One of the greatest issues that I ever speak to parents about is bedtime and sleep… Whether it is:
- Difficulties getting to sleep
- Difficulties staying asleep
- Restlessness at bedtime
- Night terrors
- Separation anxiety
We all know how it feels when we have not had enough sleep… and when children do not get enough sleep the impact can affect the day or the days surrounding it.
So why do we need sleep?
Sleep is an incredibly important function, for both our body and our minds. Sleep is needed for:
- Healing the body
- Repair of the body organs, muscles and bones
- Reduces inflammation in the body
- Reduces stress
- Increases concentration and focus
- Improves memory
- Improves problem solving
- Improves performance (intellectual and physical)
How much do children need?
So how much sleep do children need? Great Ormond Street Hospital released the following guidance on sleep:
Infants 4-12 months – 12 to 16 hours per day (including naps)
Children 1-2years – 11 to 14 hours per day (including naps)
Children 3-5 years – 10 to 13 hours (including naps)
Children 6-12 years – 12 hours
Teenagers 13-18years – 8-10 hours
Signs children are not getting enough sleep
Even if children are getting to sleep at night, if their sleep quality is low, or the amount is not sufficient you might notice:
- Children who are agitated or irritable
- Children who are grumpy or angry
- Children who are over emotional or upset at the smallest thing
- Difficulty with focus or concentration
- Complaining that they cannot concentrate
- Falling asleep during the day or before bedtime
- Children who space out or complain of a ‘foggy’ mind
- Difficulty making decisions
- Increased clumsiness
- Reduced immunity – increased colds, flus, bugs
- Mood issues
Causes of sleep issues
Sleep can be affected by a number of different factors, as a parent, you may need to take time to review all aspects of children’s lives to identify which factors may be affecting your child. issues may include:
- Lack of consistent sleep routines – a lack of routines impacts a child’s ability to unwind at bedtime
- Stress – if a child is feeling stressed or overwhelmed falling asleep can be a challenge as their minds are consumed with stress hormones
- Anxiety – anxiety can cause children to find it hard to unwind at bedtime
- Worries – if your child is a worrier ensure that worries are discussed 2-3 hours before bed – not when in bed
- Caffeine – caffeine can be consumed through drinks and interrupt sleep routines
- Hunger – some children need a snack before bed – consider a slow release carbohydrate like homemade oat biscuits, or a banana
- Lack of physical activity – a lack of physical activity can make children restless at bedtime
- Lack of intellectual stimulation – if children’s minds have not been sufficiently stimulated at bedtime, then sleep can become a challenge as their bodies are tired but their minds are awake
- Electronics used in the bedroom – the blue light from electronics coupled with the hormones released when using them can interfere with sleep
- Bed being used for study/homework – beds need to be for sleeping, for older children if they study on their beds they can find it hard to ‘switch off’ at bedtime
- Medications – some medications can interfere with sleep – seek advice from a medical practitioner
- Medical issues – some medical issues van interefere with sleep – seek advice from a medical practitioner
Five steps to supporting sleep at home
Five starting steps you can develop to support bedtime routines include:
- Get enough physical and intellectual stimulation –if children get enough physical activity (at least an hour a day) and enough intellectual stimulation (think – social, reading, games, puzzles, art, problem solving, construction) then sleep is easier to come by than when we have zoned out to television or electronics. If our minds are adequately stimulated then they achieve adequate blood flow, oxygen and nutrients to the brain.
- Wind down before bed – It is important that we wind down before bed, therefore, planning the activities we have before bedtime are really important. Activities should be calm, peaceful and relaxing. You can consider; reading, audio books, meditation tracks, colouring, gentle stretches or hypnotherapy audios to help children relax and prepare for rest.
- Create a set bedtime routine and follow it every day (even at weekends) – children’s brains thrive on routine and consistency, when our brains know what is coming next then they can relax, so consistent and regular bedtimes are important. Creating a set routine, in the same order every night helps children to relax and rest. Consider what order activities come in after dinner time. For instance, ensuring that electronics are stopped at least 1-2 hours before bed, factoring in a warm bath, time to digest and relax and quiet activities before bedtime. Once in bed, do we have a bedtime story together? A pillow sleep spray? A meditation track to fall asleep to? Once you have a routine, ensure that everyone uses it.
- Prepare the perfect sleep setting – some children struggle to sleep because of their sleep environment. Complete a sleep irtinery to identify any issues that may affect sleeping. For instance; is natural light waking them too early? – you may want to install a blackout blind. Are there any noises waking them? – consider if the water heater is close to their bedroom wall? Radiators firing in the room? Is the location of their bed making them too hot? Many children wake up in the night as they get too hot – is their bed too close to the radiator? Is the bedroom distracting? – ensuring that there is no clutter or distractions supports the mind to relax.
- Make bedtimes positive – The more stressed we are at bedtime, the more likely children will struggle to settle. Making bedtime positive and relaxing helps the mind to settle and feel safe. Consider listening to a therapeutic audio book together, a hypnotherapy audio for children, meditation tracks or soft music. You may practice breathing patterns with them (for instance, in for 4, hold for 4, out for 4) to help children to learn how to unwind. The more relaxed bedtime is, the quicker we can fall asleep.
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