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Dealing with troubled sleep

When I was asked to write a blog about common sleep problems for school aged children my initial reaction was one of excitement.

In my role as a School Nurse, I’m often asked to see children who have trouble sleeping. I have observed how a lack of sleep often has a negative effect on children’s behaviour, learning and concentration. 

However as I started writing this blog my first question was: is it possible to give advice that would suit everyone?

Well I hope you all find something in this blog that helps, or at least might give you that ‘’light bulb’’ moment for you to explore further.

Sleep problems

As a mum of two school aged children I had a fair share of sleepless night when they were babies, but I wasn’t expecting it to last. I’m sure many of us don’t. I also often suffer from disturbed sleep myself, but these sleep problems are temporary and like most of us, I manage to catch up on sleep when the reason for the problem gets resolved.

But what keeps children and young people up at night? For me it is worries, stress, work... But talking to children who suffer from sleep problems I found that it could be anything from an excitement about an up and coming trip, to nervousness about exams or thinking about a social gathering.

One of the most common sleep problems is insomnia. A person who suffers from insomnia may have trouble falling asleep, trouble staying asleep or trouble waking up too early. Establishing a good sleep routine, having the correct environment and reducing distractions at bedtime should be a first step to tackling any sleep problems; this was discussed in our blog on Monday.

This video helps to explain insomnia:

There are other common things that can cause young people to struggle with sleep:

  • Biological influences may include puberty and hormonal changes, or a pushed back circadian rhythm where tiredness doesn’t kick in until later
  • Psychological influences may affect sleep as children start to develop independence, and start to build romantic relationships
  • Socio-cultural factors like school start times, caffeine/energy drinks and using social media

Treating a sleep problem: the basics

  • Create good routines eg avoid caffeine in the evening and using technology before bed
  • Make sure the bedroom is for sleeping, create a good bedroom environment eg keep it cool, calm and dark, and free from distractions
  • It’s the quality of the sleep that’s important not how long we spent in bed. Using a sleep diary to monitor how much sleep you get versus how much time you spend in bed can help you to work out what time you should go to bed.

Once the quality of sleep starts to improve, then it's easier to focus on improving the quantity.

If you think that you as a young person or a child or young person you care for is experiencing some sleep deprivation, and would some further advice or help, please give your school nursing team a call.

The Sleep Council and NHS also give some great information and advice on getting better sleep.

Sleep problems are common and there are many reasons for troubled sleep. Hopefully this article has been a good starting point to help work out the reason for you.

 

About the author

Monika Mann is a Specialist Practitioner Community School Nurse