Anxiety and Depression: X Ways to Help Your Child Sleep Better
by Sarah Cummings
We all know instinctively that good sleep is good for our health. Few of us however grasp exactly how important it truly is – especially when it comes to our mental health.
Individuals who sleep poorly constantly – that’s getting less than seven hours a night – are considered to be sleep deprived. Which is bad news indeed. Sleep deprivation has been linked to anything from obesity and diabetes, to cancer. Yikes!
It’s not just our body that suffers when we sleep poorly, it’s our mind too. Sleep deprived individuals are a whopping five times more likely to be depressed and a jaw dropping twenty times more likely to develop a panic related anxiety condition.
So, it seems fairly obvious that getting enough sleep is vitally important no matter what age you are. That said, it’s even more important for children and adolescents considering how quickly the body and mind develop in the first couple of decades of life.
If your children suffer from consistent poor or broken sleep then they are increasing the risk they will develop conditions such as anxiety and depression.
Don’t despair, encouraging your children to stay in bed more is a damn sight easier than getting them up in the morning in my experience! If you are worried your progeny aren’t getting the rest they need, here are 3 handy tips.
The single greatest thing any parent can do to improve the odds of their children sleeping well each and every night is to encourage regularity. That’s going to bed and waking up at approximately the same time every night, be it weekday, weekend or holiday.
Human beings are creatures of habit and our bodies and minds crave routine. The more consistent the bedtime the easier it is to fall asleep. The mind simply comes to expect sleep at a certain time and will prepare itself appropriately.
Now, obviously getting junior to head to bed on time is a lot easier when they are young than in adolescence. And of course you can’t force your teenager to go to sleep. You can however try and maintain routines in other areas that you can control, mealtimes, lights out, screens off, for instance.
You could also just try to sit them down and talk to them. You never know it could work!
A common problem in today’s light polluted screen-infested world is overstimulation. Your child may feel tired after a long day but when they lay their head upon the pillow their mind is racing a million miles an hour. Being too wired to fall asleep then leads to hours of tossing and turning. This in turn makes them anxious, raises their cortisol levels and postpones sleep even further. A cruel cycle.
Smartphones, tablets and televisions all emit a form of blue light that tricks our poor, unevolved caveman brains into thinking it’s still daytime and that we should therefore be alert. Not only that but the interactive nature of technology today further overstimulates our weary mind.
Working at least an hour of screen-free, wind down time into your child’s pre-bed schedule will do wonders for their sleep. Again this is easier said than done, especially if the child you are worried about is a little older and has their own smartphone or laptop.
There are still some things you can do. There are apps for smartphones and screen covers for laptops that reduce the effect of blue light. On top of that you can make sure the house is an area of calm. Make sure curtains are effective at keeping out any external light pollution. Switch off overhead lights in the evening, use sidelights. Turn off televisions and your own laptop. Set a good example. Engage your children in non-screen-based entertainment.
We have come a long way from our hunter gatherer days when we would roam from sun up to sun down. Life today is a lot more desk and couch-based. We have in effect become a sedentary being. Which is bad news for our sleep.
If you are worried that your child is a) not sleeping and b) at risk of depression, then do everything in your power to encourage them to exercise. Getting out and burning a few calories is so incredibly important both for our mental well-being and for our circadian rhythms (sleep cycles).
When we go for a run or play soccer in the park, or just walk up a steep hill, our body releases a cocktail of very useful hormones which are the perfect antidote to stress and anxiety. Plus the more energy they expend during the day the greater their need to sleep. The better they sleep the happier and healthier they will be.
Plus, getting out into daylight and nature has a profound impact on mood and does wonders for recalibrating our sleep cycles. Win-win!
Well, there you have it – three tried and tested ways to help your child sleep better. As you can see there is nothing groundbreaking here. It’s the same advice your own parents probably received from theirs. Regular bedtimes, regular exercise and a healthy pre-bed routine. Simple really.
About the Author
Sarah hails from sunny California and she’s a self-confessed sleep addict! She loves sleep so much that when she’s not getting her eight hours, she’s at her desk researching and writing about it for the official Sleep Advisor blog. Like her colleagues, Sarah firmly believes that better sleep has the potential to make the world a happier, healthier, and even safer place to be.