Podcast Episode 42. Do you need more sleep because your child needs more sleep? Maybe this weeks guest can help.Vicki Dawson is the CEO of The Children’s Sleep Charity and helped write the Children and Young People’s Sleep Manifesto presented to the UK government, which argued among other things for quality sleep support to be available for all families and for sleep to be recognised as a vital component of mental health.
Vicki was once a sleep deprived mum who struggled to get enough sleep at night and had no time to take a nap during the day. She realised how little help there is for people suffering from sleep deprivation or sleep issues with children. So Vicki decided to take things into her own hands and launched The Children’s Sleep Charity in 2012.
Vicki explains the process of helping a parent who comes to the charity for advice. They usually discover the charity via social media or by word of mouth. The first step is to talk to a sleep practitioner who helps to identify the causes. Vicki stresses how key it is to understand the triggers causing the sleep issues before thinking about what strategies might work.
Vicki discusses also how important is to find strategies that work for individual families and fits their parenting style and their schedule. As she says when people are sleep deprived, it’s often difficult to have the capacity to make massive changes. So it’s essential to come up with a plan that works for each individual family.
Vicki shared some of the things she has learnt about helping children develop a more structured sleep pattern. Vicki suggested that parents consider the time their child naturally falls asleep and use that time as a starting point. So, if your child falls asleep at 11 pm, put them to bed at 11 pm. Then, gradually move the bedtime to a more appropriate time to help strengthen and readjust your child’s natural body clock. Also, try and make sure that you wake up your child at the same time every morning (including weekends!). Developing this habit will help to strengthen their body clock, resulting in a more structured sleep routine.
Vicki emphasised the importance of investigating the hour before bedtime in close detail and offers some practical ideas for that pre-bedtime routine. These include encouraging children to eat foods that induce sleep, using relaxing and therapeutic play activities like lego, drawing and play dough to help promote a sense of calm, using a warm bath to foster relaxation and the obvious one getting rid of ALL screens.
As Vicki says many parents feel like others are judging them when they talk about their child’s sleep issues as well as offering unhelpful comments to make them feel like bad parents. The Children’s Sleep Charity provides the support sleep-deprived parents need without judgment.Show Full Transcript
DEBRA: Welcome to episode 42 of the Journey Skills podcast. A bit of a change of focus this episode. It’s summer break in the UK, so this topic seems just right to talk about at the time of the year where routines do go out the window a bit. My daughter likes holidays, but she also finds a complete lack of routine a bit difficult to cope with and it does impact on her sleep pattern. I’m talking to Vicki Dawson who runs The Children’s Sleep Charity and was once like most of us, a sleep-deprived parent. I certainly wish I’ve had some of her advice 10 years ago and in fact, some of it is still a timely reminder with the way that things should be done.
I realized that maybe some of you listening to this, you might be tempted to give this one a miss, and think “Well, I’m past that issue.” But I hope you give it a listen anyway and then pass on the information to anyone you know still struggling with sleep. You should be able to easily spot these people, they’ll be the ones who look exhausted and they may even look like they got dressed in the dark. Okay, so maybe that was only me.
Having said all that, there are also reminders in here of what we all should be doing like taking away the general electronics and actually Vicki suggests some fun old alternatives an hour before bedtime that really aren’t that age-dependent. I put links in the show notes of the charity and also to some of the resources that Vicki recommended to me. She’s also written a book so I put in a link to that as well.
DEBRA: Today I’m talking to Vicki Dawson who’s the CEO and founder of The Children’s Sleep Charity which is based in the UK. Welcome, Vicki!
VICKI: Hi. Thanks for inviting me.
DEBRA: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and obviously about the charity as well and how it came about?
VICKI: Yes, so I set the charity up in 2012. It was really based on personal experience. I’ve been a sleep-deprived mom, realized how little help there is out there when you ask a friend with sleep deprivation and sleep issues with children. So, I decided that it would be a really good idea to try to help and help all the families who were going through similar things to the things that I went through.
DEBRA: What were the challenges in getting set up?
VICKI: Although a huge challenges to this day and particularly around funding and it was huge of challenging in terms of time as well. I was a teacher at that point working at the full time so all this is done at the evening. So there were huge number of challenges.
DEBRA: How the parents find you and what kind of things do you do for them?
VICKI: I think a lot of parents find me by word of mouth, so they’ll hear about all families and success. People find us through the website. We do quiet a lot in the media and we’ve got social media presence, too.
DEBRA: So can you talk me through when a parent comes to you, what sort of process that you go through to help them?
VICKI: It takes us probably about an hour, to pick what the sleep problem is. So they will spend time with the sleep practitioner on a one-on-one basis. Will take focus check and trying to work out what the triggers are because until you can work out the triggers, you can’t actually put in the right strategies and quiet often that’s where things have failed previously that people put strategies and they’ve not addressed the actual core problem.
So, we all pick it really and then it’s like in the jigsaw together, so once we picked it, we can start put together the strategies that we know will help to improve sleep problem. And it’s like a combination of doing different things at different times. And when were we closer with the public to work out what is doable for them because when you are sleep deprived, sometimes you just don’t have that capacity to make huge changes so for some problems it might be one small change that we work hard.
All the families decide that they’re going to do to help program, to oscillate everything and say in place tonight and that was done through parental choice. So we were very supportive with the families to make sure that when they walk out that door, the program that we’ve given them, fits them with the parenting styles and it fix them with their life and their capacity to carry out. And then we are, for some part, is to carry out telephone, email, text support.
DEBRA: What kind of tips can you offer parents just as very generic without understanding individual parents, what are some of the top tips?
VICKI: So top tips would be what time that your child falls asleep naturally and start to work from that point. So we have lots of families that will say they don’t fall asleep until eleven o’clock. It takes of three hours to settle. Actually what we know from that then is there are some circadian of rhythms so their body clock is out-sync and shifted back. So we need to work with where it is right now. So it sounds really alarming but put them to bed at eleven o’clock, start the bedtime routine the hour before and what we’ll do is we gradually move the bedtime to a more appropriate time. It straighten their body clock.
And then another really important tip that people kind of forget is to make sure that you wake your child up at the same time each morning. Even at weekends. And then again, that’s straightening the body clock. And that can help with sleep at night time so having that really strong body clock, at both ends of the day is really important yet parents stops to talk about bedtime, but when you talk about wake up time after this inconsistencies particularly around holidays and particularly around weekends.
DEBRA: Why do you think sleep deprivation is such a big issue for parents?
VICKI: Sleep deprivation has a huge impact around every aspect of your life. Some links with sleep deprivation and depression becoming more anxious. It also can really affect things like you work, so it may be the problems that hard to get off to work because their being chronically sleep deprived and they have jobs that have meant that they have safety issues like drivers, to walk path with a sheen around. It can also have a huge impact on relationships. We’ve seen families ton of a sleep deprivation because it affects your mood, your ability to cope but it also affects your relationship with your child as well. It can cause problems in that department so it’s absolutely massive in terms of the impact. Even things like immunity, your immune system becomes compromised so you can end up a wild because you’re also exhausted.
Your confidence as a parent can really take a battering. You hear all these families talking about how well our children sleep, and you just feel like the worst parent in the world and people can be so judgmental, too. So people will give you little tip: “Have you tried a warm bath?” [laughs] “Yeah, I’ve tried up so in everything but it didn’t work out”. So you can feel quiet isolated up there. The whole things about the charity is that people could come to us, speak to us honestly, and when we’re never gonna judge because most of the practitioners in the charity have been chronically sleep-deprived parents at some point.
DEBRA: Do you think then that there is judgment in people rather than trying to help them? Because what you said before about putting your child to bed at eleven o’clock, most parents are gonna go “Oh, I don’t think so”.
VICKI: Absolutely they are because we are not educated about sleep. So if someone tells me that, I probably would be desperately able to try it, but if you can explain about sleep and educate people about sleep and about sleep cycles and the way that we do sleep, it then becomes absolutely logical and evidence-based and then people will understand it, so what we work with families we don’t just go in and carry put to bed at eleven and slowly move it back. We actually start by explaining about sleep and what happens when we go to sleep and the different sleep cycles that we move there and we talk about this Circadian Rhythm and we talk about Melatonin and how our body produces that.
And once parents have got that in the wedge, they have what I always call the whiteboard moment and then realize for themselves why the sleep issues might be happening. And that’s far more empowering than all sitting there in the expert realm, telling parents why the sleep issues have been happening. So we’d like parents to see it for themselves. And once they’ve got that learning, then they’ll go, “Yep, that makes perfect sense! I will try the eleven o’clock thing.”
The other thing that they all say “Well, I won’t cut my evenings” and my answer to that is “Well, you’re not gonna get it anyway!” because your child had suffered for so long but they all not happen in the evenings anyway so all it is doing is take your child back at bedtime and in positive strategies that we know will work, we’ve got the evidence to show these work and it’s part of the jigsaw that I talked about and it’s part of the plan to get the bedtime that you want to get eventually.
DEBRA: A lot of parents with children with additional needs tend to get giving drugs. What’s your thoughts on that?
VICKI: I think for some families as some children they can really be helpful. I don’t think they can be able to prescribe in the absence of sleep support. So ideally, I would like every family to be able to access the sleep practitioner. And sometimes we do request Melatonin on prescription on a short term basis, to help impart shifting body clocks. But we’ve now become part of that prescription pathway as merely as where we work. That’s really positive because what it means is that the behavioral approach to sleep been put in place but as someone imparted, because you can’t substitute that with prescription drugs. So they’ve got a place but I think probably overused and we know that the methods that we’re using are also highly effective or possibly more effective.
When you look at the research, some prescription drugs and completely safe. So we just double some work with children with the ADHD. We work with Chafelle City Council and Chafelle Children’s Hospital. On average, using the behavioral approach, these young people got an average 2.4 hours of extra sleep per night using the behavioral approach. There some research out there around Melatonin that suggests it’s 50 minutes extra at night. So when you compare it like that, it will makes good sense to how to go an hour of our methods instead.
DEBRA: What were some of the methods that we use with those young people that have ADHD?
VICKI: Yeah. So what we did is we invited them to workshop so that the parents could learn about sleep and we assign them a sleep practitioner. And they develop to sleep programs so we will looking them an hour before bedtime in close detail. So will connect in a really good bedtime routine. And when we talk about really good bedtime routine, what I’m talking about are things like you can use certain foods to help to relax and induce sleep. So looking up supper time whether the child who’s smooger, looking at hand-eye coordination activities in the hour. That’s really important because that helps to promote relaxation. So anything like certain activities like model-making, playdoh, anything like that is really helpful to promote their calm.
Getting rid of all screens an hour before bedtime is also important because screens suppress Melatonin which is the sleep hormones. So that’s what my top, top tip that I can ever give, ditch the screens an hour before bedtime, watching TVs, youtube, xbox, mobile phones, tablets and there’s a lot that is not good for bedtime. And then looking at things like when children enjoy a bath then that could really be helpful, it raises their body temperature. And it’s that slow decreasing body temperature that helps to promote that relaxation again. And it’s how we end the day, too, so again it can very personal to each child. Some children enjoy reading a book, enjoy lullabies, songs. My little boy enjoys doing 5 happy things that have happened today. We do that every night during the day. What the child gets positivity from that’s where positivity begun. So that’s the kind of programs that we will put in place and we work with the full age range on that project as well which is really helpful. So few people here were in residential care and respite care and it was successful with them, too.
DEBRA: Bear in mind that you are based in the UK, are there online resources that people can get if their not in the UK? And if they are in the UK, how do they get a hold of you guys?
VICKI: We’ve got a website which is www.thechildrensleepcharity.org.uk and there are resources on the website that could be downloaded free of charge. They also go to Facebook page where I would post all the latest stuff that’s happening around the country. People can get in touch with us directly from that. We do get request from all over the world about the way that we work and we help as well and we hope to be able to give them guidance internationally as well as across the country.
DEBRA: What’s the future then for the children in the sleep charity?
VICKI: I think the future is very bright. I think that people is -starting to wake up to sleep, eventually. I think that we need to do a lot more work about awareness because it’s so vital part of the health. I think that we hope we would be launching the help line so that parents can access to part that and we’ll just carry on pushing, and pushing, and pushing because actually sleep is so vital for families and for the children. And our children deserve the right meet their full potential. And they can’t do that if they’re chronically sleep- deprived and that’s how to important their future is.
DEBRA: Vicki, thank you very much for your time.
VICKI: You’re welcome. Thank you.
DEBRA: Key takeaways? Well, there is help out there from organizations like The Children’s Sleep Charity. You need to think more about the triggers before trying to figure out the strategies. That’s something that I probably didn’t do. And there’s certainly a lot more to sleep than I thought. Thank you for listening.
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