One of the things I dislike about going away on vacation is how disrupted my routines become when I return home. I had managed to get posts ready in advance of taking last week off, so it wouldn't have looked much different if you're a subscriber. However, since returning on Sunday, I am off my game.
Routines anchor our lives by giving a time and place and sequence of activities for us to follow without having to invest much in the way of cognitive energy.
Change disrupts routines.
Even positive change like summer vacations!
Now, I'm not saying don't ever go on vacations - far from it! But, I am saying, don't expect vacations to not require time to re-adjust. I'm figuring I'll need a full week to get things back on track in my life so this blog actually gets written daily again. And I'm an adult!
It's much more likely that kids will need more time to make the adjustment to changes in their routines as they head back to school!
[If you're wanting help to get back into school-year routines, consider signing up to attend the free parent talk on September 19 at 7 pm (MDT).]
After just one restful night's sleep in my own space, following my personally preferred bedtime routines, I am feeling more "myself" again. However, the one thing I did do differently is tech time!
While I was away last week, I managed to do the big "best practices for sleep" no-no! I watched TV at bedtime because I could! With a TV in most hotel rooms, it's almost a given that people curl up not to read, but to watch. So, perhaps, in hindsight, the less than ideal sleep I had while away was not just about a new environment with new sensations. Maybe, just maybe, it also had to do with screen time being part of bedtime!
I could just assume we all know how that works, but, just so we're understanding each other, let me say: In nature, we get blue light from the sun. When the sun sets, blue light decreases and signals our brain to produce neurochemical changes that help us get to sleep (which our brains and body need for oh so many reasons!). The clincher? Screens (TV, smart phones, tablets, computers, etc.) emit "blue light". So, if we are accessing "screen time" within a half hour before our planned bedtime, we are literally signalling to our brains to keep us alert and NOT to sleep.
The solution - limit screen time in the evenings and definitely shut off all screen devices at least a half hour before bed.
For kids - and their parents too!
I spent the last week on a disrupted schedule attending training events - in a different time zone than is "home'. Let's just call it a "vacation".
It's always invigorating (and maybe relaxing too) to be away from home and experience new things...but the disrupted sleep is maybe not so nice. Between a new bed, sheets, pillows, unfamiliar noises, strangers' voices in the hallways, different lighting (despite the fact that the hotel had blackout blinds), unfamiliar smells, and a time zone change or two, disrupted sleep is a given!
It's not that those sensations are truly uncomfortable or that no-one could sleep under those circumstances. The locals clearly must sleep under those circumstances.
No, it's not the sensations.
It's the CHANGE in sensations that makes it most uncomfortable for sleep to be truly restful.
This is another reason that sleep routines need to be ... well ... routines! Applied, followed, and practiced consistently with the same pacing, location and activities (calming ones!)
I'm a grown adult and despite all I know about sleep and bedtime routines (and despite regularly engaging in best practices for sleep), I am tired and it is likely to take me more than a couple of days to be fully back to sleeping normally again.
Imagine what that would be like for our kids!
A few days ago, we talked about the environmental (sensory) factors of the bedtime routine and how they contributed to either greater comfort and ease (making it more likely to fall asleep) or discomfort (making sleep less likely).
Take this the final step and consider the bedroom.
Is your child's bedroom calm and soothing? Are the colours restful? Do they have things that make them feel safe and comfortable? Or are there objects that actually scare them but they're just not telling you.
Do their sheets feel soft and comfortable? Is the room dark enough for sleep? Is it quiet? If there is a smell, is it a soothing one?
Try talking to your child about the sensory qualities of their bedroom environment - what it looks, smells, sounds and feels like to the touch - and whether those qualities help them to fall asleep.
Sleep is such a simple yet complicated part of our life experience.
Think for a moment about all the amazing things your body does while you sleep! From locking down memories to repairing damaged DNA, we are doing a lot when we are in dreamland. Fortunately, we don't have to think about doing these things - we do them automatically - but often we have to figure out how to fall asleep, stay asleep, and, if we wake up prematurely, go back to sleep so we can let our bodies do all the amazing things it does.
We've talked (in the past few days' posts) about bedtime routines and the importance of pacing and environmental factors to help bedtime routines go smoothly, but what I didn't mention - perhaps because it's biting off a rather big task - is the purpose of soothing bedtime routines: to fall gently off to sleep without feeling restless so you can wake up feeling refreshed.
When you think of your children's sleep, do you find that they are able to fall asleep within 20 minutes of "lights off"? Are they waking up looking and feeling refreshed? If not, you may want to begin by looking at their bedtime routines in a more focused way.
Children who are well rested are more able to "regulate" their attentions, emotions, moods and behaviours. The same is also true for their parents!
When we think of the "environment", we often consider physical qualities of a space. Most often the way a space looks (tidy or cluttered; bright or soft; crowded or spacious) and sounds (loud or quiet) come to mind first. But what about the other senses?
What smells are experienced in that space? Are there tastes?
And what about touch? Are the objects that are part of the environment rough or smooth? Hot or cold? Soft or hard?
Information from all our senses can change the way we feel, making us either more comfortable or uncomfortable. The more comfortable we are , the more calm we are, the more likely a bedtime routine will help us fall asleep.
What are the sensory qualities of your child's bedtime routine? What could be changed to make it more calming?
A key part of creating a bedtime routine that is likely to help a child (or adult!) fall asleep is looking at the environment in which the bedtime routines are taking place.
Just like having enough time to engage in self-care tasks in a caring way helps to get the mind, body and spirit ready for sleep, completing these spaces in quiet calming spaces is equally important.
Imagine trying to have a "relaxation massage" while watching the Indy 500 races. Not likely a good fit. The environment needs to be calm in order to be able to do engage in activities calmly and to feel calm.
What environmental factors could be changed in your children's bedtime routine to help them get to a calmer state before "lights off"?
People often talk about "bedtime routines" like it's just a matter of getting all the things done in a specific order so that nothing gets forgotten. But, bedtime routines are about much more than just "getting self-care done".
My motto has long been, it's not what you do, it's how you do it that really counts.
With bedtime, that means actually getting the body, mind and spirit ready to sleep. Physically slowing down. Mentally turning off. Spiritually experiencing peace of mind so sleep is possible.
Routines can be important part of this winding down process if they are given enough time so the pace can be restful and the self-care tasks can feel like caring for oneself.
One of the challenges of shifting from summer to fall schedules is getting back into those school day routines, especially waking up early to start the day!
So to get you going in the right direction for earlier mornings, start at bedtime!
Beginning tomorrow, let your kids know that their bedtime routines will need to start 10 to 15 minutes earlier each night. A 10 or 15 minute earlier start will allow kids to adjust to the expectation of needing to go to bed earlier and will help move them in the right direction and to be rested even when they have to wake up early.
With start-of-school still being two weeks away, it allows some wiggle room to have a couple of late nights in between and not have it be as drastic a change the weekend before school starts!
It's that time of year again. I recall many childhood summers where, about mid-August, that anxious anticipation kicked in as I worried about heading back to school. More recently, I recall my daughter's trepidation as summer drew to a close.
Like mother like daughter?
But, having worked with many other school-aged children and families, I know that this is not a unique experience. For my part, despite knowing this feeling myself as a child, I still struggled for many years as a parent to be truly open to my daughter's expressions of anxiety and dismay as September loomed. I recall trying to convince and reassure her that all would be well; that she was worrying for nothing; that she just needed to look at the bright side - and then working to generate a list of all the great things the start of a new school year brings...including seeing friends, Halloween, and Christmas!
I suspect we've all been there at least once.
But, what would happen if we just acknowledged to our children that, yes, it is hard to have summer come to an end; it is anxiety provoking to consider all the unknowns of a new school year; it is going to be a dramatic change in workload; AND you'll be there to help them face the challenges? What could our children experience then?