At last, the mainstream media have been following my blog en masse and have decided to invest the BBC’s money in investigating whether my sage advice on parenting and lifestyle in general, is as wonderful as we all know it to be.
But I do have to say, that it was smashing to see a couple of schools in Yorkshire stick their hands up and volunteer to be guinea pigs to work with The Children’s Sleep Charity which has been helping the BBC’s ‘Panorama’ .The Beeb wanted to find out more about the effects of sleep deprivation on children, youth and their families and spent time with Sheffield’s Sleep Unit.
I know from bitter experience that some kids are ‘natural born sleepers’ and others are wakey-babies. My child number 1 never had those 2-3 daytime naps that they tell mothers of newborns to expect. In fact, it was somewhat horrifying to find that she wouldn’t sleep at all in the daytime. And when you live in the middle of Namibia and there’s no one on hand to help you with this complicated little bundle of joy, you only have three answers to the problem. Dump the kid on a random doorstep. Go insane. Or adopt some revolutionary tactics.
We chose the latter. And, as the second kid arrived, we noticed the effect that too much telly had on the pair of them (child number 1 morphing into a zombie, child number 2 into the devil incarnate.)
Hence us banning screen time during the week. And me trying not to sound all sanctimonious about it. But yeah – turning the house into a library instead – has paid dividends.
A recent Guardian article by Jenny Kleeman – who produced the Panorama programme – informed readers that by the age of 10, 58% of nippers possess their own tablets. By the time that they are 12, 80% have a phone. The article informed us further; that hospital attendances for children under 14 with sleep disorders have tripled. A 2011 study based on teacher’s observations found that English kids are the most sleep-deprived in the world. Hell, and I wonder why…
The kids at the high schools featured in Panorama had the joy of working one to one with Dr Guy Meadows, one of the world’s top sleep consultants. One of the young people happened to be my own little lass. So, I was fortunate to spend time chatting with Dr Guy and grilled him for the sake of this blog. What I learned was fascinating and very much chimed with our own experience as a family; that the blue light emitted from screens interferes with the body’s natural desire to sleep (the hormone melatonin being affected.) Your brain goes into overdrive. And certainly – as with caffeine – some bodies are much more affected by artificial stimulation than others (hey me? I can chug back a DarkWoods coffee until midnight and still sleep soundly.)
Dr Guy also told me that much of our problems with sleep derive from our ‘attitude’ to it. “You can always tell a normal sleeper from an insomniac,” he said. “You ask them *how* they get to sleep at night. The normal sleeper will say something like ‘Er, I just sort of… go to sleep.’ And the person with the sleep anxiety will give you a whole list of sleep aids – earplugs, blindfolds, radio on/off, lavender spray, herbal teas etc.”
This was certainly a revelation to me (having been an earplug addict since going to University – those bloody noisy people I had to share homes with…) and so I embarked upon his online Sleep School in order to educate myself and to make myself a bit more aware of how my own kids manage their sleep. I would definitely recommend you have a nosy at the Sleep School or his book ‘The Sleep Book’, if you want to find out more yourself; but in short – you need to stay the hell away from the screens once you’re approaching bee-bo’s, don’t treat your bedroom like it’s some sort of clinical sleep-sanctuary, wean yourself off your sleep aids and learn what he calls ‘ACT – Acceptance and Commitment Therapy’ – very much like Mindfulness – in order to stop getting so het up and anxious about your inability to sleep.
Dr Guy also reiterated something that Mother Dear recently said to me; “if you can’t sleep properly, just stay in bed and let your body rest.” Oh indeedy! Getting out of bed ‘because I’m awake now and… what’s the point…I’ll go and look at my iPad’ line of thinking, deprives your body and your brain of horizontal happiness. “And what about dragging my kids out for a walk – in the dark – rather than letting them play on an iPad?” I asked Dr Guy. “Is that another example of me being hateful-Ma-from-hell?” Apparently not. Dr Guy is all in favour of evensong rambles around town, because your body is embracing the darkness and learning to settle down for the night.
Interestingly, something else happened this week that flagged up the sleepy-issue for this household. Old-timer followers of this blog and of my writing, might be aware that I’ve got a bit of a thing for budgies. Alas, poor ‘Elvis’ left the building over a year ago and this week, we finally decided to get another little feathered friend.
But ‘Jeremiah Razwan’ (or ‘Jerry’ to his mates) was looking less chirpy on his 3rd day with us last week. We suddenly realised that the poor little dude was sitting right next to the telly. And that Graham Norton was doing his usual non-stop cackle/guffaw of a weekend night. So we chucked a hand-knitted Peruvian blanket over him. (The budgie, not Graham.)
And perhaps this is where we went wrong with Elvis. We never chucked anything over him. Not even a tea-towel. He actually *did* go a bit bird-brained in the end. He got really vicious and nippy and… well. Nuts.
Rather like the population of the world when all of a sudden they were unable to sleep – as imagined in the marvellous book ‘Nod’ – by a pal of mine, the Canadian writer, Adrian Barnes which was published by Yorkshire tykes Bluemoose books. And which I heartily recommend that you also go and read.
Especially if you are doubting anything that the good folk of the BBC tell us in Panorama.
After all, they chose to do the documentary in Yorkshire. And they know that we don’t suffer fools gladly.
(NB – quick tips from The Children’s Sleep Charity can also be found in the Guardian article – above)