep, don’t worry about a nappy change, babies don’t notice a wet nappy.
Setting your baby’s body clock.
Make sure you and your baby go out each day; afternoon light has been shown to help to establish young babies’ body clocks and will help you to sleep better too.
Ask your family and friends.
Accept all offers of help from family and friends. Arrange a night-shift with your partner so you take it in turns to settle your baby back to sleep at night. And if you have an older child arrange for them to be picked up from nursery or school some days. Now is the time to get help where you can.
Keeping your energy levels up and reducing tension.
Remember to eat. It is important to keep up our energy levels. Having small amounts of protein with every meal and as snacks will keep your blood sugars more constant. Try to avoid sugary foods and caffeine as they might give you a boost at that the time, but your blood sugar levels will drop much quicker.
If you are feeling the tension of real fatigue and the day’s demands getting on top of you, structured relaxation such as meditation or yoga will help with longer lasting relief.
Try and find a local support group for new parents, where you can meet regularly to share tips and find sympathetic ears. If you feel you are not coping contact your GP or health visitor for help.
The good news is newborns have special sleep patterns and special needs and before you know it things will start to get better: even by 12 weeks your baby will be able to sleep for longer stretches over night and naps will become more predictable.
We can help you.
If you would like to discuss how to get your young baby into good routines and learn more about children’s sleep we offer specific support for babies under sixteen weeks. You can speak to one of our sleep therapists today for a free sleep assessment.
Call us on 020 8444 0040
Anxiety and Sleep
Anxiety is a natural response to a stressful event. It was essential for survival when we lived in the wild. Our fight or flight mechanism helped us to run away from animals who wanted to eat us. But we now live in a modern world and have very little need for this response. The only problem is our bodies find it hard to differentiate between a real or a perceived danger. Purely being anxious at bedtime can trigger this stress response in our bodies and unsurprisingly if your body thinks you’re about to be chased by a tiger the last thing it will be able to do is sleep!
What causes anxiety at bedtime?
There are numerous causes of anxiety in children that can impact negatively on their sleep. These include long term unresolved sleep issues, over thinking or over worrying, nightmares, fear of the dark and monsters, starting nursery or school, family breakdowns and bereavements.
Older school aged children who struggle to sleep are often perfectionists and academic high achievers. They find themselves in a vicious cycle where they worry about how lack of sleep will affect their work, which stops them falling asleep and in turn leads to negative thoughts or even fears about sleep itself.
A typical bedtime
Children with anxiety at bedtime usually struggle to fall asleep and will lie awake for hours. Tehy reappear numerous times in the evening with endless excuses such as being hungry, thirsty, too hot, to cold or needling the toilet. You take them back to bed, but in not time at all they are back out with even more excuses. This process happens night after night leading to cross and stressed parents and an even more anxious child; you all dread bedtime!
You eventually find yourself getting into your child’s bed just to get them to sleep and then in the night they wake and seek you out again to help them get back to sleep. The perfect recipe for a tired and stressed family!
Fear of the dark
When dealing with fear of the dark and monsters, take a look at your child’s bedroom in the dark through their eyes. Ask yourself if certain toys or shadows look scary, you may need to make adjustments.
Playing games such as hide and seek in the dark with torches with your child can help with fear of the dark and try to avoid scary books and TV programmes.
A small night light on all night in the bedroom and a favourite cuddly toy or comfort blanket can also help provide security.
If there is a particular monster that scares your child do not to discuss this at bedtime.
Instead in the day try turning the “monster” into a fun character with funny songs, draw silly pictures of “monsters” and make “monster masks”. These will help take the scariness away.
Have a stress free bedtime that helps your child sleep well
The good news is there are simple steps you can take to help your child settle to sleep well and take the stress out of bedtime.
Start the bedtime routine.
About an hour before your child goes to sleep have quiet time. Tidy away the toys and turn off the TV. Research has shown light from computers, iPads etc. can interfere with the production of the sleep hormone melatonin.
This is the time to discuss the day just been or the day ahead and any worries or fears your child may have, it is important not to discuss them at bedtime.
Get your routine right so your child is asleep in 15 to 20 minutes.
Initially focus the bedtime routine around the time your child naturally falls asleep; even if this seems late.
For example if your child usually falls asleep at 10.00pm start your routine at 9.15pm. This way you are allowing 30 minutes for the routine and 15 minutes for them to fall asleep.
Carry out the same series of steps every night – make this routine your bedtime ritual. Having a regular routine means your child’s body will start to prepare for sleep as soon as you start this process.
If your child is falling asleep well in 15 minutes, after a few nights, start your bedtime routine 15 minutes earlier. Repeat this pattern, slowly advancing the start time of your routine until you reach the time that works best for your child.
Have a warm bath.
Have a warm, relaxing bath lasting no longer than 10 minutes. Keeping the bath to a maximum of 10 minutes means bath time doesn’t become a stimulating play time. The added bonus is coming out of the warm water allows the body to cool quickly triggering the sleep hormone melatonin.
Then go straight into your child’s bedroom; going back into the living area at this time will lose the focus and magic of the routine.
Dim the lights.
Pre-dim the lights in the bedroom, as this will also help with melatonin production.
Dress for bed.
Have their night clothes ready for your return from the bathroom so they can quickly get dressed and climb into bed.
It’s time for a story.
Even if your child can read to themselves, read a quiet almost boring story and have a cuddle and kiss goodnight then tuck them in with their favourite soft toy so they are warm and cosy.
Now that they’re drowsy, leave the bedroom so that they learn to fall asleep independently.
In the morning let the bright light in to signal to the body to wake up and to suppress the sleep hormone melatonin.
Mandy Gurney is the founder of Millpond Children’s Sleep Clinic and has been advising on baby, toddler and school aged child sleep issues for approaching thirty years. She is a qualified nurse, midwife and health visitor.
If you would like help with your child’s sleep please contact us, we have been helping families just like yours since 2000.
Call us for a free chat- 020 8444 0040
Mandy Gurney, founder of Millpond and sleep expert.