Oh, blessed sleep! There is something glorious about getting a full night’s rest without interruption and that wonderful feeling of rejuvenation in the morning. Unfortunately, sleep can be thrown off at many points.
For many of us, getting our brains to quiet down so that we can enter dreamland is a struggle – and that includes children and teens. But I’ve found some strategies helpful for my patients who don’t find it easy to fall asleep.
Stress keeps the mind awake. As we lie in bed, we think about things we should do or shouldn’t have done. We worry about future assignments or anxieties. The solution is to get your mind to focus on something interesting but not stressful – something fun that doesn’t require anything of you.
A classic example is counting sheep. You can try to count sheep in a pasture, but this is too boring to keep our attention long enough to enter slumber.
Here are some more fun and engaging techniques you can recommend your child try to help them fall asleep. (You can also try them yourself!)
Imagine walking through the woods or riding your bike through your favorite street. Imagine the things you would see and the people you’d wave to. Imagine the smell of the air and the sounds of nature all around you.
Think about a favorite story. Try to recall the main characters and what happened from the beginning all the way through the end. Where did the heroes come from? How did they end up on their adventure? What steps led them to all the other characters? Think through the entire story. If you finish it, fill in details or try this with another story.
Make up your own story with new characters. Imagine how the story progresses and how characters develop. Hopefully, sleep will come long before the story is finished. The next night, pick up the story wherever you left off and try to continue. This is my personal nightly habit. I spent months thinking through a Hobbit-esque fantasy adventure story. Now I’m working on a space dystopia. Each night when I lie down, I enjoy picking up the story and moving forward with it.
These techniques may be too abstract for younger children, but they can easily be simplified. Ask them to imagine their next LEGO build or drawing. They can plan their next Minecraft construction or invent a new game with new rules and imagine other kids playing it.
Sometimes when my daughter is struggling to fall asleep, I’ll give her an assignment like, “Think of a story with a cat and an apple and tell me the story in the morning,” or “Imagine you find yourself in a castle then tell me tomorrow what happens!”
Use your imagination to occupy your mind with something other than stressful thoughts while your brain drifts into sleep. I hope these tips help your child — or maybe you — to get a blessed night of rest.
By Blake Barnes, MD, Tiger Pediatrics