You can probably sense by now that I’m a big fan of sleep.
In particular, I’m a huge supporter of children and young people getting enough sleep and being allowed to follow their natural sleep pattern or body clock.
As a university GP, sleep issues in students were a daily (nightly?!) problem in my clinic, and caused absolute mayhem with students' academic learning, memory, stress, and even weight gain. I regularly wondered if an earlier appreciation of the importance of sleep, and learning the skills to manage it, might have been of significant benefit to my poor struggling patients.
So, in this blog I want to reflect on getting to sleep.
It always sounds so easy: ‘falling asleep’ or ‘dropping off’. As if no effort at all is involved… it just happens.
But of course, for many people, the young included, getting off to sleep is not always easy. It may be an occasional issue (the night before term starts, exams, or Christmas!) or a nightly challenge, but whatever the story, it can be beneficial not to ignore it, and to help your young person learn a life skill for improving their sleep.
First- Follow the Rules
There are lots of well-known and well publicised ‘sleep hygiene’ rules to try first, and you can find those here on the NHS website, but something that is never too early to try is mastering meditative techniques to lull oneself to sleep.
This is where I think parents can help. It won’t always be easy, and your young person may push back, but in terms of health benefits from investing some time and energy in persisting here, it will be worth it.
A lifelong skill
The earlier young people can learn mindfulness (or meditation) skills for sleep the better.
I’m absolutely not saying that mindfulness and meditation in lots of other scenarios are always the answer though- I’m not a terribly keen fan and can’t do them myself (though I did date a former Buddhist monk for a year- a story for another time!), but I do believe that if they can help sleep then they are worth practising… repeatedly.
Make it seem normal
There are lots of sleep apps which will suit young people of different ages, and these are worth some trial and error testing, to find what works best for your teen or tween.
We use Headspace (no financial interest!), which builds the skills slowly and simply, and, with time and routine repetition, it can be used on tricky nights when sleep eludes my 11 year old.
The key is normalising the use of it, not all the time, but so that it’s not a Big Deal on the nights it is needed. It may mean that their phone is in their room on some nights, but hopefully if they are keen to sleep well, then they will also turn it onto silent so that it does not bother them in the night. If you are awake after them you can always pop in and collect the phone once they’re asleep too, of course.
The idea is that long term, and once they leave home, they have a lifelong skill or technique to help them sleep (with or without an app by then) as well as the confidence to know they can settle themselves to sleep on difficult nights.
More serious problems?
For those who struggle with more serious sleep issues (insomnia) I highly recommend discussing this with your GP, of course, or checking out some amazing resources now available. CBT-I is the recommended treatment for the most sleep- challenged people and is available on the NHS at last! Sleepstation is a fab website for all, as is Teen Sleep Hub. Local NHS sleep clinics are also an option for many.