Sleep problems are commonly experienced across the life span, by adults, teens and young children. At times we have trouble sleeping well due to a period of high stress, or because we are out of our usual routine. For children, it can be due to illness, developmental milestones, transitions and anxieties. For most people, these times will pass and their sleep will get back into a healthy pattern where they feel well-rested. For others, the problem becomes chronic, and habitual and the very idea of sleeping, or getting their child to sleep, causes them stress and anxiety. If you fall into this category, take a deep breath, and keep reading, because there are several effective non-drug treatments available for sleeping problems.
Conditioned Sleep Disorders
Conditioned Sleep Disorders occur when falling asleep has been associated with inappropriate conditions (e.g. rocking children to sleep, falling asleep with the TV on etc.), or where the process of going to bed has itself become anxiety provoking (e.g. worrying that you won’t be able to sleep). Cognitive Behavioural treatments aim to break these unhelpful associations and create new routines which promote healthy sleep associations. Techniques such as Stimulus Control, Sleep Hygiene, Bedtime Fading and Cognitive Therapy for Insomnia, are indicated for Conditioned Sleep Disorders.
Circadian Rhythm Sleep Disorders
The Circadian Rhythm is our body’s internal clock. When it becomes misaligned with our current time-zone, then we have a Circadian Rhythm Sleep Disorder. Jet-lag is a form of Circadian Rhythm Sleep Disorder, but most people’s rhythm will re-align within a few days, and they will suffer no ongoing effects. If you feel like you are constantly jet-lagged and can’t seem to get up or go to sleep at the time you need to, then you may have a Circadian Rhythm Sleep Disorder. Night owls who have great difficulty getting up in the morning, and can’t fall asleep until the early hours may have a Delayed Sleep Phase, and those early birds who barely keep their eyes open through dinner, but are up before the sun, may have a Phase Advance. Both can be treated with light therapy, alterations of your sleep schedule (a technique called Bedtime Restriction) and sometimes a short course of melatonin, the hormone released by your body which causes us to feel sleepy.
Assessment of Sleep Problems
Before your appointment, I will ask that you record your (child’s) sleep and daytime sleepiness on a sleep diary for at least one week. It is also useful to use a smart phone to take a more objective recording of your sleep across the same week. Based on this information and a clinical interview in your first session, we can determine the type and severity of your (child’s) sleep problem, and the best treatment option in your particular case.