SLEEP. It’s a topic which dominates every new mum’s conversation and even those with toddlers, preschoolers and older children can be found swapping tips on how to get their little humans to sleep better.
Sleep plays a significant role in brain development and the brain’s ability to function on a day-today basis. When children don’t get enough sleep, they find it much harder to concentrate, focus or learn and are more likely to display behavior problems at school. They can also struggle to control their emotions and become forgetful, irritable and prone to being clumsy and making mistakes.
By setting and maintaining good sleep habits, you can help your child to fall asleep, stay asleep and awake feeling rested and refreshed.
Here are some tips to get you started:
1# Set a bedtime and awaking time
When you establish a set time for bedtime and a set time for waking up, you “set” your child’s biological clock so that it functions smoothly. Most children need between 9 and 12 hours of sleep each night, but there’s a lot of variability in sleep needs and patterns. Aim for an early bedtime. Young children respond best with a bedtime between 6.30-7.30pm and will sleep better and longer when they go to bed early. Once you know how much sleep your child needs and what time they go to bed, it’s simple math to set an awaking time.
2# Build and maintain a consistent bedtime routine
A bedtime routine is the best way to ensure that your child gets enough sleep. Routines create security and are especially important for infants, toddlers and preschoolers. A consistent, peaceful bedtime routine allows your child to transition from the motion of the day to the tranquil state of sleep. Doing specific things in a specific order before bed, such as bath time, tooth-brushing, story time and singing lullabies, signal to your child what’s coming next and helps them feel more relaxed. There are no hard-and-fast rules for bedtime, and every child is different, so what’s important is to build a bedtime routine that works for your family.
3# Reduce screen time
Research has shown that the light from a television screen, tablet or computer monitor can interfere with the production of the hormone melatonin. Melatonin is an important piece of sleep-wake cycles. When melatonin levels are at their highest, most people are sleepy and ready for bed. Just one hour of TV or video games before bed can mess with that enough to keep your child up an extra two hours and disrupt sleep throughout the night.
4# Create a cozy sleep environment
While a stuffed animal can make it easier for your child to sleep, too many toys can make it harder. Soft sheets, a comfortable mattress, black-out blinds, controlled room temperature, warm blankets and relative quiet can help your child differentiate between day and night, making it easier for them to fall asleep.
5# Provide healthy and nutritious bedtime snacks
Foods can affect energy level and sleepiness. Carbohydrates can have a calming effect on the body, while foods high in protein or sugar generate alertness, particularly when eaten alone. A few ideas for pre-bed snacks are: wholegrain crackers and cheese, peanut butter sandwich, oatmeal with bananas, or yogurt and granola.
#6 Keep your child active during the day
Many children don’t get enough daily physical activity. Too much TV watching and a lack of activity prevents good sleep. Children who get ample daily exercise fall asleep more quickly, sleep better, stay asleep longer, and wake up feeling refreshed.
Avoid activity in the hour before bedtime though, since exercise is stimulating – they’ll be jumping on the bed instead of sleeping in it!
#7 Provide protection from fears
Instead of dismissing bedtime fears, address them. If simple reassurance doesn’t work, you can try buying a special toy to stand guard at night, using a night light or spraying the room with “monster spray” before bed.
#8 Make bedtime special
When children feel loved, they tend to settle down and relax more. A predictable bedtime routine that includes cuddling up with you for a story, a lullaby or a chat is likely to calm your little one and help them drift off to dreamland more peacefully.