Listener Q&A with Dr. Amy Barfield, Part 1: Screens, Stress, Sleep. Episode 76 & Guest Post on Sleep
Updated: Mar 15, 2021
CLICK HERE TO LISTEN to Episode 76: Listener Q&A: Screen Time, Stress, Sleep with Guest Dr. Amy Barfield
Episode 77 "Dealing with Differences: Raising the ADHD Child." (Episode 77 also has a few questions about kids on the spectrum).
Resources mentioned in Episode 76: 1. GROW TIME before SCREEN TIME checklist (use this example to come up with your own list)
2. Family Internet Agreement (use this as an example for what you may want in your own family internet agreement, or use this one) CLICK the LINK $2 download
3. More HELP from Dr. Barfield on SLEEP ISSUES Because there was so much more that Dr. Barfield wanted to share with us about sleep issues than we were able to fit into this podcast episode, she was gracious enough to give us some additional help right here in this blog post! THANK YOU, Dr. Barfield, for all this excellent extra info to help us moms and our kiddos get better sleep!
Guest Post by Dr. Amy Barfield "When Sleep Doesn't Come Peacefully"
When it comes to sleep there is so much information out there, it can make a mom feel anxious about "doing the right thing." Some will tell you to let babies cry it out to foster self-soothing, while others will say that leads to anxiety and hopelessness.
Kids at all ages can face sleep problems from
anxiety around bedtime/the dark,
difficulty falling asleep (not tired),
getting up a million times a night (well not a million, but it can sure feel like it),
Lack of good sleep can lead to problems with concentration, emotional control (tantrums/crying), and learning.
Our brains process learned information during the day into long term storage while we sleep, so getting good regular sleep is important for our kiddos.
For adults, lack of good sleep can impair concentration, lead to physical complications (higher rates of diabetes or heart disease), and impact our own ability to tolerate distress/frustration/negative emotions.
It can take up to 4 days to recover from just one hour of sleep loss!! I think all moms can recognize the importance of sleep, but everyone struggles at some point with fostering good sleep patterns for our kids and ourselves. Below I'll address some of the common barriers to sleep and some suggestions for helping everyone sleep better at night.
Kids need routines...
We all have a circadian rhythm and keeping regular sleep and wake routines help keep this going. In this day and age we are busier than ever and getting home later in the evenings becomes more of the normal than the exception. It is recommended that we keep to a normal schedule as much as possible, even on the weekends with our go to bed and wake times. If changes need to occur, try to keep it within an hour of the normal schedule. It can be tempting to sleep in late after a late night, but if this causes problems getting to bed the next night at a normal hour, sleeping in might not be the best option for an occasional late night. School aged kids need around 9-11 hours of sleep a night, under school aged up to 15 hours, and teenagers 8-10 hours. Try keeping sleep needs in mind when planning out activities. We are not Energizer Bunnies that we can charge up on the weekend with 12 hours of sleep to use during the next week. Our bodies are on 24 hour cycles and we can push our boundaries occasionally, but long-term this can have lasting impacts.
Anxiety Around Sleep
Anxiety around sleep can pop up at a variety of ages. Talk with your kid about what they are feeling and try to pinpoint what might be driving their fears (dark, monsters, being alone, etc.). If possible, make changes to address these fears like having a nightlight. Having white noise in a room can help cover sounds that can cause distress. Come up with a plan for how they can soothe themselves...recite a favorite bible verse, sing a song, have a stuffed animal they can share their worries with, or teach a mindfulness exercise. If they pop out of bed in fear, quietly reassure them they are safe and get them back to bed as soon as possible. Remind them of what they can do to manage their anxiety and reassure them you will come back to check on them again in a few minutes.
Technology & Sleep
Technology can be a big barrier to normal sleep patterns. In my practice I have seen an increasing number of electronics being allowed in bedrooms (tvs, gaming systems, laptops, phones) and these are often not regulated (especially if a parent goes to sleep before a kid is asleep). Most kids I work with have a hard time disconnecting from their phones...they are answering texts at 2 am, watching videos, and are not aware of the time passing. I recommend having cutoff times for electronics at least an hour before bed and not allowing cell phones/tablets in the bedrooms overnight. Even with a blue light filter, it is best to have electronics put away and out of sight.
Lack of Physical Activity
Another barrier can be lack of physical activity during the day. We all need physical movement, especially kids! Not tiring the body out physically can make it harder to go to sleep. However, it's best not to get too physically active right before bed, as the body needs time to relax/unwind. Make sure you and your kids are moving throughout the day.
Unfortunately, there is no "one size fits all" for kids, even within the same family. There are things that can potentially help you be more successful. Create a sleep routine and make it fun! It's usually easiest to start with the normal time you have to be up each day and count backwards how many hours of sleep you want to get in. Start winding down your day about an hour prior to your goal of getting to sleep. For example, if you have a 2nd grader and they need to be up for school by 6:30, you might be aiming for a bedtime around 8 or a little earlier, which means you need to start your "get ready for bed" routine around 7.
This could include
✅picking out clothes for the next day,
✅making sure all items are located for the next day,
✅shower/bath, and quiet time.
✅Reading a book as a family is a great quiet activity to do right before bed!
✅Don't forget the snuggles (teens might not allow this) and
✅nightly words of encouragement.
Bedrooms should be cool and comfortable. Blackout curtains help, especially during the longer hours of daylight. My daughter likes to say she is not going to go to sleep until the sun is down... Well in the summer that is not an option for us, so blackout curtains to the rescue! For younger kids who have difficulty telling time and might wake up at 2 am thinking it is time to start the day, you might want to consider an "OK to wake" clock or something similar. This is a clock that lights up at the time you designate to signal that it is ok to wake up and get out of bed.
Up Many Times
If your kid wakes up and gets out of bed, quietly walk them back and gently remind them that it is not time to get up. Try not to spend too much time in the room with them, but if they are anxious, assure them you will check on them soon (don't forget to do so or this might cause more anxiety). I had a lot of success when my kids were anxious falling asleep to reassure them that I would be checking on them often. At first I checked every few minutes, slowly lengthening the time between checks if they are successfully staying in bed. You might allow them to sit up in bed quietly looking at a book until they can fall back asleep.
Watch out for...
No caffeine mid to late afternoon, and definitely not with the evening meal!
Try to limit sugar intake later in the day, especially if your child is more sensitive to hyperactivity with it.
Try not to let the bed be a place of study/play and only use it for sleep.
Limit daytime sleeping for older kids and adults.. that "power nap" might make it hard to fall asleep like you want to at night.
When Should I Talk to the Pediatrician?
If your kid is having frequent nightmares or night terrors, is overly tired during the day, or has a hard time getting normal sleep talk with your pediatrician, as kids can be prone to sleep disorders and these are treatable.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of tips, but should be a decent place to start. If you have tried some of these things and are still struggling with sleep talk with a professional in your area.
Be mindful of your own sleep as the mom; kids (especially older ones) are watching your own habits. This can be a hard area, as I know I am guilty of using that quiet time to tackle tasks that I don't need little helpers for or to watch a show that I have been wanting to see at the cost of my own sleep.
It can take several weeks for sleep habits/cycles to change so don't give up!
You can search on YouTube for "Mindfulness exercises" or "Mindfulness exercises for sleep" for free resources of mindfulness practice. Just try a few out to see what sounds/exercises you find most relaxing. Apps like Headspace and Calm are also good resources, but these typically have in app purchases.
Being a mom is a full-time job and I'm betting you already have other full-time roles in your life. Even small, intentional changes can make big impacts on our own mental and physical health so pick one thing from above and commit to working on it. As with all things in life, be gentle with yourself and remember "You are Braver than you Think, Stronger than you Seem, and Loved More than you Know!" (quote credit to the ever wise Winnie the Pooh)
Dr. Amy Barfield has been a general practice psychologist for over 10 years with experience working with a wide variety of issues and ages. If you live in the state of Texas and would like to reach her for therapy for you or a family member, you can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org