The question below was featured on our forum a few years ago. Since then we’ve had lots of people offer suggestions. We’ve summarised some of the responses.
‘As a Year Level Coordinator, parents, one or two students and even a few teachers have asked me for advice about how to advise students about how to better fall asleep at nights rather than tossing and turning or simply lying there awake for ages. Obviously there is a whole range of reasons for all of us when it comes to not falling asleep at night easily. Worry and having an ‘active’ mind seem be typical reasons. Apart from the standard answers like have a warm glass of milk and read something for pleasure, what other strategies are there? Students who lack sleep and are tired have a huge impact on motivation levels, learning and general behaviour in the classroom. Suggestions…’
- Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day, even on weekends. When working out a suitable bedtime consider that you need between 8 to 12 hours of sleep each night depending on your age. Kidsfirst children’s services provide a table of recommended bedtimes by age to ensure the right amount of sleep. Going to bed too late can actually trigger hormones that stimulate the body and keeps you wake, delaying sleep.
Check the basics
- Room temperature. Try to keep the temperature of your bedroom and bed as comfortable as possible. Avoid over-heating or feeling chilly. Use a sheet, blanket(s) or doona to match the night’s temperature.
- Lighting. According to Oxford neuroscientist Russell Foster, bright lights can wake your body up. Keep lighting low at night, even when brushing your teeth or using the bathroom before bed to help prepare your body for sleep.
- Your diet. Are you drinking or eating sugary or caffeinated food and drinks in the afternoon or evening? If yes, cut them out.
- Are you getting enough exercise during the day? Children and teenagers should do at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day. It does not have to be done all at once, but can be done is small chunks across the day. If you are not doing at least 60 minutes, increase daily exercise but make sure it is not done close to bedtime.
Wind down in preparation for sleep
- Do not work on homework or study right before bed. Homework after dinner needs to be followed by a short period of listening to music, reading a novel or other relaxing activity so the mind can ‘switch off’ in readiness for sleep.
- Turn off all screens at least one hour before bed. This includes the computer, TV, phone, DS, Playstation etc. If you must use your phone, turn the screen brightness to minimum so your sleep is not disturbed by artificial blue light.
- Have a bath not a shower before bed. A shower can actually wake you up.
- Relax for 10- 30 minutes before you go to sleep. Listen to a guided relaxation MP3/CD, read a book, or listen to music you find calming before or while in bed. There are some great apps that can assist with this including:
If you can’t sleep once you are in bed
- Keep a notepad beside your bed, and write your worries down as they arise. This means you can then forget them for the night and deal with them in the morning.
- Use a relaxation app as listed above.
- Get up and walk around, if you are allowed, and do something relaxing for 15 minutes, such as reading a book, or having a small snack like a piece of banana. Return to bed and relax for sleep.
- Focus your thinking on a strong, happy thought or image, or a person you really like being with. Recall how happy you were the last time you did something really enjoyable and replay that occasion in your mind from start to finish.
- Listen out for the good of the night. For example, while lying in bed, listen to rain, the wind in trees, some birds whistling, cars passing by, a distant tram, or a ship’s horn if you live near the sea and so on. (Note: this strategy may not be advisable if you are easily scared at night).
Zoe Ganim and Murray Evely, Psych4Schools Psychologists