Wednesday, 24 May 2017

The benefits of a good night’s sleep

It’s estimated that we spend around a third of our lives (around 25 years) sleeping -  that’s a long time - but entirely necessary, if we are to live a long and healthy life.

So, what’s so special about sleep anyway? Why is it important to us and our wellbeing?

While we sleep


Getting enough sleep – and specifically, deep sleep – is vital not only to our physical wellbeing, but to our mental wellness also. When we sleep, our body continues to work, hard. It resets and balances our brain function and fights off anything that threatens our physical health. In children and teens, sleep also helps support growth and development.

Sleep is the mind and body’s opportunity to refresh and restore itself. During periods of deep sleep, growth hormones are released and our immune system rebuilds itself. This doesn’t happen when we’re awake. There are four reported stages of sleep:

Light Sleep: this is the transition from being awake to being asleep. Your breathing slows, and you drift away from consciousness. This stage only occurs once when you first fall asleep.

Unconscious Sleep: during the second stage of sleep, your body temperature decreases and your heart rate slows down. At this stage, you are ready to enter deep sleep.

Deep Sleep: it will be difficult to wake you from a deep sleep. Not much is known about what actually happens to us during a deep sleep. But, given that we don’t dream during deep sleep, it could be the time when our brain refreshes and consolidates our memories.

REM sleep: this is when we dream. If we’re woken up during REM sleep, we can vividly remember what we were dreaming about. Scientists believe that we experience muscle paralysis during REM sleep, so that we don’t injure ourselves while trying to act out our dreams!

Once we’ve actually dropped off, an average sleep cycle averages between 100 to 120 minutes and we could go through up to five sleep cycles each night.

What happens when we don’t get enough sleep?

Accidents happen


Studies show that sleep loss and poor-quality sleep can lead to accidents and injuries. Indeed, drowsiness can slow reaction time to the same extent as alcohol can.

Memory loss


Sleep helps us to think clearly and a lack of sleep impairs our cognitive processes. We become less aware and find it more difficult to concentrate. When we’re asleep, our minds consolidate what we have learned that day, so a lack of sleep makes it difficult to recall what we have previously experienced.

Health hazards


Sleep disorders and general lack of sleep put us at risk of a number of other conditions, such as heart issues, blood pressure problems, diabetes and stroke. It is said that many people who suffer from insomnia also have another health condition too.

How can we get more sleep?


If you find falling asleep difficult or struggle to sleep when you would like, there are a number of things you can do to help:

Retire and rise at the same time – try and get your body into a routine with regular bedtimes and wake-up calls each morning. Aim for between six to nine hours each night. Use your alarm to wake you and try and stick to the routine – even at the weekends.

Take time to wind down – and that includes turning off the technology! Try a warm bath. Some people find that writing a to-do list for the next day helps to clear the mind, ready for sleep.

Exercise with caution – gentle stretches and yoga type exercises will encourage sleep, but while we may think that exercise leaves us exhausted, it actually reinvigorates us and makes sleep harder to achieve.

So, whatever else you have going on in your life, make sure that you take sleep seriously. Your mind and body will thank you for it!

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Getting down with the kids – how to play with your children

It’s the International Day of Families on 15 May 2017.  There is no shortage of blogs detailing the trials and tribulations of being a parent – there is much joy to be had – however, there is no denying that the changes in our society have impacted the lives of our children. They spend more time indoors than previous generations and much less time ‘playing out’ than we may have done when we were young.

This puts pressure on adults to spend more time directing the activities of their children and playing with them. In the main, parents really enjoy playing with children. However,  there is confusion around how adults can best to do this constructively and in a way that fits everyone’s abilities and interests.

Play is a natural learning process for all children. It helps them build confidence and develop physical skills, it teaches them empathy and about caring for others and the environment. For younger children, it also plays a vital role in developing language and communication skills. When children play with their parents, this helps them to feel loved, valued and safe.

In order to play constructively with our children, we need to do two things.

Figure out why we are playing with them


Do we just want to spend more time getting to know them? Is it not safe for them to play outside with their peers? Are their certain social skills that are holding them back from making positive friendships with other children? By being honest about why you are engaging in play, you can develop an activity that will help your child.

Consider how they would play if they were with other children


In order to create a constructive play environment, we should first observe how children play with others. There is a tendency for adults to take control and direct the play, as they would any other interaction with their children (do the dishes, get ready for bed, etc.), but all that’s teaching your child is to be able to take orders! On the other hand, this is not an opportunity for children to boss us about either - parents should be willing to assert themselves as their peers would, or they are not helping them develop the negotiation skills they need in the future.

If we look at animal behaviour, the young will roughhouse and run, just for the sheer fun of it. But in doing so they are learning more about their bodies, what it can do and what their limitations are. It’s easy for us as adults to forget how to play – our bodies don’t work the same as when we were young and we can feel awkward and self-conscious.

An interesting study  (Gray and Feldman, 2004) looked into how teenagers play with younger children. They find it much easier to tap back into their inner child and have less reservations about standing up to a child’s unacceptable demands than we adults do, but they are less likely to offend when they do say no!

So, once we’ve decided we’re going to play, what are we to do? We’ve got a few ideas for you here:

Outdoor play


  1. Throw balls – catch is a good way to improve hand eye coordination, and communication skills.
  2. Go to the local park and push your kids on swings, catch them as they come down the slide – have a go yourself! 
  3. Make mud pies in your garden; if you have a sand pit make sandcastles and get another family to choose the best. 
  4. Go on a nature walk around your local area – make things with what you find.

Indoor play


  1. Play card games/ board games /party games – they teach children (and us) how to win, lose and follow instructions.
  2. Embark on a craft project together – paint, build, stick, sew, bake – kids get a real sense of satisfaction out of creating an ‘end product’.
  3. Listen to music together – sing, play percussion, dance, share stories of music that was popular when you were young.
  4. Read a book together – take it in turns, ask questions, write an alternative ending or make up a new story altogether.

Playing with your children should never replace the time that they spend with their peers, but it is an important opportunity for you both to learn more about each other – and this can only serve to strengthen your family relationships.