Lisa Cassar, Provisional Psychologist
Tired of being tired? Waking up to feel like you have not slept at all? Or perhaps, staring at the back of your eyelids wishing to fall asleep? With a phenomenal rise in handheld electronic devices, combined with a rise in unconventional working hours, the task of getting to sleep at night has become a serious challenge for many of us. Sleep is essential to our well being as its primary role is to restore our bodies physically and psychologically. When sleep is disrupted over a long period of time, health risks can occur. Research has shown that people who habitually sleep less than six hours per night, are more likely to have a higher than average body mass index (BMI) and that people who sleep eight hours have the lowest BMI (Harvard Medical School, 2007). Studies further suggest health risks such as depression, fatigue, cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular problems (Harvard Medical School, 2012; Huber et al., 2007). Psychologist, Dr. Peter Hauri (1991) identified several different practises that are necessary to have healthy quality nighttime sleep and full daytime alertness – known as ‘Sleep Hygiene’.
Identification of poor sleep hygiene may be the necessary first step to creating a healthy sleeping pattern. Have a look at the following 15 tips and see how many you are implementing into your daily sleep routine:
#1 Keep regular times for going to bed. Not too early and not too late.
#2 Get up from bed at the same time each day. To synchronise your body clock.
#3 Do not nap during the day. This can disturb normal pattern of sleep and wakefulness. If you must nap, it is best to keep it short and before 5 p.m.
# 4 Go to sleep when you’re actually tired. If you are not asleep after 20 minutes, get out of bed, go to another room, do something relaxing like read a book or listen to gentle music.
# 5 Use the bed only for sleep and sex. Keeping books, TV’s, computers and work materials out of the room will strengthen the mental association between your bedroom and sleep.
# 6 Do not lie in bed for more than 15 minutes in the morning – get up and start your day!
# 7 Ensure the room is completely dark and quiet (or have a dim night light if necessary for children). Noise is a common enemy of sleep and similarly, light is a powerful cue that tells the brain that it is time to rise! Cortisol is what signals you to wake up and stay awake. Cortisol production from the adrenal gland is stimulated by light (Shu-Fen et al., 2011).
# 8 Keep your bedroom temperature comfortably cool. Bedroom temperature affects sleep. A bedroom that is too hot or too cold can disrupt quality sleep. The recommended temperature is 18° (Lack et al., 2008).
Diet, Activity and Relaxation
# 9 Eat lighter evening meals. Finish dinner several hours before bedtime and avoid foods that cause indigestion.
# 10 Avoid caffeine, alcohol, nicotine and other substances that interfere with sleep. Caffeine is a stimulant that can keep you awake. Avoid consumption 4 to 6 hours before bedtime (Drake et al., 2013).
# 11 Balance water intake: Drink enough water at night to keep from waking up thirsty, but not so much that you will be awakened by the need to go to the bathroom (Cilona, 2013).
# 12 Exercise early and regularly. Rigorous exercise late in the day can stimulate the body, raising its temperature. Relaxing exercises such as yoga or gentle stretching can help to promote sleep.
# 13 Increase light exposure during the day. Let as much light into your home/workspace as possible. Take your lunch breaks outside in the sunlight, exercise outside, or walk your dog during the day instead of at night.
# 14 Deep breathing and visualising a restful place to help you fall asleep. Close your eyes, imagine a place or activity that is calming for you. Try and take slow, deep breaths, making each breath deeper than the last.
# 15 Follow through with these tips and your chances of achieving restful sleep will improve. If sleep problems persist, you should consult your GP or a sleep specialist.
Cilona, J. (2013). Help your brain by staying hydrated. The Oz Blog, retrieved
Drake C; Roehrs T; Shambroom J; Roth T. (2013) Caffeine effects on sleep taken
0, 3, or 6 hours before going to bed. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine; 9(11), 1195-1200
Harvard Medical School (2012). Blue light has a dark side, Harvard Health
Publications. Retrieved from http://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/blue-light-has-a-dark-side
Hauri, P. (1991). Sleep hygiene, relaxation therapy, and cognitive interventions.
In P. Hauri (ed), Case Studies in Insomnia (pp. 65- 84), Springer US, New York, doi: 10.1007/978-1-4757-9586-8_5
Huber, R., Tonono, G., & Cirelli, C. (2007). Exploratory Behavior, Cortical BDNF
Expression, and Sleep Homeostasis. Sleep Journal, 30(2), 129-139. Retrieved from http://www.journalsleep.org/ViewAbstract.aspx?pid=26725
Lack, L.C ., Gradisar, M ., Someren, E.J .,Wright, H.R ., Lushington, K. (2008). The
relationship between insomnia and body temperatures. Sleep Medical Review, 12(4), 307-317, doi: 10.1016/j.smrv.2008.02.003.
Shu-Fen, N ., Min-Huey, M ., Chiung-Hua, C ., Desley, H ., O’Brien, A ., & Kuei-Ru, C.
(2011). The effect of shift rotation on employee cortisol profile, sleep quality, fatigue, and attention level: A systematic review. Journal of Nursing Research, 19(1), 68-81, doi: 10.1097/JNR.0b013e31820c1879
Assisting Children to Develop Social Skills over the School Holidays
Dr. Elizabeth Briggs
Every social occasion can be viewed as an opportunity to develop your child’s social skills – at home, in shopping centres, at sports games and during visits with friends – you name it! What better time to do so than the fast approaching school holidays. White, Keonig and Scahill (2006) outline teaching strategies for social skills. Strategies they list to increase social motivation include:
- Developing a nurturing and fun environment. Example: Gear some holiday activities around your child’s interests. If they are enjoying the activity, improving socialisation in this context is going to seem a lot less like work.
- Interspersing new skills with previously mastered skills. Example: Mix exposing your child to social situations to which you know they are comfortable, with those that may be more challenging.
- Starting with simple easily learned skills (errorless teaching). Example: Focus on your child saying “hi” when they meet people before you expect them to be able to sit down and play dolls/trains with a peer.
Strategies they outline to increase social initiations include:
- Making social rules clear and concrete. Example: Stay one arm’s length away from another person.
- Teach simple social scripts for common situations. Example: Hold an adult’s hand while crossing the road and look both ways before crossing.
White et al. (2006) list strategies to improve appropriate responding:
- Teach social response scripts. Example: “How are you?” the child responds “Good thank you, how are you?”
- Reinforce response attempts. Example: When your child makes an attempt to communicate and does not quite get the right word say “Great try” and give them the object they are requesting.
- Use modelling and role-play to teach skills. Example: When you are at the shops prompt your child to watch you as you are handing over money to pay for items and collect change. Practice this at home using a pretend cash machine and food items and make it into a game.
Finally, White et al. (2006) outline strategies to promote skill generalisation:
- Orchestrate peer involvement such as prompting and initiating social interactions. Example: Invite other children over for play dates over the holiday period. Play dates with typically developing peers have demonstrated significant gains in responsiveness and length of interactions in children on the spectrum (Weiss & Harris, 2001).
- Use multiple ‘trainers’ and individuals with which to practice skills. Example: Encourage other family members to reinforce the strategies being targeted with your child.
- Involve parents in training. Example: Set aside 10-15 minutes each day to practice the skills being focused on at Spectrum House. Parents should act as mediators and reinforce appropriate behaviours (Weiss & Harris, 2001).
Weiss, M. J., & Harris, S. L. (2001). Teaching social skills to people with autism. Behaviour Modification, 25, 785-802.
White, S. W., Keonig, K., & Scahill, L. (2006). Social skills development in children with autism spectrum disorders: A review of the intervention research. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.
Assisting Your Child to Develop Friendships
Dr. Elizabeth Briggs
All children can face difficulties interacting with their peers from time to time, especially when starting at a new school. If you are worried that your child has trouble making friends, do not give up hope, as friendships and social skills can be developed and interactions improved. Below are some strategies which may assist your child in developing and maintaining friendships with their peers.
- Regularly communicate with your child’s school regarding their ideas as to how they can assist you child socially in the school setting. Schools are often familiar with working with children who may need extra support socially and schools may have previously established programs ready to implement.
- Speak to your child’s teacher about other children in the year level that might be suitable play buddies for your child (with similar interests and of a similar developmental level). Teachers spend a lot of time with your child and see many of their interactions with their peers. They are a great source of information on who your child interacts best with.
- Organise play dates for your child at home. Children are likely to feel more comfortable in their own environment, sharing their toys and interests with friends, than they may be at school. Once they are feeling comfortable with another child outside the school environment, it is easier for them to initiate interaction and join in play with their peers at school. Some families may be happy to set up regular play dates once a fortnight; other children may be suitable for more occasional visits. Ask your child if there is anyone they would like to have over for a play, school holidays are a great time to start.
- Encourage your child to expand their areas of interest such as learn a new sport, bake a cake or listen to a new song. Children are likely to be more confident to interact with their peers if they are excited about their interests and feel their peers may also be interested in these topics. It may be helpful talking to your child’s teacher about ‘cool’ conversation topics and engage in discussions with your child around these areas. i.e footy cards, the latest kids movie etc., depending on the season and what is ‘cool’ for your child’s class.
- Extra-curricular activities which encourage group interaction offer a fantastic environment for your child to further their social skills. Drama classes, swimming lessons and choir for example, allow your child to interact with their peers in a less formal manner where they are sharing similar interests.
- Keep in mind that developing children’s social skills might take time. Be patient and have confidence that your child is able to make friends, although it might not occur immediately.
- Seek support from a psychologist for further strategies if the above do not assist your child over a six month period. Psychologists can provide one on one support to your child to up-skill them in social skills and other areas to further assist your child.
Most importantly, do not give up on your child, given the right environment and encouragement they are capable of thriving in a social environment. Happy Playing!
10 Things that may help parents take care of themselves when they have children with additional needs.
- Share feelings with partners and take time to listen to each other’s concerns.
- Share the daily tasks with partners
- Delegate tasks; who does the cleaning? who does the cooking?
- Make regular times together with partners
- This may seem hard to schedule in but it is very important to have time out together, even if it is as little as an hour a week
Make sure everyone in the family, including parents, has some time to do things that give them time away from home and make them feel good.
- Organising a baby sitter, or respite, once a fortnight and going to a movie can be a good way to do this. It doesn’t matter if you fall asleep for the whole thing; the point is that you are having some time to yourself to do whatever it is that you want to do.
- Blaming ourselves or others close to us for our situation is commonly experienced.
- Parents sometimes blame each other for a child’s condition. Blame can prevent communication and warmth between partners.
- It is okay to need help in dealing with feelings of blame and guilt and it is okay to seek this help.
The discrepancies between what parents expect of children at a particular age and their own child’s actual development can cause more stress and anguish than the situation (or diagnosis) itself.
- Maintain positive perceptions of the child and your family circumstances. Focusing on what he or she can do, rather than what he or she cannot do is important.
Positive thinking and positive self-talk are effective ways of dealing with stress. They increase positive feelings and the ability to cope with stressful situations
- Turn “there’s no way it will work” into “I can try to make it work”
- Turn “It’s too radical a change” into “let’s take a chance”
- Turn “I’m not going to get any better at this” into “I’ll give it another try”
Actively seek support from friends and family members who understand you as a parent and also your child. It is helpful to feel that other people know what you’re going through.
- It may be helpful to be in contact with other parents who are in similar situations; it may help to share stories, gains, thoughts and worries.
Gaining access to support services as well as social and recreational activities can be a good way to connect with others
- A support group could be a face to face group or something online.
- Recreational activities don’t need to take up a lot of your time; join or pull together a walking group that goes for as little as an hour a week. Remember if it’s more than one person it’s a ‘group’!
Gaining information about the condition can help to increase your understanding of your child and his or her behaviours.
- New experiences and demands can be stressful; if we don’t know what is around the corner we may worry about this.
- Reading up on what your child may experience (whether behaviourally, developmentally, or socially) can give you a sense of control because you have some idea of things that may present themselves in the future.
Many parents reading this may be thinking ‘I barely have time to read this article, let alone put all of these things into practice’. Starting with just one suggestion from above may help. It may be helping you as a parent to feel heard by others, supported, understood or it may persuade you to enjoy some guilt-free ‘me’ time. A good way to continue to help your child and your family may be to stop and help yourself along the way too.