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"?
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!
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!