10 Ways to get More Sleep – and Help Your Child Sleep Too
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As a parent of a child with a neurodevelopmental disorder like ADHD, autism, sensory processing disorder, or learning disability, you are likely under a lot of stress. Supporting your child; keeping up with her appointments, therapies, and diets; and somehow staying on top of your own life leave you with little energy or time—and not enough quality sleep. You are not alone, and it’s likely your lack of sleep is taking its toll. Sleep may not feel like a priority in your life, but by not giving it the importance it deserves, your health—and your child’s health—are at stake. We are going to get to the heart of the matter and give you 10 ways to get more sleep and help your child sleep, too.
The Science Is In
Researchers know that lack of sleep affects brain function in the areas of mood, concentration, coordination, and memory. These functions are important to everyone, but they are particularly important in our children, who often struggle in one or more of these areas. Studies 1show that sleep is required for the repair and organization of brain cells, without which learning and memory will be impaired.Recent research 2has also found that sleep is required to help clear toxins from the brain via the glymphatic system (like the lymphatic system for the brain—it’s one-way toxins are moved out of the body). Lack of sleep also impairs the adrenal glands, which in turn affects thyroid function and overall metabolism. Bottom line—you and your child need more sleep.
Why You’re Not Getting Enough Sleep
The number one reason parents of children with neurodevelopmental disorders aren’t getting enough sleep is because their children are not getting enough sleep. Fortunately, many of the tips below will not only help you but will also help your child. Quite possibly, addressing these issues in your child will help you get the sleep you need, so consider both scenarios.
Next on the list is sleep hygiene. If you don’t have a good sleep hygiene practice established, your sleep will suffer. Do you go to bed and wake up at different hours each day? Do you watch television or work in your bedroom? Are you glued to your screen (phone or otherwise) until just before sleep? Do lights shine in through your bedroom curtains? All of these factors can impact your sleep quality.
If your child sleeps well and you already have a good sleep hygiene practice, you may be dealing with one of two health issues—adrenal fatigue and/or poor blood sugar control. Your adrenals are the glands that sit atop your kidneys. Among other functions, they are responsible for pumping out the hormones associated with stress. When we are under stress, the adrenals pump out adrenaline, aldosterone, and cortisol. This process also triggers the body to raise blood sugar because when the body is stressed, or in fight-or-flight mode, it needs all the energy it can get to handle the stressor.
Our children are often in a chronic state of fight-or-flight, which can affect their sleep. We parents are also often in a chronically stressed state with all we are trying to take care of. Chronic stress changes the body’s circadian rhythm or sleep-wake pattern. Normally, cortisol levels rise in the morning to give you the energy to start your day. Levels fluctuate some during the day, slowing lowering until just before bedtime when they are at their lowest so that you can get to sleep.
Under chronic stress, cortisol levels don’t rise as high as they should in the morning—and sometimes don’t rise at all—but tend to be high at night, causing a disruption of sleep. So you wake up tired, are tired for much of the day, and then you’re wide awake when it’s time to sleep. It feels completely backward.
10 Tips for Getting More Sleep
- Control your blood sugar. When blood sugar levels drop, cortisol increases to signal the body to release glycogen stores so the body has the sugar it needs to feed cells and produce energy. When your blood sugar spikes and crashes after high-carbohydrate or high-sugar meals and snacks (especially if they happen multiple times daily), your adrenals secrete more cortisol than usual, which can fatigue the adrenals over time. Meals that are high in protein and fiber, and low in refined carbohydrates and sugar, as well as exercise, will help you maintain healthy blood sugar levels so that your adrenals can rest and your circadian rhythm can regulate.
If you are one of those people who wakes in the middle of the night, it may be due to a drop in blood sugar that triggers a cortisol surge that wakes you up, often in search of a snack to raise your blood sugar. Sound familiar?
Have a small snack before bed that contains healthy fat and a small amount of carbs. I recommend a tablespoon of coconut oil mixed with a dash of raw honey or maple syrup. The coconut oil is easy to digest (due to its medium chain triglycerides, which don’t require bile for digestion) and the hint of sugar gives your body just enough sugar so that blood sugar levels don’t drop too low overnight.
- Consider an adrenal adaptogen supplement. Adaptogenic herbs, such as Ashwaganda, Rhodiola,and Rehmannia, are able to support the body in different ways, adapting to the body’s needs. Adrenal adaptogens can help support either under-stimulated or over-stimulated adrenal glands. They can give you just the kick in the pants you need, or help to calm you down just when you need it. Talk to your practitioner about what supplement might be best and how to use it. Usually, they can be taken on an as-needed basis. Your child may also benefit from such a supplement.
- Boost your B-vitamins. When blood sugar is dysregulated, B-vitamins are used up quickly. These vitamins are also essential for our children, who often need extra vitamin B support. Talk to your practitioner about adding a B-vitamin for you and your child. Just don’t take them too close to bedtime—they tend to have an energizing effect.
- Limit screen time before bed. Do you check your email while lying in bed? Read articles? Scroll social media? Do you bring your laptop into bed and burn the midnight oil? If so, you are throwing off your body’s circadian rhythm, which is very dependent on light input. Instead, shut off your electronics at least 30 minutes before sleep (an hour is better). Not only will you reduce your exposure to light, but your mind will also have a chance to rest instead of being bombarded by the latest news, a work problem, or drama on your Facebook feed.
If you must, find a phone or app that controls the blue light emitted from your device. Or buy a filter that covers your computer screen to block the light. You can also use glasses that block blue light if you don’t mind how funny you’ll look lying in bed with grandpa’s glasses on. Only take these measures if you absolutely must use your devices.
- Take a bath. An Epsom salt bath with a few drops of lavender essential oil may be just the thing you—or your child—need to get some rest. Magnesium helps to relax muscles, as well as supports the body’s detoxification and metabolic pathways. And lavender is well known to have relaxing properties.
- Sip your stress away. Chamomile tea is an enjoyable way to wind down your day. Make it part of your nighttime ritual. You could even sip your tea while bathing to create an ease-filled experience.
- Read a book. Sometimes, all you need to fall asleep is a book. If you are the type of person who starts a book and can’t put it down, grab a complicated book that will have your eyelids drooping before you know it. Reading to your child can also help you both fall asleep.
- Set your room up for success. Make your room dark and cool. If you’re like me, a cool room makes your toes curl. But the research is in—a cool room is best for the brain’s overnight repair and regeneration. Turn that thermostat down.
And block out all the light while you’re at it. If a street lamp shines through your window, get light-blocking curtains. If there are little lights shining in your room from electronic devices, cover them up or turn them off. The darker, the better. Your brain processes light as though it’s daytime. It throws off your circadian rhythm and can have a major impact on sleep. Get a sleep mask if you can’t get your room dark enough.
- Plan for tomorrow. So many people have trouble falling asleep because they are thinking about all they need to accomplish the next day. If that sounds like you, you’ll benefit from taking a few minutes before bedtime to plan for tomorrow. After dinner, write down everything you need and remember to do tomorrow. That way you won’t shoot out of bed at midnight to set a reminder or ruminate about how you can’t possibly get it all done. A racing mind before bed is never helpful. Your list will be there to guide you in the morning.
- Research melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone that is normally secreted by the body to induce sleep. When circadian rhythms are disturbed, some practitioners find that melatonin supplementation can be helpful for both children and their parents. There is debate on whether melatonin is the best option, however, so do your research and talk to your practitioner. If you do go with melatonin, use it as a short-term Band-Aid approach while you work to correct the other issues highlighted above. Many parents find melatonin helpful for their children who are very sleep deprived, and also for themselves when needed.
Stop Counting Sheep
Sleep is essential for your health and for your child’s recovery. Don’t put it off. Use these tips for yourself and your child to get the zzz’s your bodies crave. Check out my Good Sleep Now cheat sheet for these and more suggestions to help you get all the shut eye you need.
Have a question or comment? Leave it here on the blog, or head over to our Facebook group, the My Child Will Thrive Village where you’ll find parents just like you who are trying to find answers for their children—and trying to stay healthy themselves along the way.