Kids are just not getting enough sleep and that is why parents are now asking about smarter ways to help children sleep better. Did you know that the new recommendations by the National Sleep Foundation say that pre-schoolers need 10 to 13 hours sleep? That is an awful lot and presents challenges about how to make that happen on a regular basis.
Another alarming statistic is that 80% of kids have sleep issues. These can include problems in getting off to sleep, temper tantrums and the infamous “curtain calls” where kids insist on getting up and asking for something such as something to eat or drink.
1. Put the child to bed when drowsy
This will work for toddlers and younger kids. Get familiar with the signs that they are getting near sleep. When they start rubbing their eyes and losing interest in playing, then this is a sign that they are drowsy and it is also when they are likely to produce more melatonin which is a natural sleep-inducing hormone. Once you miss this slot, they may have trouble in getting off to sleep. Lots of good ideas in the book, The Sleep Lady’s Good Night, Sleep Tight by Kim West.
2. Create a routine to help children sleep better
Always follow the same routine. It creates a sense of security and calm which can help to induce sleep. This could be giving the child a warm bath, putting on pyjamas, then a soothing drink, reading a story, turning down lights or simply having a relaxing chat.
3. Make sure your kids are not overscheduled
Some psychologists argue that if a kid never says she is bored, then this is a sign that they are overscheduled and they have far too much on their plate. This may produce too much of the stress hormone, cortisol. A much better idea is to limit some after school stuff. They should be a bit tired when bedtime comes but not exhausted. This will help children sleep better and longer.
4. Relaxed atmosphere
Make sure there is a fairly relaxed atmosphere before bedtime. This should be an integral part of the winding down routine which helps them to fall asleep. No arguments with siblings or spouses as they will get upset and will find it hard to get off to sleep. Also, there should be no violent video games, TV shows or even TV news as all these things can be upsetting. Scary horror stories are not good bedtime reading either.
5. Help them deal with fear and nightmares
They may be afraid of the dark so make sure that there are comforting night lights on when they drop off. If they are woken up by a nightmare, they will need to be comforted and reassured. Psychologists say that nightmares can help a child to process and work through the real and imaginary fears in life. It sometimes helps them if they can draw or talk about these experiences the day after. At bedtime, make sure they have a toy, flashlight or some monster spray to reassure them as they drop off. Why not try the Lully app, scientifically proven to stop those nighttime terrors.
6. Watch out for sleep issues
These could be an indicator that there is actually some health problem. Actually, obesity and lack of sleep have now been linked in some research studies. Children deprived of sleep eat more and become obese. Getting the right amount of sleep can help them to eat less. When children become obese, the layers of fatty tissue tend to accumulate in the throat. This can lead to problems like sleep apnea which have grown by over 400% in the last 20 years!
But apart from obesity, other problems during sleep may be noticed by the alert parent. They may even suffer from narcolepsy when they fall asleep during the day! Asthma and allergies may also lead to sleeplessness so if these persist it may be a good idea to take your child to a sleep clinic.
Dr. Roxanne Prichard addresses the sleep debt problem and how it damages our productivity and society in the TED talk below.
7. Stick to bedtimes and wake up times
The temptation is to relax all the times as the weekend or holidays approach. The problem here is that the extra hours of sleep and change of routine can affect them like jet lag. We are interfering with their natural circadian rhythms so it will take time for them to get back into the routine again at the beginning of the week or after all the holidays are over.
8. Turn off all blue light and screens
This is the hardest one of all, especially if you have teens. These teens are not getting enough sleep at all and you know why as you see the blue light under their bedroom door. One CDC study shows that only about 8% of teens are getting their 9 or 10 hours sleep and a whopping 38% are getting only about 6 hours of sleep every night! Now you know why they are grumpy and sulky in the morning. The only good news is that 21 states in the USA now have later started school times to help teens.
But how do you insist that all devices are banned from the bedroom? Telling your teen all that blue light keeps them alert may or may not work. Ideally, they would agree and get off to sleep. But the majority will be intent on maintaining their parallel life online and that is leading to even more pressure and stress, according to child care specialists in the UK.
You can insist on using a phone blocker, changing the WIFI password or other ways such as time restrictions to limit their access. Teens always find ways around these limitations. No easy answers here as the addiction to Instagram and text messages often wins against the need to get some shuteye.
9. Watch their drinks
Keep an eye on what your kids are drinking in the evening. Drinks like coffee, soda, and iced tea are fairly obvious culprits as the caffeine content will be a stimulant and can keep many a child awake. Also, some medications such as Painaid, Excedrin and Hycomine contain caffeine which will not help children sleep better.
10. Avoid eating late
Time mealtimes so that digestion problems are not going to interfere with your kids sleeping. Normally food gives kids energy and can increase hyperactivity which is the exact opposite of what you want as they wind down.
When you have dinner at a normal time, plan to include calcium-rich foods such as cheese, broccoli, carob, and spinach. All that calcium keeps serotonin levels high and these are essential to avoid getting irritable and cranky towards bedtime. It also helps children sleep better, according to the experts.
11. Late night snacks are OK if….
Did you know that many foods contain tryptophan which makes you feel sleepy? Turkey is a great example and may be one reason why everyone falls asleep after the Thanksgiving meal. Oatmeal, milk or yogurt is another great snack as this has amino acids which act as a sleep aid, just like tryptophan. Other good choices are warm milk, cheese, eggs, and fruit.
12. The bedroom needs to be cool
If the bedroom or bed is too warm, your child is less likely to get off to sleep. Make sure that the temperature is 65 degrees F/18 degrees C. Think of our body clock. Scientists tell us that our sleep-wake cycle tends to favor a cooldown of body temperatures in the evening which will help us to get to sleep. Kids are no exception so make sure that the room is cool and not too cold and that you have a timer to keep it fairly constant during the night.
13. Dark and quiet rooms are best
Again, the body prefers complete darkness which favors a really deep sleep. Any light pollution such as late night street lighting or early morning sunshine will interfere with your child’s sleep. Having blackout curtains and using masks can help. Noise can also impact sleep negatively so earplugs can help children sleep better and longer.
14. Avoid rocking your child to sleep
Some parents sing and rock their babies and toddlers to sleep which is great. The only problem is that when they wake in the middle of the night, rocking them again may be the only way to get them back to sleep. That means your own sleep will be very disturbed.
15. Make bedtime special
Make the whole process of winding down and preparing for bed a great bonding experience for kids and yourself. You can tell each other about your day, be affectionate and cuddle up. Reading and chatting can be a very special time to feel close to your children. Maybe this is the best tip of all because the child will be serene as s/he drifts into blissful and carefree sleep. That will give you some much needed heavenly peace!
Is sleep really so important for our kids’ health? Research shows that obesity, depression, drug and alcohol abuse among kids and teens are partially caused by not getting enough sleep. Now that you have learned about how to get your kids sleeping properly again, remember that you are really giving your child the best possible chance in life.