The clocks are about to fall back one hour, which should mean more sleep for everyone, right? Not exactly. As many parents know, kids don’t care whether it’s daylight savings time or not, and a lot of people suffer from common sleep disorders. Not even an extra hour can solve their problems.
Those who suffer from sleep disorders struggle with the timing of sleep, and the quality and quantity of sleep they get. These problems with sleep can affect your overall health and quality of life. There are many different sleep disorders with some being more common in both adults and children.
Sleep expert Alanna McGinn answers frequently asked questions about some of those disorders.
If you have a hard time falling asleep (or falling back asleep after waking up)…
Bouts of insomnia can be common. You may suffer from acute insomnia, where for a short period of time you struggle with sleep and then you start sleeping well again. It could be due to illness, stress, excitement, worry. Others may struggle with chronic insomnia, where the individual has had loss of sleep for months or even years and now it could be affecting their overall health and quality of life.
You always want to start with the basics and that’s practicing proper sleep hygiene. Sleep hygiene are steps that you should practice to promote ongoing healthy sleep.
- Establish a consistent sleep pattern. It’s easier for us to fall asleep and stay asleep when we are aiming for the same bedtime and wake time each day.
- Turn off tech and keep it out of the bedroom. You may fall asleep to the TV okay or after you surf your phone but being in front of that bright screen turns the sleep switch off in your brain and even though you are sleeping, your brain still thinks that it should be awake so you’re not able to get proper restorative sleep.
- Practice a consistent bedtime routine. Prepare your body to sleep by creating a consistent and calming routine for yourself.
- If You can’t sleep, stop trying. We should be sleeping 85 percent of the time that we’re in bed. Our goal is to train our brain that bed=sleep, so you don’t want to lie awake for hours. There are going to be nights where you just can’t sleep. Sometimes it takes time to teach our bodies to fall asleep and lying there staring at the clock is just going to make you more anxious. It’s best to get out of bed if you can’t sleep and go into another room and do a quiet and restful activity like reading a book, drinking a warm glass of milk, etc. until you feel sleepy enough to head back to bed. And turn that alarm clock around so you don’t start that vicious cycle of clock watching.
If you can’t turn your mind off…
You can do simple techniques like mindful thinking and mindful breathing but it’s also important to allow yourself a little time each day for a personal pause where we allow ourselves to confront our negative thoughts or our to do lists. We are so busy during the day that what happens is the first time where we’re able to get lost in our thoughts is at bedtime, which can make our minds too busy to fall asleep or fall back to sleep if we wake up.
Find a few times a day where you let them float in your mind. Allowing them to pass through your mind rather than trying to fight them off or actively suppress them takes away a good deal of their power. As with most anxiety, the real struggle comes with fighting it. Let it be, let it come over you, and then when it finds nobody to fight with, it will skulk away. At bedtime give you mind a brain dump with writing down those last anxious thoughts of the day, or the never-ending to-do list by keeping a notebook on your night table.
If your kid is having a hard time falling asleep…
Children can suffer from childhood insomnia as well for many reasons. Perhaps it’s taking them longer to fall asleep or suddenly they are showing bouts of anxiety and fear about going to bed alone.
Practice the same principals of sleep hygiene that you would as an adult:
- Consistent sleep patterns
- Conducive sleep environment
- Create a tech free environment
- Establish a calming bedtime routine
Combat childhood anxieties and fears by teaching children how to relax before bedtime through mindfulness, yoga, and breathing techniques can help relax their body and quiet their minds making it easier for them to fall asleep.
A great sleep tool is a shared journal. In this journal your child is able to write down any worries or concerns that they want you to know about and there is an understanding that you will read it. Sometimes it’s difficult for our children to admit their fears out loud but they want to share them with us. This shared journal can act as that bridge for communication between the two of you.
While it’s encouraged to stay away from brightly lit tech, stories on tape work really and your child may enjoy listening to one before he or she goes to sleep.
If your partner snores…
Before kicking them out to the couch, make sure to kick them to the doctors.
Sleep apnea is the most common sleep disorder in adults where sleep is disrupted by pauses in breath. These pauses or “apneas” can last a few seconds to minutes and can happen 5 to 30 times in just an hour. Because the body is fighting so hard to breath it doesn’t allow the individual to get deep and healthy sleep, which could lead to serious health risks in the future like heart disease, strokes, diabetes, and obesity. If you feel like you are sleeping throughout the night but still waking up tired, with a constant dry mouth or headache, and showing signs of extreme daytime sleepiness it may be worth having a conversation with your doctor who would then refer you to have a sleep study down. Also ask the person sleeping next to you because they are the ones hearing you snore. Often the person with sleep apnea doesn’t realize they have it, it’s the person sleeping next to them that is making them aware.
Children can also suffer from sleep apnea as well. If your child continuously snores or mouth breathes and sleeps through the night but is showing a lot of daytime sleepiness it may be worth having their tonsils and adenoids looked at. If your child has enlarged tonsils and adenoids they may be unable to sleep restfully throughout the night because they are pausing in breath and consistently breaking up their natural sleep cycles throughout the night in order to catch their breath.