How to fix your family’s sleep habits
If you’re finding it harder to nod off lately, you’re not alone. We caught up with sleep expert Kerry Davies to find out how to get a good night’s sleep.
According to a recent study, half of all adults in the UK say their sleep has suffered during lockdown and this may be even higher in children. This is bad news, not least because lack of sleep can have a serious impact on both our emotional and physical wellbeing. Northants-based sleep guru, Kerry Davies, aka The Sleep Fixer, has been helping families and individuals to overcome their sleep problems for over a decade. She firmly believes that sleep should not be considered a luxury and that everybody should be able to access affordable sleep support.
“Being at home all day during lockdown has been seriously detrimental to our sleep,” Kerry explains, “with both adults and children becoming more sedentary and inactive than ever before. It’s not just about how much aerobic exercise we’re doing, although that is a factor, it’s also about our movement in general over the course of the day. We walk around less, we stand up less. If we were in an office environment we’d probably be getting up from our desks to go to meetings, we’d be commuting to work, we might go for a walk at lunch time. For children, that kind of movement comes through their interactions with other kids in the classroom, moving around the school, going out for play time three times a day and maybe walking to and from school. Whilst we may be emerging from lockdown, symptoms may persist for some time to come.
“All of this has had a hugely detrimental impact on sleep pressure, which builds up through the day with activity levels and abates again as we sleep. If you take the movement out of the equation then the sleep pressure just doesn’t build up to the same levels as quickly.”
Insomnia is a leading cause of poor mental health and it can have a serious impact on our physical health too. If you’re suffering from lack of sleep your immunity can suffer, since sleep is a key time for our bodies to carry out tissue repairs. In general, when we are sleep deprived we are irritable, we can’t concentrate and our memory is affected. We also tend to crave sugary, complex carbs and our body won’t tell us when we’re full if our leptin levels are reduced due to sleep deprivation, thus leading to potential weight gain.
If you or someone in your family, whether an adult or a child, is having difficulty falling asleep or is falling to sleep very late; waking frequently or for extended periods during the night; waking up early without having had a sufficient amount of sleep or is struggling to wake up in the morning then it’s time to take action.
“The biggest mistake people make in terms of sleep is not prioritising it.” Kerry continues. “There’s an assumption that sleep is just a biological thing that happens: You’re awake, then you’re asleep. For some people this might be the case, but others will need to put certain things into practise in order to ease the transition between awake and asleep. This is particularly relevant during the pandemic for those spending all their waking hours at home working and then expecting just to be able to switch off at bedtime, go to sleep and start over again the next morning without doing anything to facilitate that. Give your sleep (and yourself) the respect it deserves.
KERRY’S TOP SLEEP TIPS
- WIND DOWN. Prioritise the hour before sleep. Have a really good wind-down by doing something that you find relaxing. This might be reading a book, doing a jigsaw, mindfulness colouring or having a bath, for example.
- DITCH SCREENS. Avoid screens during this hour, in particular, anything that is likely to stimulate your brain such as social media or gaming, which are designed to keep you engaged and switched on.
- HAVE SUPPER. Something to eat an hour before you go to bed is really beneficial. Try foods containing tryptophan, an amino acid that plays a key role in the production of both serotonin, a mood stabiliser, and melatonin, which regulates sleep patterns. Milk, oats and wheat, are all high in tryptophan, so a bowl of porridge or a slice of toast is a great option.
- REDUCE STRESS. Easier said than done, but factoring some time into your day to exercise and have some down time are game-changers in this context. Kerry recommends penning this time into your schedule so it doesn’t get overlooked.
- GET MOVING. Move frequently throughout the day. If you’ve got a smart watch you’ll probably already get regular reminders to stand up and move. If not, set yourself alarms to remind yourself. Every time you get an alert, whack on some music and have a dance, go upstairs and stick a load of washing on, hang the washing out on the line or do another chore that will get you moving.
- WORK WITH YOUR BODY. Consider your natural sleep patterns. If you’re an early bird or, conversely, a night owl, then don’t fight it. Work with your body’s rhythms, rather than against them.
Kerry works with families, supporting parents to teach their children how to sleep well and achieve their full potential. She offers personalised, one to one sleep support as well as live online workshops. The Sleep Fixer, email: firstname.lastname@example.org, tel: 07825180354.