Strengthening our immune system

Our psychology colleagues across the world are sharing resources to support children and their families through this pandemic and this week I came across this flipbook: The Mighty Creatures Lost Their Crown. In this story, the Munchkins learn that we have “tiny soldiers in our bodies” that help us to fight viruses, and that “we all have the power to make our little soldiers inside our bodies stronger by sleeping enough and eating healthy food such as fruits and vegetables.” This is a very important resilience message, instilling a sense of hope and giving us practical steps that we can all take to improve our chances of being able to fight the virus.

With this in mind, this week we have been thinking about another 2 blocks from the Basics strand of the Resilience Framework: ‘healthy diet’ and ‘enough sleep’. We are following the science, and Lucy has summarised the research for us on our Research page here.

Resource focus

“The best bridge between despair and hope is a good night’s sleep.” (Matthew Walker)

Beverley has put together some tips to help parents:

It’s not surprising that many of us are having difficulty with sleep at the moment, considering the extra worries we have and the significant change in routine for many. Reading up on this issue, I have been amazed to learn that a lack of sleep in young people can lead to issues ranging from problems with growth and the immune system, to mental health and behaviour, to memory and concentration. I was also interested to learn that if an adult sleeps for seven hours a night (instead of the recommended eight) for 10 days, they function as if they have not slept for twenty-four hours!

The impact of light on sleep seems particularly important in our world today. Light signals to our body that it is time to wake up. Blue light, which is emitted in high doses by screens, is particularly bad for this. A key strategy for sleeping well is taking in more light in the morning and limiting our exposure to light before bed. This advice can also help teenagers, whose body clocks are programmed so they naturally go to sleep later and get up later than adults.

Here are some of the other tips recommended by researchers (you can also download these as a separate resource sheet here):

For Children

Children aged three to five years need 11 – 12 hours sleep a night. Those aged six to ten years need 10 – 11 hours sleep a night.

  • Have a relaxing bedtime routine that lasts no more than half an hour.
  • Turn off screens at least an hour before bedtime and lower the lighting in the house.
  • If your child is anxious, read stories about characters who overcome these worries (e.g. about the dark) during the daytime. Talk to them about what they are looking forward to tomorrow. Give them something of yours (e.g. a t-shirt) to have in bed.
  • Put relaxing music or an audio book on as they go to sleep.
  • If they are having difficulty getting to sleep, or have got into the habit of late bedtimes, start by scheduling bedtime for when they would usually go to sleep and move it back very slowly (e.g. 15mins earlier every few days).
  • For children who are reluctant to stay in bed, try sitting with them as they fall asleep and then gradually, over a number of weeks, moving further away each night and eventually out of the room.

Teenagers and Adults

School-aged teenagers need 9 – 9 ½ hours sleep a night. 99.9% of adults need 8 hours sleep a night.

  • Wake up at the same time every day (or as close to this as possible).
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol in the late afternoon/ evening, as far as possible. It takes around 8 hours for caffeine to leave your body. Caffeine and alcohol affect the quality of everyone’s sleep, even if you drink them regularly!
  • Turn off screens at least an hour before bedtime and lower the lighting in the house (e.g. by using lamps instead of the ceiling light).
  • Charge phones in another room or put them on ‘airplane mode’ if this isn’t possible.
  • Before bed, make a note of something that has gone well that day. Write down any worries or a ‘To Do’ list.
  • Put relaxing music, an audio book, or a guided relaxation recording on whilst going to sleep.
  • Don’t lie awake in bed. If you find yourself lying in bed awake for more than 20mins, get up and do a relaxing activity.

For more information this lovely resource, The Goodnight Guide for Children, explains the technicalities for a good night’s sleep in accessible language with great illustrations.

For adults who want to know more, members of our team recommend this book by Matthew Walker: Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams . It is described as quite long but well worth a read: "I particularly enjoyed this quote: “AMAZING BREAKTHROUGH! Scientists have discovered a revolutionary new treatment that makes you live longer. It enhances your memory and makes you more creative. It makes you look more attractive. It keeps you slim and lowers food cravings. It protects you from cancer and dementia. It wards off colds and the flu. It lowers your risk of heart attacks and stroke, not to mention diabetes. You’ll even feel happier, less depressed, and less anxious. Are you interested?”

Healthy eating

Jude and Rebecca, who are now both very familiar with the challenges of homeschooling young children whilst working from home, have put together some tips for talking with young children about healthy eating, and supporting children to begin to take responsibility for their food and meals.

This is a useful introduction for children aged 5 – 11:

There is a wealth of information available online about healthy eating. During this period of lockdown and working from home, we can be drawn to eat more food and snack in general. Rebecca has put together a helpful set of ideas and resources for children of all ages, download here. This guide provides information about recipes for young people to enable participation during meal preparation. There are also messages which can be conveyed to children and young people about the importance of healthy eating in general. 

Tameside NHS Trust have put together a 5 day meal planner, providing one child with 5 lunches and snacks with leftovers for £15. The planner includes recipes for 5 different lunches which are simple enough for children in KS2 and above to try with minimal adult support. Download here.

App (s) of the week

Ruby Noble ([email protected])

The Tide app contains several different features to aid sleep, a lot of which can be accessed for free. Users can choose from a selection of relaxing sleep-aid soundscapes such as rain falling, ocean water lapping on the beach and rumbling thunder which can be played indefinitely or for set amounts of time. Guided mindfulness and meditation activities and mini exercises such as body scans and guided breathing are available, as are short articles on topics such as “four ways to have a good sleep”. The app also allows you to track your sleep time and quality, helping you identify whether any changes need to be made to improve your sleep routine and hygiene.


The Change4Life Smart Recipes app contains over 160 healthy recipes for breakfast, lunch, dinner, puddings and snacks. Each recipe contains an overview of the nutritional information, an ingredients list and cooking instructions. The ingredients can easily be added to the in-app shopping list, and the list can be sorted into aisles to help make finding the ingredients easier. There is also a section on the app containing tips and advice for healthy eating.

We have been listening to….’Science of Sleep’

If you are a Brian Cox fan (and even if you’re not) this edition of The Infinite Monkey Cage discusses the science of sleep in an engaging and amusing way with plenty of laughs amongst some serious points from the evidence base on sleep.

First broadcast in July 2016, the episode is available on the BBC Sounds app or can be downloaded here.

You might have missed…

As I write this there is much speculation about if, when, and how schools might re-open. You might be interested in this summary framework produced by UNICEF. It takes an international perspective and is not specific to schools in England, but includes some core principles and protocols to consider: Framework for Re-opening Schools


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