Medibank are proud to be the Official Health Partner of Smiling Mind. Find out more here.
The new Smiling Mind Sleep for Families Program, supported by Medibank, is full of tips, activities and meditations which are focused on these five phases of the day. The program is designed for families to do together and to help parents support their children to develop sleep-supporting healthy habits, as well as navigate sleep challenges with a little more ease.
What’s sleep like in your house? Given you are reading this article, I’m guessing that it might not be quite how you’d like it to be for you, one of your children or all of you as a family.
We know from the research that many people experience either trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking too early and not being able to get back to sleep1. We also know that about one third of school-aged children may have sleep problems2, which will inevitably affect the amount of sleep you enjoy as a parent.
The good news is that there are evidence-based routines and activities that you can do as a family to give you and your children the best chance of a good night's sleep. Medibank has partnered with Smiling Mind to bring some of these together in a new Sleep for Families Program. Full of tips, activities and meditations, the program is designed for families to do together and to help parents support their children to develop sleep-supporting healthy habits, as well as navigate sleep challenges with a little more ease. Let's take a look at what awaits you in the Smiling Mind app.
Section 1: During the Day
A good night's sleep actually starts from the moment we wake up. That is, there are simple things both you and your children can do from the time you wake up in the morning and throughout the day that can set you up for when your head hits the pillow. Examples include:
A regular wake up time3
Getting up at the same time every day, even on the weekends, helps to set the body’s natural clock (known as our circadian rhythm).
Move it, move it4
Exercise helps the body release stress which supports better sleep, so regularly moving the body in a way that works for you and your children may help with falling asleep faster and sleeping more soundly.
Regular mindfulness meditation has been found to improve sleep quality. It may also help you and your children develop mental skills you can draw on at night if experiencing sleep difficulties6.
Checklists for you and your children featuring these and a number of other healthy habits can be found in the Smiling Mind App.
Section 2: Lead up to Bed
Having a consistent and calming bedtime routine can play a key role in supporting a good night's sleep for the whole family7. This means mindfully transitioning from awake time to sleep time in the hour or so before getting into bed. Putting away all electronic devices at least 30 minutes prior to bed can be helpful in this regard8. Some pre-bed activities that you might like to consider including in your family’s routine:
The campfire can evoke feelings of togetherness and connection. Sitting around a campfire is something families may do on the weekend or holidays to relax, tell stories and sing songs. In the spirit of the campfire, why not put some time aside before bed to talk and listen mindfully about each other's day.
Cultivating gratitude can help to counteract negative thoughts and worries by generating feelings of thankfulness and appreciation for the good in our lives9. Early studies have shown that gratitude may improve our productivity and quality of our sleep10.
Section 3: Going to Sleep
In many ways the goal and what the rest of the sections are in service of - going to sleep! An activity that can support sleep for both you and your children is the much-loved bedtime story. As well as helping everyone settle come bedtime, bedtime stories have the added benefits of enriching language development, growing our imagination, building empathy and providing a chance to engage and connect10. This section of the Sleep for Families program features two narrated bedtime stories. These are best listened to in bed when the kids are ready to fall asleep. No guarantees, but don't be surprised if your little ones are asleep by the end!
Section 4: Can't get to Sleep
When sleep proves difficult, for you or one of your children, it can be frustrating. It’s natural to worry about how long it’s taking or what the impact may be tomorrow. When our children can't get to sleep we are managing not only our own feelings about not sleeping but also theirs. Staying calm and self-regulated is key11. This involves being aware of our own thoughts and emotions and managing any feelings of frustration at our child not sleeping, as best we can. In doing so, you can offer your child a calm, safe, and supportive presence12.
An understanding of relaxation and mindfulness-based strategies, and how they provide complimentary yet slightly different approaches, can be also helpful:
- Relaxation-based practices aim to create a physical and emotional state of calm13. They often include deep breathing, guided imagery and progressive muscle relaxation. They are outcome orientated with the goal being to relax, and in-turn, get to sleep.
- Mindfulness-based approaches are more process orientated. They encourage present moment awareness, non-judgment and acceptance to alleviate the distress that can arise during sleeplessness14.
The sleep meditations featured in this and the final section of the Sleep for Families Program utilise common relaxation methods whilst also inviting mindfulness. Give one a try next time you or one of the children are struggling to nod off.
Section 5: Waking up in the night
The final section tackles the challenging topic of waking up in the night. You’re not alone if you find it exasperating at times when your children wake before morning, especially if any of you had difficulty getting to sleep in the first place. Pause for a moment to think about what sort of thoughts show up for you if you wake up (or are woken) in the night and don’t fall straight back to sleep. For many of us, lots of unhelpful thinking and worries show up15. This can create anxiety about not sleeping, which may only make matters worse16.
Your kids will likely have their own worries associated with difficulty sleeping. Perhaps having a chat with them to get a sense of what they are. Being mindful of the way we respond to our children when they wake us in the night can be important in helping them resettle. It is in challenging moments such as these that the skills of mindfulness, including compassion, can support us and our children the most17.