All of us have seen what happens to our kids if they skip a nap or go to bed too late (can we say cranky monster on the loose?!). But did you know that sleep deprivation can also make them more anxious? Sleep plays a major role in how we function. Every expert I have spoken to has pointed out the importance in getting a good night’s sleep to manage anxiety.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, poor sleep has been shown to significantly worsen the symptoms of many mental health issues including anxiety. It is clear that good sleep is necessary for prevention and recovery of anxiety.
A University of Colorado study found that toddlers with insufficient naps were more anxious and frustrated. Researchers observed facial expressions of two and three-year-olds after they skipped their typical nap and then on another day after they had their normal nap. The results show that the loss of a nap made the children less excited about positive events and more frustrated with challenges they faced than when they were well-rested. The sleepy children had more difficulty expressing their emotions. Over time, this lack of sleep may shape their developing emotional brains and put them at risk for lifelong, mood-related problems.
Another study from the University of Pennsylvania found that individuals who were limited to only 4.5 hours of sleep a night for one week reported feeling more stressed, angry, sad, and mentally exhausted. When they went back to a normal sleep routine, they experienced a dramatic improvement in mood.
How Sleep Is Linked To Anxiety
When our children don’t sleep enough, they can experience the following changes that lead to anxious feelings.
Body Unable to Repair Itself: Sleep is the time when our body repairs itself, such as relaxing muscles tense from stress. Without sleep, stress builds up, which can lead to more anxiety the next day.
Brain Stress: Scientists believe that during sleep our brain regenerates neurons that affect various areas of thought, emotion, and health. When we don’t sleep enough, these neurons do not regenerate, and in some cases stop functioning altogether.
Physical Symptoms: Sleep deprivation can exacerbate any physical symptom or illness. When children and teens don’t get enough sleep, they can experience headaches, nausea, muscle soreness, tremors, slurred speech, or dizziness. Sometimes sleepiness can also lead to odd sensations like tingling or aches and pains. These physical symptoms can be alarming, causing worry that something is seriously wrong.
Elevated Adrenaline: Scientists have shown that lack of sleep leads to an increase in levels of adrenaline. Because anxiety can be caused by chronic adrenaline, there is a link between too little sleep and feeling anxious.
Anticipatory Anxiety: University of California at Berkeley researchers discovered that a lack of sleep may play a key role in triggering the brain regions that contribute to excessive worrying. Sleep deprivation makes anticipatory anxiety worse by firing up the brain’s amygdala and insular cortex, regions associated with emotional processing. The resulting brain activity mimics the abnormal activity seen in people with anxiety disorders. In addition, those who are naturally anxious are more sensitive to the effects of not getting enough sleep.
Creates a Negative Cycle: Sleep anxiety, or insomnia, is a problem for 40 million Americans including many children. Sometimes it is hard to tell whether a child’s anxiety leads to sleep problems or if the sleep problems are causing the anxiety. This can become a frustrating cycle if a child is not sleeping well and suffering from anxiety.
10 Ways To Help Your Kids Get a Good Night’s Sleep
One of the most important tools for fighting anxiety is sleep. Here are some tips to help your kids get consistent, restful sleep.
1. Create a Bedtime Routine. Young children need routines to succeed. Create a fixed bedtime ritual and make sure you follow it every night. For instance, have your kids brush their teeth, get in bed for a story, and say a gratitude prayer. Once you do this a few times, they will automatically ask for their special bedtime routine.
2. Set a Regular Wake-Up Time. You will need to wake them up consistently at the same time every day. This helps reduce their grogginess in the morning and gets their body used to sleeping and waking up at the same time. Do not change their schedule even on weekends.
3. Provide a Comfortable Environment. Children need a calming place to unwind before they can fall asleep. Provide them with a comfortable environment that has dim lights and quiet. Surrounding them with their favorite stuffed animal, soft bedding, and a cozy pillow will also help them relax and get into a comfy position for the night. Lisa at ParentsNeed recommends using a top rated night light so that your kids do not get too scared as they try to fall asleep.
4. Shut Off Technology. More and more studies are finding that technology is affecting children’s sleep in a number of ways, such as the blue light from screens interfering with the sleeping hormone melatonin. Be sure to shut down computers, video games, televisions, and other electronic gadgets at least 30 minutes before bedtime. More time is even better.
5. Keep Them Cool. A child’s sleep cycle is sensitive to both light and temperature. Be careful not to make your children’s bedroom too warm or to cover them up with heavy clothing and blankets. A cool environment is best for promoting sleep. Babycenter.com recommends setting the temperature at 65 to 70 degrees for young children.
6. Limit Caffeine. Caffeine is a stimulant that can last for several hours. Avoid serving your children chocolate desserts and caffeinated beverages including soda, coffee, tea, energy drinks, and caffeinated water throughout the day.
7. Mindful Breathing. Mindful breathing helps reduce stress and anxiety by slowing down the body and initiating the relaxation response. It is a simple tool that your children can turn to anytime they feel uneasy or worried. Check out these playful ways to teach mindful breathing at bedtime.
8. Relaxation Music. Try using some relaxing music to calm your children at bedtime. Zen Melodies has an amazing library of relaxation music safe for older children and teens. These special recordings use binaural beats and isochronic tones to calm the brain. Please use the code SANDI when you order your CD.
9. Talk Out Feelings. Kids often find it hard to sleep when they are under stress. Talk to them about their fears and reassure them that you are there to protect them. You can also get them a stuffed toy to comfort them. This will help them put aside their fears of monsters or the dark so they can sleep well. Also, reducing their fears is crucial because higher cortisol due to stress disrupts the sound sleep of your child.
10. Observe Their Sleeping Habits. If, despite following all the necessary tips, your children are still not sleeping properly, observe their sleeping pattern with a reliable monitor and seek advice from a medical expert. There is a possibility your child might be suffering from a sleep disorder.
What is your trick to getting your kids to sleep?