Tag Archive for sleep

Go Ahead…Take a Nap

Last weekend we changed our clocks, “springing forward” into daylight savings time. In the process, we lost an hour sleep. That, on top of the fact that most of us do not sleep the recommended 7-9 hours a day, makes today the perfect day for a nap…and National Napping Day. Actually, every day is a good day for a nap. According to the Sleep Foundation naps not only reduce sleepiness, they also improve learning, aid in memory retention, and help us regulate emotions.  Napping also strengthens our immune, reduce cardiovascular disease risk, boost work performance, reduces stress, and decrease risk of cognitive dysfunction.  (see Benefits of Napping | Sleep.org ). In addition, napping as a family can help your family “get in sync” and in rhythm with one another. And, according to the “Nap Bishop,” if you’re looking for a way to resist the overworking mentality of our society that leads to burnout and contributes to oppression, napping is the resistance in which you need to engage. So, call the family together, grab your pillows, and resolve to take care of yourself. Take a nap.

What the COVID Lockdown Taught Us About Our Children

We have heard a lot about the negative effects of the COVID lockdown on our children’s mental health; and that is definitely a concern we need to address. However, negative effects were not uniformly reported. Some studies suggested positive effects of the lockdown on our children’s mental health. This lack of consistency aroused the curiosity of Emma Soneson, a PhD student and Gates Scholar at the Department of Psychiatry, University of Cambridge. She and her colleagues collected data from over 17,000 students (age 8- to 18-years-old) participating in a large, school-based survey called the OxWell Student Survey. For this study, the students completed questionnaires about their experiences around the pandemic, school, home, life, and relationships at the end of the first lockdown. Based on their answers, the students fell into three categories, each continuing about one third of the participating students:

  1. Those whose well-being improved during the lockdown
  2. Those who experienced no change in well-being during the lockdown
  3. Those who experienced a deterioration in well-being during the lockdown

What was different for these three groups? The answer to that question may give us good information about how to promote our children’s well-being in general, pandemic or not. So what’s different?

  • Nearly half of those reporting improved well-being also reported feeling less lonely or left out. 41% reported improved relationships with friends (as opposed to 26% in the no change group and 27% in the deterioration group).
  • Over half [53%] of those reporting improved well-being cited getting along better with family members, as opposed to 26% in the no change group and 21% in the deterioration group).
  • Those who reported greater well-being also noted a decrease in being bullied. In fact, 92% of those reporting improved well-being noted a decrease in being bullied, compared to only 83% in the no change and 81% deterioration group. Interestingly, that’s a lot of people saying bullying decreased in their life during the lockdown.
  • Another factor involved sleep. 49% of those who reported improved well-being reported sleeping more (compared to 30% in the no change group and 19% in the deterioration group).
  • Those who reported greater well-being were also those who remained in school every day
    or nearly every day versus attending once or twice. (In many areas, those with special educational needs or those whose parents feared their child falling behind through cyber school remained in school.) Some factor contributing to this group noting greater well-being may include more flexibility to tailor teaching styles to meet different learning styles, smaller classrooms, more focused attention from teachers, later waking times since the schools often had later start times, and more freedom during the school day.

Overall, this provides important information about ways in which we can promote our children’s overall well-being. Here are some ideas.

  1. Provide places for your children to engage in healthy peer relationships. This may include various clubs, sports, activities, churches, or even having their friends to your house. Provide an environment that can promote positive peer relationships.
  2. Spend time with your children. Build a strong relationship with your child. Engage them in fun activities, not just work. Invest in their interests. Share your interests with them. Enjoy your time together.
  3. Develop healthy sleep hygiene in your home. Model healthy sleep and so model for your child. Put limits on social media and cellphone usage so it does not interfere with sleep. Develop healthy bedtime routines.
  4. Watch for bullying. If your child is a victim of bullying, address it immediately. Go to the school to talk with the school staff about your child’s experience of bullying. Develop a plan to help decrease bullying. Build your child’s self-image so they can stand against bullying. If it continues, take your child out of the situation in which they are being bullied and find another place, a safe place, for them to learn.

Hopefully we are moving past this pandemic. There are, however, things we can learn and implement even after the pandemic is past. These four practices can improve our children’s sense of well-being even after the pandemic.

Clues Learned During the Pandemic for Future Parenting

I remember when the pandemic started. I thought it would last 6-12 months. Boy was I wrong. The longer it drags on, the greater impact it seems to have on our mental health and the mental health of our children. A study published in PLOS ONE, 2021, however, offers some wonderful wisdom for promoting our children’s resilience and mental health during this time. This study recruited 224 participants between the ages of 7 and 15 years from two longitudinal studies of children and adolescents in the Greater Seattle area. They gave these youth and their parents a battery of questionnaires assessing social behaviors, psychopathology, and pandemic-related stresses in November of 2020. They gave them a follow-up battery of questionnaires in January or 2021. Because the youth were participants in a larger longitudinal study, the researchers also had access to their social behaviors, psychopathology, and related stresses prior to the pandemic.

In short, the research suggested:

  • The number of pandemic-related stresses they experienced (serious illness or death of a friend or family as well as quarantine, exposures, significant financial changes, social isolation, changes in community involvement, etc.) was positively associated with mental health symptoms and behavioral difficulties.
  • Youth who spent less time on digital devices and consumed less than two hours of news per day exhibited fewer mental health symptoms. In fact, “the strong association between pandemic-related stressors and psychopathology was absent among children with lower amounts of screen time and news media consumption.”
  • Youth who got the recommended amount of sleep and those who had a more structured daily routine during stay-at-home orders had lower levels of behavioral symptoms.
  • Those youth who spent greater amounts of time in nature exhibited a somewhat lower level of mental health symptoms.

This offers parents some excellent advice about how to help our children navigate the unpredictability created by the pandemic. First, develop a positive daily routine for your family and children. This routine might include a family meal, homework time, play time, various community activities, a regular bedtime and bedtime routine.

Second, limit screen time. Our children (and many of us) can easily find themselves sucked into video games, social media interactions, simply scrolling social media platforms, or binging Netflix. Unfortunately, social media platforms become stressful when we do not limit our involvement. Video games can rob us of other stress reducing activities like face-to-face interactions with family and friends. In fact, studies suggest the more screen time a teen engages in the less happy they become.

Third, limit your children’s exposure to news media about the pandemic. It’s good to get some news about the pandemic, other “world happenings,” and politics. However, it can easily become overwhelming, and our children may not have developed the emotional resources to manage the stress of the overwhelming, nonstop, 24-hour a day barrage of news. Really, how many of us have chosen to limit news intake for the same reason? Teach your children to be wise consumers of news and social media just as you teach them to be a wise consumer of food.

Fourth, get outside. Spend some time in nature. Nature promotes health. It helps to reduce stress and increases happiness.

Finally, establish healthy sleep hygiene. Sleep is crucial to our mental health, especially during times of increased stress.

These five suggestions will help you and your children navigate the times of this pandemic while maintaining emotional health and further developing resilience. Ironically, these five suggestions will also serve to nurture healthy children when the pandemic ends. So, start practicing them now and keep them up when we finally navigate our way to the other side of this troubled time. Even then, you will be pleasantly surprised at how well these five suggestions help your children live happier, healthier lives.

For Your Family’s Sake, Go To Bed

Every mother knows that ta lack of sleep tonight leads to an irritable child tomorrow. Now, a study that monitored 2,000 adults over an 8-day period reveals that a lack of sleep impacts adults as much as it does children. This study also provides a little more specific look at that impact. Let me share 3 things this study revealed.

  1. Adults who got more sleep reported higher levels of positive emotions and lower levels of negative emotions than those who got less sleep.
  2. Stressful events did NOT lessen positive emotions the day after a good night’s sleep like they did after a poor night’s rest.
  3. A good night’s sleep contributed to an “even greater boost in the positive emotions experienced the next day.” In other words, positive emotions were even better after a good night’s sleep.

These findings reveal how sleep impacts each of us. However, these results also show how sleep impacts our families. First, a lack of sleep contributes to irritability, which can harm family relationships over time. Second, positive emotions build stronger family relationships. A lack of sleep robs us of positive emotions. Getting enough sleep, on the other hand, prepares us to experience and enjoy positive emotions…and positive emotions cultivate greater intimacy.
So for the sake of your family, get to bed. Develop a good sleep habit.

Here are some hints to help you get a better night’s sleep.

  • Keep a regular bedtime and “wake up time.” Go to bed at a similar tune every night and set your alarm to get up at the same time every morning. This will contribute to a good night’s rest.
  • Limit light and noise in the room where you sleep. We sleep best in quiet, dark spaces. Make your room conducive to sleep.
  • Turn off screens 90 minutes before bed. Screens stimulate us and cause us to “forget the time.” We may decide to “check one thing” on our phone only to realize later that we “should have been asleep two hours ago.” Plus, the screen’s “blue light” interferes with our sleep. In fact, you might consider purchasing glasses with a “blue light filter” if your work demands you use a computer often. (Here is the enemy of teen sleep that may be the enemy of your sleep.)
  • If you are unable to fall asleep after about 30 minutes, get up and go into another room. Engage in some activity that will not arouse or stimulate you. Return to your bed when you are ready to fall asleep.
  • Take a warm bath or shower 90 minutes before bedtime. Studies suggest that a warm bath or shower helps people fall asleep quicker, sleep longer, and sleep more efficiently.
  • If worries about tomorrow keep you awake, write out a to-do list. Research suggests that the more specific the list, the faster people fall asleep.
  • Relax your body. Go through a progressive muscle relaxation routine. You can also focus on your breathing and relax.
  • Spend some time in nature every day. People sleep better after enjoying nature.
  • Exercise is also associated with better sleeping and sleep habits. Take time to exercise on a regular basis. It will help you sleep.
  • Eat a healthy diet.

What Every Mother Already Knew

I love looking at research, especially research about families and mental health. But sometimes the results seem so obvious.  For instance, a study published in 2020 confirmed something every mother already knows. The study had two parts: a lab study of 147 participants and community daily-diary study involving 202 participants. Both parts of this study revealed what mothers already knew—lack of sleep amplifies anger. More specifically, decreasing a person’s amount of sleep by 2 to 4 hours a night for two nights decreased their ability to adapt to frustrating conditions and increased the likelihood they would react with anger. And who doesn’t have to adapt to frustrations on daily basis? So, lack of sleep puts us all at risk, parent and child alike. In other words, less sleep increases anger. What mother didn’t already know that?

But these results do raise a few other important questions. First, how much sleep does a person need?  Sleep experts recommended that:

  • Those 6-13 years old need 9-11 hours of sleep per night.
  • Those 14-12 years old need 8-10 hours of sleep per night.
  • Those 16-25 years old need 7-9 hours of sleep per night.
  • Those over 25-years-old need 7-9 hours of sleep per night as well.

Second, what can a parent do to help themselves and their child get enough sleep? Here are 4 tips to that can help you create good sleep environment for you and your family. Remember, by building a good pattern of sleep, you are proactively reducing anger in your family.

  • Establish a consistent bedtime and bedtime routine. Start the bedtime routine 30-60 minutes before bedtime. A bedtime routine might include personal hygiene activities. It might also include setting out clothes for the morning. A bedtime definitely needs to include quiet time to connect with one another, a parent with a child, a spouse with their partner. You can do this through reading a book together, talking about the day, sharing things for which you are grateful, or offering support around any struggles of the day. Overall, a good bedtime routine offers one of the best times to connect with your child and spouse. So get your child on the sleepy train with a good bedtime routine.
  • Make sure the bedroom is dark, quiet, and comfortable. That may mean no TV in the bedroom (link) and no social media in the bedroom after bedtime. It will involve a comfortable temperature. For children, it may include stuffed animals or blankets that promote a sense of safety. Work to create a comfortable environment in the bedroom, an environment that is safe and promotes rest. 
  • Do not use electronic devices for an hour before bed. Electronic devices tend to interfere with sleep, either through the blue light they emit or through the outright stimulation of peer drama, gaming, or exciting shows. So, turn off devices once you start the bedtime routine. Put on some enjoyable music instead.
  • Do not eat large meals too close to bedtime and avoid caffeinated drinks close to bedtime. Both tend to interfere with quality sleep.

Do everything you can to promote quality sleep for your child and yourself. Doing so will help increase everyone’s ability to manage frustration and anger. It also has many other physical and mental health benefits (see also . And, it contributes to an overall happier, healthier family.

Diet, Fitness, & Sleep…Oh My!

You can promote your family’s happiness, well-being, and even their flourishing by building a healthy family environment. It sounds too simple…too good to be true, I know. But a survey study from the University of Otago in New Zealand confirms it. In this study, researchers collected data on the sleep habits, exercise habits, and dietary habits of 1,111 young adults. They found sleep quality to be the most important health behavior predicting mental health and well-being—more than sleep quantity, exercise, and diet. That’s not to say these other factors aren’t important. They are. For instance, sleep quantity impacted depressive symptoms and well-being. Interestingly, too little sleep (under 8 hours) AND too much sleep (over 18 hours) contributed to an increase in depressive symptoms and a decrease in well-being for young adults. That middle ground, 8-9.7 hours of sleep, seemed to be the sweet spot in giving the best results for mood and well-being. (For more on sleep and creating an environment to promote quality sleep, read Your Teen & the Importance of Sleep and The Enemy of Teen Sleep. The information can apply to all ages.)

Physical activity also had an impact on depressive symptoms and well-being (although not as significant an impact as sleep quality). In fact, previous studies have shown that even an hour of physical activity improves mood!

Finally, eating raw fruits and vegetables impacted mood and well-being. Once again, we have to aim for the sweet spot in fruit and vegetable consumption. Less than 2 servings OR more than 8 servings lowered well-being (but not depressive symptoms). The sweet spot for improving well-being through the consumption of raw fruits and vegetables fell at 4.8 servings a day. (Another study suggested 8 servings had the greatest impact.)

So, if you want your family to experience less depression and a greater sense of well-being, get a good night’s sleep, engage in some daily physical activity, and eat your vegetables and fruits. It is well worth it to see your children in a positive mood and feeling good.

Early to Bed for Children Reduces…What?

My mother and my adult daughter were talking about childhood bedtimes recently. My daughter remembered having to go to bed during the long days of summer while the sun was still shining. Of course, I was the bad guy, the parent who made her go to bed in the daylight.

My mother found that amusing. It reminded her of how much I had complained as a child about going to bed during the long months of summer while the sun was still shining. Somehow, though, I was still the bad guy, the one who complained about going to bed early. In both cases I was the bad guy ( in good humor, of course).  But, no fear. I reminded them that research is on my side. (You can imagine the rolling of the eyes as I bring this gem into the conversation.)

Research published in Acta Paediatric found that an early bedtime reduced the risk of obesity in a study of 1,258 six-year-old Indigenous Australian children. To summarize, the lead author simply noted that “establishing consistent and early bedtimes may reduce the risk that your child will be overweight or obese.”

I guess I can thank my parents now for setting an early bedtime for me as a child. And, my daughter can thank her mother and me for doing the same. Perhaps they can both acknowledge that I am not such as bad guy after all. I am just a guy looking out for my children’s future health. After quoting the authors statement, my daughter and my mother both said, “Go to bed. Just go to bed.” And wouldn’t you know, the sun was still shining!

Get Your Child on the Sleepy Train

Sleep is crucial for a child’s healthy development and mental health. (See Your Teen & The Importance of Sleep to learn how important sleep is for teen health.) Unfortunately, our world of constant busy-ness and digital stimuli does not lend itself well to healthy sleep routines. In fact, they make it all the more important for parents to help their children develop a healthy, effective, and independent bed-time routine. Even then, our children sometimes “lose the routine” because of bad dreams, transitions, changes in schedule…all kinds of things can impact the routine. I recently discovered three ideas to help establish an effective bed-time routine or get it back on track after it has been derailed. Maybe they will help in your family.

  • Have some practice sessions. We encourage our children to practice their sports, their spelling, their instruments. Why not practice their bedtime routine? These practice sessions don’t actually involve going to sleep. But they do involve going through the pre-bedtime routine. Brushing teeth, saying prayers, getting a snack, reading a book…whatever the routine you have established, go through it during the daytime. As you do, acknowledge how well your child does each step. Gush a little over their efforts and success. Make it fun and light-hearted. You want them to enjoy the routine and find it rewarding in and of itself.
  • Take a break. As you go through your child’s bedtime routine, lie down with them. Then let them know you need to take care of something (like use the restroom or turn off a light) and will be back in a minute. Leave the room, do something that takes a minute or so, return to your child, and lay back down with them. The next night leave for two minutes. The third night, 3 minutes. Each night leave for a minute or so longer. You get the idea. Always return just as you said but let the “break” take longer and longer. Your child will become more independent falling asleep alone.
  • “Excuse me” is an exercise very much like the take a break. However, in this one you note some chore (a 15-20 minute job) you have to get done. You let your child know you’re going to go take care of it and then come back in to check on them. Always keep your promise and come back to check. Even if they fall asleep (which we hope they do), check in and give them a kiss on the forehead. The next morning, acknowledge that they had fallen asleep when you returned. Let them know you kissed them on the forehead and, most important of all, let them know how proud you are of their ability to go to sleep on their own.

These ideas are not difficult. They take some time on your part as a parent. But, think of yourself as their sleep coach. Coaches always take a little time to teach their players a new skill. An added benefit of being your child’s sleep coach? You get to enjoy the time you spend with your child  coaching them in the skill of sleep. (In fact, see The Top 4 Times for Parent-Child Talks for the best times to connect with your child.) Sleep tight.

Another Benefit of a Responsive Spouse

A responsive spouse—one who not only listens and understands but also responds with sympathy and compassion. Who doesn’t want that kind of spouse? I know I do. And really, who doesn’t want to be that kind of spouse? After all, I love my wife. She deserves a “responsive spouse.”

Responsiveness validates our spouses. It lets them know we care for them. It reduces anxiety and arousal. It increases a sense of security in the relationship. It comforts. Overall, responsiveness is a powerful way to improve your marriage. And, a 2016 study involving 698 married and cohabitating couples suggests responsiveness does something more. It improves sleep quality. Not surprising, right? We sleep better when we feel safe. We sleep better when we feel less anxious. We sleep better when we know someone cares for us and validates us.

There you have it…another benefit of a responsive spouse: improved sleep quality. Good sleep quality contributes to a better rested person. A better rested person is happier, healthier, and more able to respond to their spouse. Not only…. Oh wait. I hear my wife calling. Sorry. I have to go. After all, a wife responded to is a happy wife who sleeps well…and loves her responsive husband.

Alexa, Turn On the Lights?… You Gotta Be Kidding Me

Did you see the Alexa commercial? I usually don’t say anything about commercials that bother me…but did you see that Alexa commercial? A girl comes home from a soccer game and is apparently upset about her game. Her mother “pauses” Alexa (who was reading an audio book to her when her daughter came home) and follows her daughter as though she plans to talk with her about the game. All well and good. In the next scene we see the mother in bed when she is suddenly awoken by “a noise.”  Once again, she speaks to Alexa, “What time is it?” “4:40 a.m.,” whispers Alexa. The mother looks out the bedroom window to see her daughter in the backyard “practicing” her soccer.  What does she do when she sees her daughter playing soccer in the backyard at 4:40 a.m.?  “Alexa, turn on the backyard light.”  That’s it? She turns on the lights before giving a proud nod to her daughter’s early morning practice.

Somehow that commercial really bothers me. What is the message communicated by that commercial? That Alexa, the mother’s only companion and confidante in the commercial, will helps us parent our children? I don’t think so. Alexa has no input…it only offers an obedient response to whatever “parental wisdom” we offer. Not a great parenting partner. No emotional investment. No experiential knowledge. Yeah, not a great parenting partner.

Maybe the message is one proclaiming that persistence and hard work help us achieve our goals…with the help of Alexa of course. But we never see the success…so I don’t think that’s the message. Really, I think I’m bothered more by the missing messages. For instance, where is the message about “a time and a place for everything”…a time to practice and a time to sleep? What about the message of learning to lose a game with grace and dignity? The message that our self-worth is not based on our performance…especially our performance in a single game? What does this commercial teach us about the importance of sleep for our physical and mental well-being…and even for improving performance, especially for teens?  Of course, the commercial is not trying to teach us anything. It only wants to sell us a product. But it does send a message…and I’m not sure I like the message.  Do you? At any rate, I better quit my rambling. “Alexa, turn off my computer.”

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