Over the past few weeks we’ve been sharing how you can help your children through adverse childhood experiences (ACES) So far we’ve talked about the importance of good nutrition and physical activity, not just because they have direct benefits for their bodies, but also because you can use these to build relationships. Our third focus, in this post, is about sleep: how trauma affects sleep and how sleep can help in recovery.
The Importance of Sleep for Children
The average child between 5 and 12 years old gets about 9.5 hours of sleep. Experts recommend 10 to 11 hours for this age range. The brain needs sleep to function properly. Lack of sleep results in a lack of concentration and inability to remember facts and process information. The body needs rest in order to restore cells and recovery from injury by growing muscle, bones, and skin. When you child gets enough rest, he/she does better in school. It helps him/her stay healthy. And, it helps him/her emotionally cope with stress.
If your child is having problems at school, is getting sick more often, or seems to have melt downs more often, take a look at how much sleep he/she is getting. Remember, going to bed doesn’t mean the child is sleeping that whole time. Electronics, books, and toys hide well under the pillow until mom or dad turns off the light.
Quality rest can do a lot good when it comes to coping with adverse childhood experiences (ACES). Even as an adult you recognize how better you cope with stress when you’re rested. It’s even more for a child. A child doesn’t realize why they get upset over not having something may be a sign they need rest. I’ve seen my share of child meltdowns in stores to recognize they are often just tired and need a break from rushing around with mom or dad.
The Fight Between Stress and Sleep
The fight between stress and sleep is a real one. Sleep helps deals with stress, but stress creates sleeping problems. It’s a vicious circle that can be hard to get a child away from. Fears and anxiety created by adverse childhood experiences (ACES) can make falling asleep difficult for children. Nightmares disturb sleep. Other behaviors, such as bed wetting caused by stress also bothers a child’s sleep.
A child that isn’t sleeping will well begins to have more problems: trouble doing schoolwork, getting upset over small things, and being sick more often. This only compounds the problem that created the stress in the first place.
Luckily, you can do some things to help your child better cope with ACES and develop good sleep habits.
Good Sleep Habits
- Have a sleep routine going to bed and getting up at the same time each day. This helps the body recognize when it’s time to rest.
- No electronics after dinner. According to Parents.com, “Just two hours of screen time right before bed is enough to lower levels of melatonin — a chemical that occurs naturally at night and signals sleep to the body — by 22 percent.”
- Also, avoid a lot sugar in the afternoon and evening. Kids shouldn’t have any caffeine, says the American Academy of Pediatrics.
- Remove distractions to encourage your child to sleep and not play in bed. You may need to have them not keep their electronics in their room. Have them put away toys and books.
- A warm bath before bed helps relax muscles and aids in falling asleep.
- As part of the sleep routine, include some quiet time with you, reading a book or two. It not only helps your child relax into sleep, but helps your connect and reassures your child you’re there for them.
- Dark rooms help with sleep but children dealing with ACE’s may need a comforting night light. Use one that isn’t too bright.
- Soothing music can help a child calm their minds until they fall asleep. I found this helpful for my daughter for a number of years. Eventually she no longer needed it, same as many other sleep habits, like having a special stuff animal or a special blanket.
Children can’t process stress like adults. They don’t have the maturity to understand it that same way adults do. As difficult as it is for an adult to cope with toxic stress, it’s harder for a child. It’s very important that as parents we stay vigilant in watching over how our children behave. A change in how they sleep, eat, or interact with other may signal something is wrong. Yet, the child may be too afraid or unable to share why they are acting differently. Pay attention to these cues, including your child’s sleep habits. And when you see something change, you’ll be able to help your little one before the situation grows worse.