With the Daylight Saving Time program implemented in the United States, I’m reminded once again just how vital sleep is. Guess I’m not alone, because World Sleep Day was March 14 and March is also National Sleep Awareness Month.
It sounds self-evident that “a good day begins with a good night sleep,” but to those with sleep challenges or disorders, it’s often an unmet dream they wearily grasp for. The importance of good sleep habits is vital to all individuals to best achieve personal, family, academic, and professional goals. Enough sleep affects our moods, health, and even our safety. Tragically, statistics indicate numerous terrible accidents have occurred involving sleep-deprived individuals.
When the lights go out, some people are still wide awake, and many times it’s loved ones with physical, mental and emotional challenges, like our dear daughter, Heidi, who has Down syndrome, autism and OCD. Here are some techniques that helped us.
Chill Out: For the ideal sleeping temperature, some experts indicate you should set your thermostats rather cool each night. That may be true for some people, but as for me and my hubby, we’re thin-framed folks, and we tend to tense up in cooler air. The cozy comfort of warmer temperature helps us relax and we sleep better. However, Miss Heidi — with the typical extra weight often found within Down syndrome — doesn’t need a highly-heated room to sleep. Adjust your home as needed.
Block Out: Busy families have tons to do each day, but consider blocking out a set time to unwind and get ready for sleep. I know an amazing couple with four teenagers (two adopted with special needs) that shuts off most of the house lights at 9 p.m. The TV, phones, and music are turned off. If they give in and keep things going, all their challenges intensify. Our family created habits of selecting clothes, school bag, and lunch money, etc., each night to help our students feel more peaceful to face the day.
Swap Out: Does your son’s bedroom have giant robots, fierce dinosaurs, or earth-crushing superheroes on the walls? They’re cool, but don’t encourage restful sleep. Consider another bedroom theme or move intense items to a non-sleeping area. Heidi loves the ocean, so her bedroom is in beachy colors of aqua, greens, and sand-colored carpet.
Lights Out: Morning sunshine peeking through thin bedroom curtains or shutters usually activates the human brain, thanks to primitive reflex signals. (“Ah, light. To survive, I must hunt for wild beasts or scavenge for berries!”) No thanks. Thick, light-blocking drapery currently helps our family, but there was a period I taped aluminum foil in Heidi’s bedroom windows. Eventually, I made large light-blocking cardboard pieces cut to the size of each window, and covered them with cute contact paper. We placed them in her window sills each night, and tucked them away in the morning. This easy project worked great.
Watch Out: When typical parents have several young children, couples often take shifts watching over certain children during the night shift. (Momma often cares for the new baby, and Daddy looks after the older ones, etc.) This “divide and conquer” is a strategy to avoid total exhaustion; however, with a loved one with chronic health care needs, this pattern often continues beyond infancy and childhood, and goes into teen years — and even adulthood. A great couple whose beloved son experienced seizures after his immunizations agreed to alternate every other night sleeping by him. This enabled them to maintain this difficult but vital safety pattern. You may need to implement “sleep shifts” also.
Hang Out: Pets, while a great source of comfort, can also contribute to sleep disruption as they shift position, snore, and need to “go potty.” Also, some animals (like cats) actually are nocturnal, and tend to sleep during the day and naturally become active at night. Our beloved house cat, Cheeko, was put outside whether he liked it or not, because sleep became a high priority.
Time Out: Please pass on “junk food” for bedtime snacks. Brain surgeon, Dr. Russell Blaylock, explains that the sugary ice cream, chemically-laden chips, and cereals, etc., actually over-excites the brain. Let’s offer natural foods, like fruit.
White Out: A constant soothing sound, called “white noise” (such as an electric fan) can be a useful tool to help reduce random noises like barking dogs, talking people, and flushing toilets, etc. Try it.
Speak Out: The thoughts and words we use tonight before we fall asleep, set the tone for tomorrow. Let’s make sure we have uplifting, positive exchanges within our family. Many savvy adults refuse to watch the often-disturbing nightly news, and I agree.
Zonk Out: Parents and care-providers, please remember that naps are not naughty; they’re wise investments. I required naps when Heidi’s challenges and chronic insomnia were very draining, and had to remind myself that my daily productivity was not a reflection of my innate worth. If you’re a Special-Needs family, you’re in for the long haul, so prioritize sleep, because good days begin with good nights.
So, good night, sleep tight!
Elayne Pearson is a C.A.S. and a Special-Needs Preparedness Specialist. She loves sharing instructions, ideas and inspiration about resiliency. Instagram: hiddentreasuresofhealth Email: hiddentreasuresofhealth@ yahoo.com