Sleep is Important in Times of Crises Says the National Sleep Foundation

Foundation Offers Tips to Those Having Difficulty Sleeping

Sep 14, 2001, 01:00 ET from National Sleep Foundation

    WASHINGTON, Sept. 14 /PRNewswire/ -- As a result of the pain, grief, and
 stress coming from the horrific events of the past week, many people will
 experience sleep disruptions, including trouble falling asleep, staying
 asleep, waking early, or having nightmares.  Children are particularly
 vulnerable to these problems.  Lost sleep or excessive daytime sleepiness
 (EDS) contribute to feelings of adversity, can seem like one more 'loss of
 control,' and robs us of the opportunity to restore ourselves physically,
 emotionally, and even cognitively.
     In order to help people address their need for sleep and sleep problems,
 and maximize the sleep they do get during these trying times, the National
 Sleep Foundation (NSF) offers the following information and tips:
     Insomnia is characterized by difficulty falling asleep, waking up
 frequently during the night, waking up too early or feeling unrefreshed upon
 awakening.  If these symptoms persist for more than a few days, seek help from
 a physician or other health care provider.  Be cautious about self-treatments
 such as alcoholic beverages that may worsen the problem or not be effective.
     Sleep experts recommend the following tips for good sleep:
     * Engage in a relaxing, non-alerting activity at bedtime such as reading
       or listening to music. For some people, soaking in a warm bath can be
       helpful. Avoid activities that are mentally or physically stimulating.
     * Do not eat or drink too much before bedtime.
     * Only get into bed when you're tired.  If you don't fall asleep within 15
       minutes, get out of bed, go to another room and engage in a relaxing
       activity such as reading.  Return to your bed when you're sleepy.
     * Create a sleep-promoting environment that is quiet, dark, cool and
     During the day:
     * Consume less or no caffeine.
     * Avoid alcohol and nicotine, especially close to bedtime.
     * Exercise, but not within 3 hours before bedtime.
     Short naps (l5-45 minutes) are effective in relieving acute sleepiness and
 restoring alertness, but for people suffering from insomnia, they should be
     Nightmares can increase during periods of great stress for all people,
 though they occur most frequently in children age 3-6.  Avoid eating or taking
 high-dose vitamins before bed, which can increase brain activity and the onset
 of nightmares.  Also avoid alcohol, caffeine and other stimulants.  Exercise
 and relaxation techniques may be helpful.
     Excessive Daytime Sleepiness (EDS) and Fatigue, with symptoms such as
 difficulty concentrating or dozing off while watching TV or reading, is best
 handled by stopping what you are doing and taking a nap, or retiring early and
 going to sleep.  Be cautious about treating EDS with caffeine or over-the-
 counter stimulants as they temporarily mask sleep loss and can cause sleep
 disruption.  If EDS persists for more than a few days, speak to a physician or
 other health care provider.
     Helping children
     At times of acute stress or trauma, parents and guardians should expect
 children to experience sleep problems, regardless of their age.  It may take a
 few weeks for them to get back to their normal routines, but if the problems
 continue beyond that time, consider seeking further help from your child's
 physician or other health care provider, the school psychologist, or the
 child's teacher.
     There are things parents can do to help minimize the impact of these
 tragic events on their children, and help them get a restful night's sleep.
     For all children:
     * Your child's anxiety may affect falling asleep.  Find out about his/her
       concerns and talk about them.  While you should try to avoid these
       conversations at bedtime, don't shut off the conversation; talk briefly
       and offer to continue the conversation tomorrow.
     * To avoid insomnia, try to maintain your child's usual bedtime and
       bedtime routines.
     * Avoid foods and beverages containing caffeine at least four hours before
       bedtime, and exposure to news broadcasts at least an hour before
     Middle School and Younger Children
     * If your child has trouble falling asleep alone, avoid a drastic response
       (e.g. everyone sleeping together).  Stay near until the child falls
       asleep. Provide reassurance by telling him/her you will check in.
     * Turn on a light in the hallway or next room, but not the bedroom.  Music
       can provide some soothing noise. The presence of a family pet in the
       bedroom (even a goldfish!) is often reassuring.
     * If your child has nightmares and wakes up in the middle of the night,
       don't have a long discussion about the dream; be reassuring and get the
       child back to sleep.  In the morning, if they tell you about a bad
       dream, that's a good time to talk either about the dream or the events
       that may have precipitated it.
     * If a child is significantly anxious at bedtime, relaxation techniques
       (tapes, deep breathing exercises) can be distracting and anxiety-
     Teens may be more affected by these types of events than we realize and,
 therefore, at higher risk for sleep problems.  Their greater understanding of
 the events can be accompanied by a greater degree of worrying, making them
 more at risk for insomnia than younger children.
     * Show teens the extra support, doting, and soothing that is given to
       younger children.
     * Teens may experience insomnia or phase delay ... going to bed later than
       usual because of talking on the phone, watching television, e-mailing
       friends, etc.  Parents must set limits on how long this behavior can
       continue, and get their teen back to a bedtime routine as soon as
     The National Sleep Foundation's Web site has a wealth of additional
 information about sleep related issues ... .
     The National Sleep Foundation is an independent nonprofit organization
 dedicated to improving public health and safety by achieving public
 understanding of sleep and sleep disorders, and by supporting public
 education, sleep-related research, and advocacy.
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SOURCE National Sleep Foundation