After a divorce or separation, one important thing to consider is the impact on your family’s sleeping patterns.
Getting a divorce with children may involve numerous hours of lost sleep.
To mark National Bed Month 2015, we’re looking at how a relationship breakdown can affect sleep and what you can do to make sure you’re all getting enough.
Getting enough good quality sleep is essential for your mind and body, keeping your immune system healthy and your mind alert. Sleeping well can be particularly important during difficult times as your mental resilience is stronger when you are well rested, and a recent study showed that people going through a divorce may be more susceptible to high blood pressure following sleep disruptions. (Krietsch, Mason, & Sbarra, 2014)
When a relationship breaks down, the changes in living arrangements can disrupt your sleeping environment in a number of ways. You may find yourself sleeping in a new bed, or adjusting to sleeping alone in a bed you used to share. You may also have a lot on your mind, with financial and practical arrangements to sort out, and changes to reflect upon. All of this can disrupt your sleeping patterns and may put your health at risk if the disruption is prolonged.
Sleep and the Effect of Divorce on Children
If you have children, they may also be experiencing anxiety and uncertainty about the recent change in circumstances.
If they are feeling worried or insecure, they may have trouble getting to sleep or sleeping through the night.
Depending on where you are with your childcare arrangements and what decisions you have made, your children may be adjusting to living in a new place, or spending their time across two different homes. They may even just be missing the parent who has moved out.
If you are concerned about your child’s sleep, first check in and see if there’s anything you might be doing to contribute to the disruption. If you’ve been allowing older children to stay up later, or letting younger children sleep in your bed, then you may be contributing to the problem.
Remember that, whatever you are going through, you still want your children to have a consistent and healthy routine, so ask yourself what you can do to get things back on track.
Next, have a think about what else might be causing your child to miss out on sleep.
Talk with them about the changes that are going on and how they’ve been feeling. Ask if there’s anything you can do to help. It may be something as simple as picking a few treasured items to have in their bedroom that makes it feel more like home.
Having a Routine
One of the best things you can do is to set a consistent bedtime routine and stick with it.
This may be particularly challenging if your child is living across two homes. Even if communication between you and your ex-partner is difficult, remind them that you both want the best for your child, and make a plan to agree on a bedtime routine that you can both stick to.
You may want to keep duplicates of favourite items, toys, or music to keep in each bedroom. This can help avoid the risk of forgetting important things that your child relies on.
Establish a routine that fits your child’s age and needs, such as going to bed at a certain time to read and unwind, and having lights off an hour later.
Or, if your child is younger, the routine might be having a bath, getting into pyjamas and sharing a bedtime story before lights off. Whatever you decide, agree with your ex-partner that you will both do your best to stick to the routine so that your child has consistency.
Once the routine is established and things have settled down a bit, check in to see if your child is starting to sleep a bit better. There may be a period of adjustment, so be prepared to give it a bit of time. If sleep problems persist, or if you are still worried, you can talk to your GP or paediatrician who may be able to refer you to a specialist sleep counsellor or support group.
Looking after yourself
Once your child’s sleep patterns are re-established, you may find it a little easier to get your own rest. Remember it’s important to look after yourself too, and do yourself the favour of having your own routine.
Try to avoid looking at electronic screens late at night, as the bright light can trick your brain into thinking it needs to stay awake. If you can, start going to bed at the same time every night, giving yourself a bit of time to settle so that you can get a solid eight hours in before you need to wake up.
Getting enough sleep can help keep you healthy, and feeling more alert for dealing with the stress and anxiety that you may be going through as you adjust to your new circumstances.
If you are going through a situation similar you can obtain more resources and support on theparentconnection.org.uk
If you want more help agreeing on arrangements with your ex-partner, OnePlusOne’s online parenting plan and support service is available for free at www.splittingup-putkidsfirst.org.uk