Today marks the start of Childrens Mental Health week 2019 so I thought I would write three blogs. Each blog will be centred around one subject that really affects all of our mental health. The blogs will be about Sleep, Exercise and Food. I think that if we can instill in our children lives healthy relationships with these subjects and give them tips to help them through difficult times we will be giving them a great foundation for their current and on going health (mental and physical). So the first of this trio of blogs is sleep.
Sleep is so important to our health. Not just mental but phsyical too. While we sleep our body repairs itself from the strains it has been through that day and it allows our brains to process all the information it has taken on and goes through all of the memories it has retained. During these hours our body works to support a healthy brain function as well as maintaining our physical health.
It seems obvious that we all need a good nights sleep and it is no different for children. In fact children are learning at a rate of knots, growing constantly and developing minute by minute so they need more sleep so to allow for growth of their body and mind. Sleep lets them tackle the new skills that each new day brings. Hence why children generally need 10 hours sleep a night (give or take).
How does lack of sleep affect our children?
There are many physical and mental issues that can arise due to lack of sleep. I am focusing on mental health rather than phsyical but in every way these two are linked so here are a few problems that may occur from lack of sleep (I have attached the NHS gudelines for how much sleep your child needs below);-
- Slowing down of physical development
- Lowers immunity to germs
- More accident prone
- More anxious
- It is linked to obesity and diabetes
- Feeling unable to cope with normal situations
- Lack of appetite/raised appetite
What if my child sleeps too much?
Normally a child wont over sleep, they generallty sleep when they are tired and once in a while will sleep in excess of their normal amount by a few hours. They probably just need this as they are tired.
If your child has slept a lot more than normal all of a sudden they may be coming down with something so keep an eye on them and check their temperature etc.
If your child regularly over sleeps (meaning for example a 5 year old needs 10-12 hours sleep so if they are sleep 14+ hours regularly that is over sleeping) then it may be a sign of some other problems going on. It is not a good habit for children to regularly over sleep and if they continue to do so it may be a sign of certain mental health problems as well as physical ones. Remember children should be full of energy, that is why they may go to bed from 7-7. My youngest daughter doesnt sleep great but she also doesnt stop! If a child over sleeps and then is inactive all day with little energy then it may be a sign of one of the problems below;
- Sleep opnea
Here is a link to the NHS site showing how many hours sleep children should be having HERE
How can we ensure our children get a good nights sleep?
I am going to list some tips and ideas to get your children to have a good nights sleep, remember a child that sleeps well, means a parent can sleep well …
- Have a set bed time
- Have a routine in the evening. You dont need to bath a child every day but its good to have a nice relaxing time before your child gets into bed. Stories are the best way to unwind with your children. I would suggest at least 2 stories.
- Time to talk. Quite often children store all their worries up until just before bed. This can be fairly frustrating for us parents who are ready for down time or need to get onto the next job on the list. We must try and give kids a moment to share so that they dont go to sleep with these worries or thoughts swirling around their heads. Its better than them waking in the night!
- No screen time for an hour before bed (tablets, phones and tvs). Apart from the content that is on the screen making your child awake and excited it is also the simple factor of the light coming from the screen. The light that comes off screens (is a blue light) which affects the melatonin production and fools the brain into thinking that its not ready for sleep. This is just as important for us adults. I put my phone down and read before bed, its helped me a lot.
- Eat. Having enough time before bed (a couple of hours) is good plus having enough to eat so that your child isnt hungry. Try to avoid “fast food” type meals in the evening. A more wholesome meal with carbs will keep your child fuller for longer. Also avoid sugary food and drinks for a few hours before sleep.
- Make their bedrooms a lovely place to be. Lots of kids want to get into bed with their parents (unfortunately this wont help anyones sleep even though snuggles are lovely), try to make your child see that their room is best and keep putting them back to bed. I know it can be hard.
- Dim the lights. Keeping their bedrooms as dark as possible will help them sleep sounder for longer. Each child is different and I know my youngest has her room far too light for my liking but its still with dim colours and lamps.
- Set a time to get up. This is simply by doing the maths (see the link earlier to show how much sleep your child needs). Getting them to wake up at a regular time will make it easier to get the bedtime routine running smoothly. Plus a child needs to get on with their day, a productive day is great for the brain and the mind. Staying in bed long into the morning leads to lethargy which isnt a good for anyone. (This is important for over sleepers and helps them break the routine).
- The temperature of your child and their room needs to be right. My youngest daughter has night terrors and often it because she is too hot (this is just an example of how the temperature can affect us). Onesies are popular and snuggly but often too hot for the middle of the night. We are all different and you know your own child but being too hot in bed can lead to a very fractious and unsettled night.
- Get exercise every day. I am not saying that your child needs to run cross country in the morning and play a football match in the afternoon but children should be active every day. Runing around in the garden, going to the park, swimming and generally wanting to be up and about playing is essential to a good nights sleep. I will talk more about exercise in my next blog.
Hopefully these tips will help you if you have any problems with your child and sleep.
Sleep really is the be all and end all for us to be “okay”. Our mood can be very much dependant of a good night sleep and for children who have to learn so much every day its essential to keep their minds, brains and bodies healthy.
Thank you for reading and the next blog will focus on exercise.