Over the last few years, I’ve seen a massive increase in coaching young people who struggle to settle at night, they either can’t get to sleep or disturbed in the night so much they have next to no quality sleep (what’s known as REM sleep) and get up with the morning grumps or worse fragile emotions making them prone to anxiety and typical out of character behaviours.
The reason for this increase has just been confirmed through NHS data analysed by the BBC’s Panorama programme, aired on Monday evening (06th March 2017)
The data concludes children admitted to hospital with sleep disorders have tripled in the last 10 years, and more prescriptions have been written for the sleep medication melatonin for young people than ever before.
It’s worth reading that paragraph again, because honestly, I find it hard to digest, in a world where we have more than ever before, the one thing young people need the most, they’re seriously lacking in and suffering the most.
It’s estimated that sleep deprivation costs UK £40bn a year! And whilst this data was compiled for adults, there are far-reaching consequences for children who lack quality sleep on a regular basis. Of course, there’s always the occasional pattern-break of sleep… kids sleep overs (like lots of sleep happens there!), family events, or perhaps even short-term worries from School or friends that can disrupt the flow.
The report reveals some of the bigger elements to the ‘sleep crisis’ such as device use, hectic family lives, high sugar drinks/food.
One thing it doesn’t focus on, which needs addressing is the ‘busy brain’ many young people feel. As adults, we all experience times when we have a lot going on or worries about something and been woken in the middle of the night about it. Our body feels exhausted and ready for sleep, when ‘ping’ our mind starts whirring!
Children and teens feel similar, they have more worries, concerns, pressures and at information overload, what I call ‘Mind Jam’ and need a way to process this well before bedtime.
What’s needed is a new bedtime routine – not focused on the time they go to bed so much but the process of relaxation, letting go and feeling at peace with the day – and a practical way to manage pesky thoughts if they do arise.
It was great to see on the Panorama programme through focused effort, how adaptable kids are and new routines adopted relatively quickly (not without protest of course).
Like the group of teens featured who through the study had their devices switched off and out their room. I observed they struggle the most with FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), because they felt all their friends were texting late and they couldn’t. Interestingly this only lasted a few days, and they adapted to this change with saying in the end it was ok.
The results… better sleep, focus and concentration as well as more resourcefulness to manage emotions.
- After homework or early evening, find an appropriate time to casually chat through the day with your child/teen (i.e. dinner time, when you come in from work).
- Help them create a worry/happiness list (or for younger children a worry box and happiness jar). Getting worries out of their head can be really helpful to share or just to work through before settling down to sleep. And being reminded of something that makes them smile or feel happy releases endorphins and gains perspective over anything they’re feeling.
- An hour before bed, have a no-device rule and encourage them to read a book (or you read to them depending on age). Reading also helps children use their imagination and creative thinking that can develop greater curiosity and resourcefulness.
- Belly breathing – just before sleep get your child/teen to place their hands on their belly… imagine the belly like a balloon, breathe in and allow the belly to expand and breathe out, comes back in. Try 3-5 of these and the mind will be focused on the belly, the body relaxed for better quality sleep (use again if awake in the night).