In order to improve sleep, it is important to understand the many things that affect the quality of a night’s sleep. Once these are recognised, it is possible to take a problem-solving approach and make changes. And that is where we can help. VICTA’s specialist sleep service offers practical support and advice for parents of young people aged 2 -17 years who are experiencing disturbances with sleep and/or bedtime routine. We also work directly with young adults aged 18 to 29. If your child is experiencing any of the following, we are here to help.
- Falling asleep
- Staying asleep
- Anxiety relating to sleep
- Inability to wind down
Recognising the importance of sleep
Sleep is vital for a child’s or adolescent’s wellbeing. Sleep supports healthy development of the body and mind. Evidence shows that children and adolescents who do not get enough sleep have more trouble learning. They are less attentive and motivated, have poor problem solving, more confusion, increased irritability, reduced memory, impaired communication, slower processing of information, poorer judgement, diminished reaction times and more indifference. Lack of sleep can also lead to behaviour and mood issues, impacting negatively upon relationships, empathy and leading to mental health difficulties such as anxiety and depressed mood.
The impact of poor sleep on mental health
It is important to recognise that problems with sleep and mental health interact in both directions – sleep disturbances can be a risk for later mental health problems: people with poor mental health are typically poor sleepers. Evidence show that improving sleep will often help mental health and thus sleep problems and mental health problems can be treated at the same time.
How much sleep do children and adolescents need?
As with adults, every child is different in terms of how much sleep they need. The amount of sleep your child needs also changes as they age. Children aged 6-13 years should ideally be sleeping for 9-11 hours, although anywhere from 7-12 hours may be appropriate for some children. Teenagers aged 14-17 years should ideally be sleeping for 8-10 hours, although anywhere from 7-11 hours may be appropriate for some teenagers.
What are some signs that your child isn’t getting enough sleep?
- Depressed mood, irritability during social interactions
- Hyperactivity at school
- Reluctance/arguing about getting off phones/devices and going to bed
- Reduced academic performance
- Changes to communicating/social interaction at home and/or school
- Falling asleep during the day
- Difficulties waking up for school and sleeping in late on weekends to ‘catch up’
- Getting to school late or missing school days
The relationship between sleep issues and vision impairment
One of the main factors that impacts on the ability of people who are blind or partially sighted to sleep healthily is a disruption in circadian rhythm. Circadian rhythms are physical, mental, and behavioural changes that follow a 24-hour cycle. These natural processes respond primarily to light and dark. And because it harmonises with environmental time cues, it is often referred to as an ‘internal body clock’. This daily synchronisation process generally poses no problems for sighted individuals. However, this is not the case for those with no or poor light perception. The absence of regulating light information to the master clock leads to poor circadian rhythm synchronisation which negatively impacts on health and well-being, including cyclical episodes of poor sleep, reduced alertness and performance patterns, and interruption to some bodily processes. Our daily bodily processes include the secretion of hormones into our body. Our hormones help us to function in our everyday lives. Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone which helps to control our sleep patterns. If the production of it is hampered by issues relating to the circadian rhythm, then sleep problems can develop.
Poor sleep quality, interrupted sleep, and short sleep duration Several international studies published by the National Institutes of Health have found links between visual impairment and poor sleep quality or extremes in sleep duration (in which sleep lasts for excessively short or long periods). The results of one such NIH study indicated that individuals with low vision or visual impairment experienced a high incidence of poor sleep quality, short sleep duration, and sleep apnea (which causes sleep fragmentation or interruptions). For older adults with some light perception, it was found that bright light treatment can be effective in treating insomnia. – Vision Loss and Sleep: Sleep Tips for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired – Sleep Junkie
The effects of sleep deprivation on the family
The effects of sleep deprivation don’t just stop at the person who has the sleep issues. It can affect the whole family unit, especially when it comes to providing night-time care for a child who is unable to sleep. And if you add to that a complex disability, the impact becomes even greater. The common theme that emerges from sleep deprived parents of children with sight loss, is that it can be both relentless and draining. The degree of sleep deprivation varies by diagnosis, but a key contributing factor is the need for parents to be vigilant at night. At first, sleep deprivation may cause minor symptoms. But over time, these symptoms can become more serious. Sleep deprivation must be taken seriously. As a parent, do not be afraid to ask for help if you are displaying any of these symptoms:
- irritable mood
- inability to concentrate
- memory problems
- less physical strength
- less ability to fight off infections
- weight gain
The effects on the body can be catastrophic and in addition to creating a number of complications in day-to-day life, over time, sleep deprivation can lead to an increased risk of depression, mental illness, hallucinations and severe mood swings. Please don’t be afraid to speak up if you are struggling with sleep deprivation, getting help isn’t just something to consider for your child, you may also need some medical intervention or support.
How we can support you
VICTA offers a specialist sleep service to help you better understand and manage your child’s sleeping problems. We will work collaboratively with you and your child to help introduce better sleep patterns into their routines by developing Sleep Plans and offering guidance and support as needed through prescribed or bespoke sleep packages. We understand the issues and will always review the evidence for the efficacy of any of the sleep management options we present. We are constantly reviewing the research into safe sleep practices. As a parent of a child with sight loss, if you feel you would benefit from talking with VICTA’s sleep practitioner, please complete the consultation form which will enable us to get a better sense of the nature of your child’s sleeping problems. Please note, this service is only available to parents of a child aged 2-17 who is registered or registerable as blind or partially sighted.