Sleep issues abound following traumatic events!
Typically in the aftermath of traumatic events, a considerable number of youth – including teenagers – sleep in their parents’ room. Some in sleeping bags on the floor and others hopping right in bed with their parents. These sleep issues makes so much sense from two sides:
- Often the youth are anxious and have trouble falling asleep, have nightmares about the event or have disrupted sleeping patterns.
- Other times it is that the parents want their kids close close close!
The most important thing in the immediate aftermath of a traumatic event is to lower anxiety.
Making a child sleep alone when they’re anxious because of a terrifying event doesn’t help quell anxiety. At the same time, at some point kids (and parents!!) need to work through their issues and move toward sleeping in their own spaces again.
Here are some tips for those having difficultly with sleep issues. And they all begin with new bedtime rituals.
New rituals for sleep issues following trauma could have several steps. Consider the following:
Avoid screen time altogether after dinner.
Our eyes react differently to the light in our screens than to lamp light. Screen light “burns” the brightness into the retina in a way that sends the message to the brain that this is bright middle of the day time, so it mobilizes our “alert” biochemistry, which doesn’t go away for several hours when we turn the screen off.
Do this little experiment. In a fairly dark room, stare at your computer screen for a couple of minutes and then turn off all the lights and close your eyes. You will see the outline of the screen as a “block of light” even though there is no light in the room. Your body biochemistry doesn’t move from high alert to deep relaxation with this stimulation. Instead of using your computer or playing video games, interact with board games, card games, reading, family time, social time, and connect with your family and loved ones!
About half an hour before you want to go to sleep, turn on a salt lamp or light a candle for a few minutes.
Take time together to quiet your internal selves, just looking at the soft light of the salt lamp or candle. Have each person voice one gratitude for the day. Focusing on positives allows our heart rate to slow down, our blood pressure to decrease, and the resulting positive brain biochemistry to come to our aid. Be sure to blow the candle out before you do the relaxation exercises!!! (Or use the little battery operated flicker candles, which can still be a ritual. No matter the container, it is never safe to go to sleep with a candle burning.)
Choose a scent and spray a mist of it on your pillows.
For sleep issues, try putting a drop of lavender essential oil on your hands or wrists where you can breathe it in often. (People often use lavender because it is known to help with relaxation and sleep.) Stores that sell essential oils often also sell little bottles with roller tops to make a dilution of an essential oil and a carrier oil that can be used directly on hands, neck, ears, etc. Find a scent that is relaxing and pair it with your bedtime routine. It can become another aid for relaxation.
Take turns having someone read something uplifting.
Surprisingly, kids enjoy it when their parents read them bedtime stories they loved as a young child. Even teenagers! Search on the internet for uplifting stories. Find blogs that provide uplifting quote and stories. Engage the youth in finding these uplifting readings. It’s amazing how simple children’s stories can help with sleep issues.
Create a family poem or prayer that is specific for your family or for yourself.
Make a list of the things that each of you are grateful for about your family or your life. This poem or prayer can become a part of your ritual each night. It reminds you all of the love you share as a family, how that love is pervasive in your lives whether you’re together or apart, or whatever else will be helpful both now and when you begin sleeping in separate rooms again.
Use Youtube or Google to find sites that have meditations or music designed for sleep.
Using guided meditations is remarkably helpful because there is often both background music or other soothing sounds and a calm voice suggesting breathing techniques that help lower anxiety and calm the trauma symptoms. If there are just two people, you can share earbuds and listen together. If there are more, you can use a speaker. Often, though, using headphones or earbuds helps other background noises from the home or neighborhood fade, which can be helpful.
When moving back toward sleeping in separate rooms, parents might consider giving everyone a handkerchief or bandana with the scent that you all use in the ritual.
Then each child will have it in their own bedrooms when they return to their own beds.
Sometimes it is helpful to move the sleeping bags slowly back toward the child’s bedroom.
Rather than hoping that they can make the whole move all at once, make the shift gradually. Never shame or scold them toward sleeping alone. Anything that brings negative or hurt feelings will not be helpful!
Move the rituals to the kids’ bedrooms.
Read the stories there and then spend a few extra minutes with them before they drop off to sleep in their own rooms to help with the transition.