Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Sensational Sleep Tips

Growing research over that past few years shows that children and adults in North America and SLEEP DEPRIVED and it is slowly killing us. The epidemic has gotten so bad that over a 1/3 of participants in a recent study reported using over the counter or prescription drugs to get their children to settle into sleep at night ... that is over 30% of children who, for what in my opinion is totally preventable reasons, are unable to do what comes naturally and SLEEP? 

Having suffered with pain induced sleep deprivation myself and seeing the damage it did to my own mental and physical health learning more about sleep and its importance has become a mini passion for me leading me to advocate for protecting sleep for myself and others as the first line of defense in creating and living a healthy life.

In addition as an early childhood educator who is passionate about giving children their best foot forward in life these growing statistics on sleep deprivation in younger and younger children are heartbreaking. During the first 3 years the brain is working so hard and setting itself up for its lifetime it is during this time that we need to ensure it has all the tools it needs to do the BEST job it can! So rather than looking to 'big pharmacy drugs' to treat a symptom and MASK the damage that symptom might be causing we should be looking deeper into WHY is this trend emerging and what can we do naturally to improve healthy sleeping patterns in North America! 

Sleep requirements by age:

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 What Are Sleep Deprivation and Deficiency? (source)
Sleep deprivation (DEP-rih-VA-shun) is a condition that occurs if you don't get enough sleep. Sleep deficiency is a broader concept. It occurs if you have one or more of the following:
  • You don't get enough sleep (sleep deprivation)
  • You sleep at the wrong time of day (that is, you're out of sync with your body's natural clock)
  • You don't sleep well or get all of the different types of sleep that your body needs
  • You have a sleep disorder that prevents you from getting enough sleep or causes poor quality sleep
11 Signs You Are Sleep Deprived (source)
  1. You are always hungry
  2. You've gained weight: 
  3. You are more impulsive
  4. Your memory is shot
  5. You're having trouble making decisions
  6. Your motor skills are off
  7. Your emotions are all over the place
  8. You get sick often
  9. You are having trouble seeing
  10. Your skin is not looking good - prone to rashes, acne and so forth
  11. You think you have fallen asleep at the wheel
Risks to your health and well being not sleeping:
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While there is lots of documented articles with citing research coming out on how this issue of sleep deprivation and how it is affecting children I do not need to read research to know some of the changes that have been occurring in childhood that are impacting sleep I have seen the slow change in family life over the past 25 years working as an Early Childhood Educator .... as a society despite modern conveniences meant to make life easier we are busier than ever, children are scheduled out the wazoo with extra curricular activities often during their bodies natural 'nap period' so we have infants that are supposedly outgrowing the need for a nap before a YEAR but are only averaging 8 hours a sleep at night so are missing out on over 40% of their required sleep, we eat fast food and are always go go going in one way or another in today's family. So for life to suddenly 'stop' and children be expected to turn it off and sleep its a challenge specially when sometimes bedtime is 7 and other nights it might be 9 cause of an extra curricular or family commitment! 

When I worked in centre care client's in my programs were continually coming to the team with requests to 'eliminate the nap' because Little Johnny is up until the wee hours of the morning wanting to watch TV or eat waffles or just bouncing off the walls cause they cannot lie still and some how the 'nap' at daycare is being blamed for this because he must not be 'tired' otherwise he would just got to sleep. Eliminating the nap is NOT the answer though ~ specially when you look at the 'signs your sleep deprived' these behaviors are ALL attributed to not getting enough sleep! 

Young children still of daycare age need between 11-14 hours of sleep a day with families busy schedules today there is low statistical probability they are getting that all at NIGHT so an afternoon nap is paramount!  The reality is that ALL the research out there shows that Little Johnny is likely OVER TIRED and has entered a phase of 'sleep resistance' that is why he is not settling into sleep! 

Setting a consistent routine and environment that promotes healthy sleep patterns in early childhood is KEY to help stave off the sleep related issues and create a relationship with sleep that should ideally last throughout adulthood! 

My Tips for Sleep Success in the Early Years

ENSURE SLEEP IS A PRIORITY ... like eating healthy and other positive habits in life we need to VALUE the benefits of doing them to keep it a consistent practice! We can ensure we are making things a priority or what  I call 'living  our values and goals' by ask ourselves with every thing we do or choice we make 'will this help me achieve my goals in X', so in this case 'achieving healthy sleep habits', if the answer is NO than consider how to eliminate it from your routine and make room for more YESES in your life. For example while taking the kids to a late movie as a treat cause its the first night its showing and all the other times sold out might be awesome in the moment if you have to pay for that moment for the next WEEK in increased resistance at bed time and the behavior challenges that come when a child is over tired 24 hours and up to several days or longer trying to get them back on routine is it really WORTH that moment which is gone in a fleeting nana second in the course of ones life? Asking ourselves when something comes up that is going to interfere with a child's sleep goals is it worth it or can it be done on a schedule that fits in with keeping sleep a priority for your family? Which brings us to tip number 2. 
RESPECT THE INTERNAL CLOCK ... Sleep is regulated by two body systems: sleep/wake homeostasis and the circadian biological clock. Young children need a consistent routine of meal times, sleeping times and getting daily exercise in order to learn how to self regulate these system to optimum health not just for sleep but for all sorts of bodily functions including as they age toilet training and so forth. A consistent routine of when the body can expect food, sleep and exercise allows children to better learn to listen to their bodies cues for being hungry or tired. When ones routine changes and moves around all the time we get very adept at learning to 'ignore' messages from our body in order to cope and this can have long term consequences to our health. We learn to eat when not hungry or ignore our hunger which can lead to imbalance with our metabolism and result in 'over eating' and weight gain, we miss our window of opportunity to fall asleep which creates imbalances in our sleep hormones which is what results in overtired children and adults being wide awake at 4AM ... all of these challenges affect other parts of our body and as a result our physical and mental health! Young children AND adults both need a consistent routine to thrive optimally ... when I worked in Human Resources I use to constantly advocate that we needed to do away with things like 'rotating shifts' for employees because the long term risk to their HEALTH AND WELL BEING was not worth it. As a society we should also be making SLEEP a priority in our policy making. Asking ourselves is this work that MUST be done 24/7 and if not than protect the SLEEP of our workforce and do not work 24/7! 
GET ACTIVE OUTSIDE: In an era where we have so many 'electronic conveniences' we seem to loose ourselves in our IPads and LeapFrog devices at younger and younger ages combine these conveniences with the access to information from all over the globe that has us feeling that no where is 'safe' for out children our children spend less and less time actively engaged in outside vigorous play!  However I totally notice in my own front line 'research' the huge correlation between children being active daily OUTSIDE and getting a good nights sleep. When we have a period of inclement weather where we are not getting outside for our 2-3 hours a day of active outdoor play I totally can see the increase in parental complaints about 'poor nights sleep' at home despite the fact that were indeed still active INDOORS. Being active OUTSIDE in the fresh air and sunshine has huge benefits to our health!
  • 1. Sleep-inducing natural light
    Regular doses of bright natural light help children stay more alert during the day, elevate their moods and make it easier to sleep at night. Exposure to outdoor light in the morning actually helps set their body clock for a better and earlier night’s sleep.
    2. The soothing dimensions of more time in nature
    Nature has a way of comforting children. It can take away stress and be a haven for kids who are otherwise feeling the pressures of school, family, and social demands Research has found that children who suffer from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) get significant relief from their symptoms and are able to concentrate better if they spend some time outdoors.
    3. Outdoor exercise is better for children than indoors
    Exercise can release soothing endorphins into the blood stream and can help with the production of melatonin. Outdoor play encourages activities such as climbing, jumping, running and tumbling that promote muscle fitness and flexibility. Research shows that moderate to vigorous physical activity in child care settings increased from 1% indoors to as much as 11% outdoors. When outdoor play was child led, the amount of time further increased to 17%.
The environment is one of the FIRST places we should look whenever a child is struggling with their development cause often it is there we find the key to why and how to support them. Environment can mean not only their surroundings / external stimulation but also their dietary habits and other factors like routine and stressors in the home, school, life in general.  

Often when I listen to clients describing their child's sleep challenges I hear things like 'he woke up and would not got back to sleep. He was throwing a fit so we watched a TV show to calm him down but than I could not get him to go back to sleep at all he tossed and turned all night so he's basically been up since 2am.  Or I got up to go to the bathroom and found him wide awake playing with the toys in his room .Or he woke up at 2am and wanted something to eat so we gave him an egg to tie him over. While no one wants their child to throw a fit or go hungry the sad reality is that appeasing to these sort of things in the middle of the night is NOT creating an environment that promotes sleep. It is basically impeding it by fine tuning their internal clock that has become BROKEN to continue to to remain broken because their internal 'alarm' will ring again tomorrow night at 2am and want to be stimulated by the TV or fed. If we want a child to sleep through the night than we need to start by setting the expectation that we sleep through the night and create an environment and routine that promotes that. When they wake up, which is natural during a sleep cycle we need to teach them to close their eyes, relax and go BACK to sleep verses encouraging them to get 'stimulated' into a full wakeful state.  There are lots of books out there on how to 'reset' an internal clock. I have friends who swear by the No Cry Sleep Solution book.

When I was in my sleep study myself the best advice the Dr's gave me was 'a bedroom is for SLEEPING that is all you should do in there'. When I herniated my disc and could not move about so much we had moved a TV into the bedroom and I had grown into the pattern of falling asleep watching TV because when my mind was busy with the TV I did not feel the pain so much it seemed like an awesome solution at the time. However overtime this inadvertently practice broke my internal clock. My brain could not wind down on its own anymore ~ I could not fall asleep unless the TV was on. Because the TV was on the light and energy it gave off while sleeping affected the natural production of Melatonin hormones in my body as well as I was not reaching REM sleep. These two things combined to start creating a cyclical effect of sleeplessness that deteriorated my health until I found myself in a sleep clinic trying to get back to a healthy sleep cause I did not want to be on the array of 'drugs' that modern medicine was offering me to treat my symptoms that the lack of sleep had created. Research shows that optimal sleep occurs when we have NO SCREENS several hours before we are due to go to sleep as the exposure to the unnatural light at that time of day is stimulating hormones that promote wakefulness and therefore impacting our ability to achieve a good sleep! I know for myself I am so sensitive to light impacting my sleep that I actually had to get black out curtains and put a post it note over the alarm clock light. 

Create a consistent routine for bedtime that will help support sleep. 
Turn the TV and other stimulating devices off at least an hour before bedtime, if your wee one is prone to waking up middle of the night 'hungry' ensure that a hearty balanced bedtime snack is provided before bed to ensure they stay full throughout the night. 
A calorie is a calorie but not all calories are created equal ... in my experience typical offered bedtime snacks often are of the 'fast burning carbohydrate' variety which means they are filling for a short time but quickly burned and hungry again. 
A healthy bedtime snack includes complex carbohydrates, a protein and a bit of calcium.If possible have a nice warm bath perhaps with some Epsom salts and essential oils that promote 'relaxation and sleep' such as Lavender and Chamomile

Ideal sleep occurs in an environment that is quiet, relatively dark as light impedes the sleep hormone from activating, with no distractions to entice them out of sleep if they open their eyes mid sleep cycle and so forth.  Hence the advise of my Dr above ~ a bedroom should be for SLEEP and SLEEP only. If possible try not to have stimulating toys and so forth in a child's sleep space. Then when they wake up midnight nothing is going to 'catch their eye' and pull them out of their sleep. 
Spending sometime together reading before bed is always an awesome ideas ~ promotes early literacy among other benefits. If your little one is struggling with staying in bed throughout the night I highly recommend the approach of the Good Night Fairy book. First cause Renee is a local author and I love supporting local talent and second she gives some awesome tips and tricks for promoting healthy sleep on her website to accompany her book.
Good Night Fairy book
I have had a few peers who have had an issue with the concept of the Good Night Fairy because as part of her visit to support sleep leaves behind a 'prize' for the child if they manage to sleep through the night. They do not feel it sends the right message to provide an external prize for sleeping ~ sleep should occur because it is needed and expected.
I personally feel that just like the elf on the shelf concept you have to use it in a way that works for your family. I do not think that the 'prize'  referenced in the book necessarily needs to be an actual tangible item. I honestly am not a fan of using 'external motivation' for doing what needs to be done either.  So I read this book in the daycare when transitioning toddlers from the crib to a cot. When they stay on their cot and rest their body as requested the 'prize' from the good night fairy is getting to do something fun at wake up time. She leaves a little jar with 'activity suggestions' in for them to choose from. For me this helps with the natural correlation that because we are well rested we all have the time and energy for doing something fun. On the flipside if they have undesired behavior at nap time and keep the others awake or do not allow my to get a break in cause I am redircted them back to bed than the period after wake up time is 'quiet stuff' so we can rest our body than cause ultimately we NEED rest.

The kids in the house are grown now but I still had young children I would do the same thing for the 'big sleep' at night ~ she can leave a note with a fun invitation of something to do with mom or dad the next day with all that energy they have from sleeping well. Once they are sleeping well she stops visiting so often until she is no longer needed. Just like a soother children will not be walking down the asile at their wedding needing the help of the good night fairy to get to sleep.
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For me I basically love the idea of a book and resources that are giving parents and kids tools in a fun way that will keep them in bed and empowers sleep well.

Plus I love fairies and the little add on items for the Good Night Fairy are adorable ... like this is the little crochet REMy Fairy! Again a treasure sourced locally and each handmade from the amazing Kimberly Poole Designs! Plus there are coloring books and other things to help extend the discussion around healthy sleep!

I am also excited that Renee has a NEW book The Good Night Fairy Helps her Change her Dreams in the making ~ so excited that I helped with her Kickstarter fund to help her get this one off the ground! The new book is about teaching children about the power of lucid dreaming and how we do not need to be afraid of our dreams we can actually control them!
Visit the Good Night Fairy Website to pre-order yours
And look at the amazing creations that will be available with them .... children LOVE to role play so having access to dolls that they can use to role play the messages in the book will make the message about sleep and dreams that much more powerful for them!

 Do you have any sleep tricks and tips you'd like to share?

Have an amazing day!

Live Well, Laugh Often, Love Much


  1. Another article, which recently appeared in the National Post may be of interest:

    1. Thank you ~ I read that article too. Heartbreaking really.