So how do you cope with the really bad days?

We all have them, days when we have had very little sleep, days when everything takes ages, days when everyone says ‘no’, days when we just want to be left alone! This Thursday is World Mental Health Day , and this year they are focusing on suicide prevention. This may seem dramatic for a blog focusing mainly on parenting and sleep deprivation but many of us have had days where we feel we just can’t carry on. We have all heard the suggestions for improving our mental well being, such as a healthy diet, exercise, ‘me time’ ( what’s that?), warm baths and doing something enjoyable. These are very valid solutions and do help in the longer term. However, what do you do when you are at your wits end, everyone is crying, the kids are fighting and you haven’t had a minute to either shop or prepare lunch?

First – stop and breathe! How bad is the problem?

Let’s scale the problem! Sometimes a hug from a loved one at the end of a tiring day is enough and sometimes we are at breaking point. How bad is your problem right now?

  • Reassurance and encouragement – we all feel better when sometime we care about and respect tells us we are doing a great job. It is normal to find parenting really hard work, especially with today’s pressures and lack of time. Accept your hug and take a breath – this phase will pass!
  • Ok hugs aren’t cutting it! Do you have any practical help available to you? Can you call a friend or family member for some back up? What tasks/chores etc can you ignore for today so you can all get through until bedtime? Do the bare minimum and congratulate yourself for still being upright!
  • Do you need to some simple sleep and parenting tips to help with each day? Simple tweaks such as an earlier bedtime or a cuddle nap in front of the TV can make all the difference. Try some active outside time for the children and if the weather is ok take a simple picnic for their dinner. Regular meals, exercise and naps for little ones do make a huge improvement to nighttime sleep.
  • Are you at crisis point right now ? Are you ‘touched out’ by a baby needing to be held and fed constantly or a toddler clinging to your leg, and fed up of managing everyone else’s emotions? Sometimes reassurance and hugs are just not enough!

What can I do right now to help me cope?

Stop – whatever chaos is ensuing – just stop. And take 1-2 minutes to breathe. Our minds and our stress responses  are designed to be in-tune with our breathing – this has evolutionary advantages and is described as Polyvagal theory. When you have  time – this is a great link to check out. Right now breathe in, hold and breathe out slowly – repeat 5 times if possible!

Give yourself a hug – we can release our own oxytocin by a firm self-hug, or pressing on our chest just above and between the breasts, there is also a pressure point between the thumb and forefinger in the fleshy bit just before the joint.

Now put on some uplifting music that you like, start by swaying and humming and then really dance out that stress and tension. Young children love this to and it may be enough to distract them from whinging.

Ok – now write down some of those feelings and thoughts any old way!

Consider some aromatherapy – try out scents for yourself – patchouli, frankincense, and clary sage are great for mood and hormone balancing but anything which you like will help!

Simple mindfulness techniques can also help – breathe in the smell of your little ones head as you cuddle them. Really look at your older kids and note what you adore about them. Look around your home and remember occasions when good things happened!

Now look at what you may have written down and see if you can re-frame it to be slightly more positive. You can change the internal voice that says everything is rubbish – see if you can find a little bit of calm and happiness within the mayhem.

How do I cope with my children today?

This blog post is aimed at those of us with no social support to call on – perhaps family are not available or not interested, perhaps you’re a single parent or partner works long tiring hours? If you have someone to call on – do it – now! There is no shame in asking for help! When you do – tell your cavalry what you want them to do! This is your choice – not theirs! Sometimes we want an hour away from the kids and sometimes we don’t – let them know!

For those with no-one available right now – first make sure the kids are safe. Now make sure everyone is fed – you first – hot drink and snack first and then everyone else – it doesn’t have to be healthy right now !! It can be healthy later on today or tomorrow or on an easier day!

What do you need to do now to feel better?

If you need to yell – go into the next room and yell into a pillow! Will your child wonder what’s going on? Yes – but this is ok, they are safe and loved and you are not yelling at them!

If you need to have 5 minutes away – then go and lie down to breathe or cry – will your child wonder where you are for 5 minutes – probably but this will not harm them and may save you!

If you need to just hug a fractious baby rather than feed for the hundredth time that day – then do so – again this will not harm them – its ok!

If you feel you have not slept for days then its ok to ask someone else to have the kids for 5 hours. Did you know that a stretch of 5 hours unbroken sleep will work miracles – this does not have to be at night. If you are breastfeeding, most babies can cope with a big cuddle from dad or gran and an occasional one-off will not affect your milk supply or relationship with your baby.

We all know that responsive parenting is best, that being emotionally available for your children helps them grow and thrive, that modelling your emotions teaches them how to regulate theirs.

But we were not designed to do this by ourselves! Your children are loved and cared for ! You may try these suggestions above just once or you made need to use them more.

I feel guilty!

I think parental guilt is delivered alongside the placenta (please note there is no evidence for this!) We all want to do our very best for our children! Guess what? You are the best for your children! You are the one there for them, comforting them and loving them – no-one else can do that better than you!

Do you remember everything little thing about your early years? Your children will not look back and remember the times you needed to just ‘pop into my room’ to cry or ‘just going to the toilet’ to hide and yell into the hand towel! They will remember running to you for comfort, having a dance and laugh, sharing a treat! They don’t need perfection – they just need you – warts and all!

When this crisis has passed look at ways that you could make life easier! Look at just doing one niggling chore first thing in the morning then its done. Look at not multitasking – take enjoyment from the mundane and focus on one thing at a time. Ask for help or hire it in if you can. Aim to get outside each day for some fresh air. Look at swapping a couple of ‘reach for and grab’  foods for something more healthy.

Look at parenting or feeding support if needed! A couple of bad days do not mean you’re a bad parent! But sometimes a lack of sleep can exacerbate our stress and tension the following day which inevitably the kids pick up on. Try an earlier bedtime and a calming wind down period for everybody before bed.

Longer term support can be found through your GP, health visitor or charities such as Mind or Pandas

Rachel Greaves is a midwife, public health nurse and accredited sleep coach. She volunteers at local breastfeeding support groups and works privately at Goodnight Solutions 

Sleep Therapy

Sleep therapy is used to help individuals identify what may be contributing to their sleep problem.

Traditionally GPs have prescribed sleeping medication, however now the preferred treatment is talking therapies such as iCBT – cognitive behaviour therapy for insomnia. This is starting to widen to incorporate mindfulness and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy techniques.

Holistic Assessment

Sleep itself needs to be looked at from a holistic approach. Using knowledge of our circadian rhythms and the hormones involved in sleep we can improve our sleep purely through simple measures and education.The main hormones involved in sleep are melatonin and adenosine. Melatonin can be thought of as the hormone which starts off the sleep process – this ultimately leads to the sleep/wake switch in the hypothalamus turning to off – i.e asleep.

Adenosine is considered the ‘sleep pressure hormone’ and increases throughout the day so that after 18 hours of wakefulness it powerfully induces the brain to sleep in conjunction with approximately 16 other hormones. If a person falls asleep with a lower level of melatonin and adenosine then they may not have enough sleep drive (or pressure) to maintain a sufficient number of hours sleep.

Sleep Education

A knowledge of how these hormones are influenced by light, adrenaline and caffeine to name a few, informs sleep therapy. The human eye is sensitive visible light, and this light regulates our melatonin and circadian rhythm. Visible light is that part of the electromagnetic spectrum that is seen as colours: violet, indigo, blue, green, yellow, orange and red.  Specifically, blue light has a very short wavelength, and as such suppresses the release of melatonin. This blue light is emitted by digital screens, the sun and fluorescent and LED lighting. Thus sleep hygiene practices address an individual’s bedroom environment and bedtime routines to ensure a reduction in exposure to blue light.

Modern Life

Superimposed upon these natural sleep mechanisms is modern life. Although this is now changing society does not value sleep as the essential behaviour that it is. All creatures sleep and without enough of it our health and quality of life are drastically reduced.

Conventional advice will recommend that a sleepless person gets up after 15 minutes of lying in bed – this does not address the underlying reasons behind sleeplessness and insomnia. Sleep therapy will help an individual stay in bed by addressing unhelpful sleep associations and habits. Support will be given to help an individual cope with the unpleasant process of staying in bed despite not sleeping, and ultimately retrain the brain to allow sleep to take place.

Sleep therapy may comprise of different techniques to improve sleep hygiene and support any anxieties which may result from making changes to an individual’s sleep.

Goodnight Solutions is pleased to announce they are now working in partnership with Salus Wellness Centre in Cambridge.

Visit http://www.salus-wellness.com or for more information and support visit https://www.goodnightsolutions.co.uk/contact/

 

What are your thoughts about sleep?

Insomnia or sleep deprivation? Part 2. In the first part of this blog we looked at some tweaks parents could make to give themselves more time in bed. We also discussed the quality of our sleep and our priorities as adults. Is there an accidental sleep deprivation or a real problem with insomnia?

The Great British Sleep Survey 2017 identified that as a whole we were following conventional sleep advice regarding screens and sleep hygiene. The survey found more people than ever were using music and mediation to help them sleep and yet the amount of hours slept was overall lower than 4 years previously.

https://sleepcouncil.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/The-Great-British-Bedtime-Report-2017.pdf

Therefore awareness of sleep hygiene and the importance of sleep does not necessarily mean we are achieving a good nights sleep.

Why is this?

Consider how our brain works – it is designed to learn from experience, to extrapolate from previous situations and help us change our behavior to avoid repeating mistakes. Our brains are also very good at ruminating and worrying about the ‘what ifs’. As an example, if a person who generally sleeps well has a bad nights sleep – they may shrug it off as a ‘one off’ and continue as normal. If that person then has 2 or 3 bad nights sleep then their brain may well start to forecast and predict that they will ‘never sleep again’.

This may start a cascade of worrisome thoughts and feelings regarding sleep. This person is now giving much more attention and weight to this problem and will naturally try to solve it. Conventional advice regarding insomnia looks at sleep restriction, getting up after 15 minutes of sleeplessness and other techniques including lifestyle improvements and possibly CBT for Insomnia. This advice is helpful in the short term and will most likely help resolve intermittent periods of insomnia.

But I’ve tried all that you say!

Let’s look at advice previously given by Goodnight Solutions regarding children’s sleep. In past blogs I have discussed sleep environment, bedtime routine and falling asleep where you want your child to sleep all night.

This advice all relates to sleep associations i.e feeding to sleep, dummies or a parent present. It also links to the normal cascade of hormones needed for sleep initiation, i.e bedtime routine to regulate the melatonin release needed for continual sleep. Adults (and teenagers!) are no different. We also need that strong regular release of melatonin which is promoted by a short calming bedtime routine and consistent sleep and wake times. Remember we all run on a circadian rhythm.

Now consider looking at the clock every evening to see if you have been awake for 15 minutes or more knowing that perhaps you then need to get up. Is that relaxing? Think also of those worries and anxieties which pop into your brain as you lie there. It is is not an easy task to lie with troublesome thoughts and the emotions that accompany them. But these thoughts are just that – thoughts and feelings – and not actual events happening at the time.

We need to stay in bed!

To achieve better sleep we need to stay in bed, falling asleep anywhere else is a poor sleep association and will not maintain long term good sleep. We need to rid ourselves of the negative association of bedtime and our beds by accepting that we probably will lie awake! However lying awake in bed is still more restful than marching around the house and will result in a more rested next day regardless of whether we fell asleep. As a sleep practitioner I always tell parents to reward their children for lying still in bed and NOT for falling asleep as this is beyond their control. Likewise for an adult – we cannot control when we fall asleep – it is a complex hormonal cascade.

Conversely however our brains are very good at preventing us from falling asleep. The more we try to fix this the harder it becomes, as our brain is now far too active and engaged. In fact our brain is most likely activating the ‘fight or flight’ stress response as we get into bed as that is what it has become conditioned to do. It is not easy to change the way we see our insomnia. However by changing our attitude to lying in bed awake we will start to see small improvements in our nights. This allows us to make more positive changes during the day and starts us on an uphill spiral again.

For help and support with your family’s sleep or for help in the workplace please contact https://www.goodnightsolutions.co.uk/

Looking for a unique Christmas present for a family member or friend ?

How about the gift of a good night’s sleep?

Goodnight Solutions have simplified their services and prices making it easier for families to access tailor-made support.

A home visit or phone/email package now costs £80 and includes step-by-step sleep plan and on-going email support.

If money is short here is a list of some other support.

The Huge Bag of Worries by Virginia Ironside – good for anxious children.

I’ll see you in the morning by Mike Jolley – also good for anxious children.

Nightlights by Anne Civardi – mindfulness based short stories.

The Sleep Book by Guy Meadows – mindfulness techniques for adult insomnia.

Niamh O’Reilly – No Fuss Babies and Toddler Sleep – good advice

Millpond Sleep Clinic – Teach your child to sleep – easy to dip into and no need to read the whole book.

There are also some useful websites https://www.childline.org.uk/toolbox/ – good for mind soothing games, and https://www.headspace.com/

For more information and support contact me at https://www.goodnightsolutions.co.uk/contact/

 

 

 

https://psychcentral.com/blog/how-being-sleep-deprived-alters-a-brain-connection-that-causes-fear-and-anxiety/

Nick Hobson writes an excellent blog on sleep deprivation and anxiety (see above) – summarized as  ‘a sleepy brain is particularly susceptible to negative emotion states and heightened anxiety’.

What does this mean for new mothers?

New mothers (and any parents with a child who won’t sleep) will relate to a feeling of underlying anxiety. This may range from fears about the child’s health and development or how the household tasks of cooking, washing and caring for older siblings may get done.

It could manifest in worries about feeding, not napping, about waking from a nap when the chores have not been completed, about going out of the home or social anxiety. How does a new mother get everything done? It’s routine to tell a mother to focus on the baby and rest they they sleep. However for a lot of mothers this is very difficult and the essential household tasks of washing, cooking and caring for older children cannot be ignored.

Now add into this mix a return to work commitments, possible previous anxiety and substantial sleep deprivation!

Some parental anxiety is normal and healthy and acts as protective factor for that child. But for some parents who may be particularly susceptible to sleep deprivation or have other stressors in their lives this can tip into an anxiety that cripples a mother internally (although perhaps not outwardly if the ‘game face’ is effective?)!

So what can be done in the first few months? Babies need night feeds and care!

How often as a health professional I hear that the mother is doing all of the night care for a baby or toddler. Due, perhaps to single parenthood or a partners job! This may be manageable in the short-term but not if a baby/child is waking frequently in the early hours of the morning for an extended period of time. The second part of the night is when, as adults, we get most of our REM sleep (interspersed with brief bits of deep sleep). This REM sleep is crucial for emotional regulation, memory storing, processing of worries and fearful experiences. Therefore after a good night’s sleep the previous day’s negative experiences do not feel as painful!

So how does the mother who gets very little of this REM sleep sleep think and feel?

Perhaps as a compromise the mother goes to bed early while partner looks after baby – after 1 or 2 am perhaps then partner gets a chunk of sleep and mum wakes up. On the surface this seems a very sensible division of labour given that partner is waking to go to work. Fast forward several months and mum has lost most of her REM sleep and partner has lost most of their non REM (deep) sleep. Resulting in an emotional and irrational mother and a partner who may have more illnesses and physical complaints – through no fault of their own.

That mother, whose job it is to teach and regulate her baby’s emotions and brain development, is never getting the REM sleep so crucial for processing of her own emotions and logical thinking. Take this to the extremes and that mum can no longer distinguish between real threat and imagined threat and is living a life of crippling anxiety and fear.

How do we improve this situation?

Forget about having an hour or 2 of’me-time’ when the kids are asleep, prioritize sleep which is the ultimate ‘me-time’!

Ensure that both parents get an undisturbed chunk of sleep which is not always at the same time every night.

If there is anyone else who can help allow them to!

For sources of support regarding antenatal or postnatal anxiety and depression see your midwife, health visitor or GP or visit https://www.mind.org.uk/

There are also self-referral services for talking therapies and many local groups for support.

For help with sleep visit http://www.goodnightsolutions.co.uk

So when and why would you use a sleep practitioner? Consider the cycle of change!

The image above is taken from Steven Aitchison’s excellent website (www.stevenaitchison.co.uk). It is based upon the cycle developed by Prochaska and DiClemente in 1983. It describes the thought processes we use when thinking about changing something in our lives – in this case sleep issues!

So lets think about this!

Pre-contemplation

This is maybe where Gran says ‘that baby should be sleeping more by now’ or ‘you are making a rod for your own back letting that toddler sleep with you’. Is this a problem for you at this point?  Probably not!

Contemplation

Maybe we are several months ( or years? ) down the line and our sleep situation is becoming a problem. We consider making some changes – this consideration is the start of our change journey.

Preparation

We are now thinking about what we can do to improve our family’s sleep. Maybe we google some websites (https://www.essentialparent.com/) (https://www.goodnightsolutions.co.uk/) for example or look up one of the many sleep training books on Amazon! Maybe we even manage to read one of these books.

Action

We put into action some of the techniques we have read about or others have recommended to us. This stage is hard!

Your child has not read the books or websites and is not really motivated by the cycle of change. However you may have read a book that suits your ethos so you find the techniques acceptable and easier to stick to. Or you may try a variety of methods and conclude that your child doesn’t need as much sleep as is suggested.

Maintenance

You have seen improvements in sleep and are keen to keep this going! Well done – now you need all members of the family on board and also need to ensure you continue your routine or techniques after any illnesses or holidays ( but always respond to a poorly child – sleep can be addressed again when they are better).

Relapse

Perhaps an additional stresser has affected the family? Maybe a change in working hours or a new baby? Or perhaps the technique started in the action phase wasn’t sustainable for the long term?

This is a very common situation and families may have gone around this cycle of change several times before approaching a sleep practitioner. If we are prepared for relapse and aware of it when it happens then it is a temporary situation, and we move back into pre-contemplation.

True change happens when we pick the right solutions in the preparation phase and we have the right support around us in the maintenance phase. See goodnightsolutions.co,uk for how I can help you through this journey. 

 

 

Sleep inspirations? What made me start up a sleep teaching business? If asked I’ll say it was a desire to work for myself after years of helping families in the NHS. But after thinking about this post I’m not so sure!

It was kick started by one morning of listening to the Chris Evan’s breakfast show and his guest Matthew Walker. If you haven’t read his book ‘Why we sleep’ I suggest you do – it’s a full on read but it has totally changed my outlook on sleep as a crucial part of life.

I have always been a person who loves sleep was it wasn’t a hardship to ensure I got more sleep. At last I had solid scientific evidence to justify shutting the computer down and putting the phone away in the evening. What started as a holiday project to get a full 8 and quarter hours sleep a night, has become an aim for all nights.

It is not always possible with work, school runs, dogs to walk, washing PE kits, last minute homework and spelling tests and the occasional panic over a dress up day for Key stage 1, but I now make 8 hours sleep the norm rather than the exception to the rule. My evenings now have a period of relaxation before bed and instead of forcing myself out of bed at 6am for a half-hearted jog I sleep until 7am – this hour in the morning makes a huge difference.

Matthew Walker talks about an extra short period of deep sleep in the morning when we are normally in stage 2 sleep or REM sleep. He makes the point that all sleep is crucial; deep sleep is needed for body repair and REM sleep for emotional repair and regulation.

So I have ditched the Fitbit telling me that my sleep is disordered and ignored the apps which will wake me when I’m in a light sleep so I’m not groggy if woken when I’m in that last wonderful bit of deep sleep! I have ignored the inner Paula Radcliff telling me I should be jogging and trying to get fitter and slimmer.

Instead I am prioritising sleep – that wonderful life giver which is repairing my body and regulating my emotions and reactions to life. I may be slightly rounder and wobblier, but my husband is a happier man – less nagging and flying off the handle from his wife!

So why have a started a sleep teaching business – I have just answered my own question – not a desire to work for myself or reduce the rigors of working for the NHS – but a genuine fascination with all things sleep and how fantastic it makes us feel.