Sleep, we all do it, but we don’t always understand how to support our children, particularly if they are competing in a sport, to sleep well.
Fundamentally sleep is the foundation to our physical and mental health. Deep sleep is where our kids physically recover from injury, where they grow and REM sleep is where they learn the routines and drills that are important to their sport, and build their emotional resilience, as our brain goes through an overnight “counselling session” during sleep. Helping them meet their sleep need improves their decision making and supports making those in the moment, split second decisions.
But our kids do not sleep like us, particularly if they are teenagers and there are a number of ways we can understand their sleep better and support them in getting the best sleep they can; it doesn’t have to be perfect and we need to recognise as parents that every child’s sleep is different.
Here are some tips on how to support your child in sleeping better.
- I tell the sports people I work with that after the equipment they need to play their sport the most important products they own are their mattress, pillow and duvet. Sleeping in the right position and benign the right temperature is incredibly important to meeting our sleep need, your pillow and mattress support them in their posture, which is at its healthiest if they sleep on their side or their back, whilst their duvet and pillow help manage their core temperature, so it is steering clear of feathers and down, remembering that tog rating is a measurement of heat retention, so we may need a lighter duvet if they get hot, and steering clear of foam mattresses that encourage our kids to be too warm, interrupting their sleep.
- Understand that as they move into their teenage years, they become late types, sometimes known as owls, which means they want to go to bed later and get up later than they did previously; this does not make them lazy; it is the way their body’s natural rhythm wants to operate, and the more we can work with this natural rhythm, the easier it is to get them sleeping well. This might mean that sometimes they go to bed after you, it might mean that even if they have an early start that they will struggle to fall asleep at 8 or 9. If they have to get up early for training, then they will struggle. If they do, try a sunshine alarm clock or wake them, then either a light box or light glasses that use natural light to encourage the production of cortisol, the wake-up hormone and helps the body clock set itself for their schedule.
- If they have a training session in the evening them think about the conversations you are having at the end of the session, and on the journey home. This applies to coaches as much as parents, but the evening is not the time to analyse performance, offer feedback or leave them with a feeling of uncertainty or emotional insecurity as the stress and anxiety this causes will impact on their body’s ability to relax and drop its heart rate. In the car, relaxing music can be helpful and see this relaxation as an accompaniment to them refuelling from a nutrition point of view.
- The night after competition sleep can be difficult. The adrenaline, cortisol, stimulating supplementation and self-analysis can make sleep difficult. Have this conversation with your child, accept that this may happen and don’t rush to bed. They need to wind down properly, to drop their heart rate and drop their core temperature.
- Research shows it takes 3 days for us to get used to a new sleep environment. When travelling for competition or training camps help them make their sleep environment more familiar, and more emotionally secure. If they can, they should take their pillow and pillowcase from home, as we all know hotel pillows are often appalling, and the pillowcase feels familiar, which can help. If travelling overseas just take the pillowcase. Get them to pack pictures of loved ones, stick to the same pre-sleep routine as they have at home. If you are not travelling with them, refrain from inspiring messages before bed, we need them to be focused on winding down, not thinking what tomorrow might entail. Also, smell is really powerful in building emotional security, so the smell of someone they love, whether it is a parent, the smell of home or a partner (if they are old enough to have one) helps relax them and encourages the best sleep possible.
James Wilson (AKA The Sleep Geek) is a Sleep Expert and Founder of Kip Mate, who works with individuals, organisations and sports teams helping them sleep better. He has worked with the likes of Coca Cola Hellenic, Stagecoach, Zurich Insurance the IOM Government, Sports Aid and is currently the Sleep Coach for the West Ham Men’s and Women’s Teams. You can find out more about his work at www.thesleepgeek.co.uk, see the services that Kip Mate offers at www.kipmate.com and follow him on social media @thesleepgeek