Sleep is important. It’s important to us adults because the rest it gives us gives us enough strength to wake up easily, and be both alert and happy enough to tackle the next day at work. And it’s even more important for our children; just because they’ve drank from the fountain of youth, it doesn’t mean they don’t need all the rest that they can get. Ideally, kids between the ages of two and nine need to spend an average of 10 hours, 45 minutes asleep every night.
A lack of sleep for a child can lead to any number of difficulties for their parents to have to deal with, both in the present and in the future. One such example is the fact that the child in question may be more inclined to eat any sugary food that they can get their hands on whilst they’re not under your supervision, say at school, which could then lead to the the very real problem of tooth decay in the present, and the very real possibility of obesity in the future. Here are five ways you can help your child sleep easier at night, including advice on things to attempt and implement.
Be a sleeping role model
You child learns by imitating you — that is a fact. For toddlers, specifically, imitation marks a major milestone. You remember when your little angel, once they’d uttered their first word, wouldn't stop copying everything you said, don’t you? You probably remember having to watch your language at this time, in fear that you’d send your toddler off to nursery sporting a new and unsavoury word that they couldn't wait to tell everyone they possibly could. And it doesn’t stop there: if they see that you’re staying up late every night watching TV and playing on your various electronic devices they’re only naturally going to want to try it for themselves. However, if they see and know that you’ve got a disciplined and consistent bedtime routine, they're going to think that that is the norm, and there’s nothing that can change that. This extends itself to the morning as well, because your little ones can’t spend the whole day in bed, you need to show them that there is a reasonable time to be up an at ‘em.
Create a bedtime preparation routine
The routine of preparing and settling your child for bed should begin before the allotted bed time — even as far back as six hours before in the form of not letting them have anything with caffeine in it. As well as this, avoid feeding your child big meals or dinner close to bedtime as much as you can. This is an ideal scenario, granted, as it isn’t always feasible due to other commitments, but when it can be implemented, it should be. You don’t like going to bed with a meal lying heavy on your stomach, so why would your children?
What can always be implemented, however, is the banning of any activity that causes stimulation, such as watching TV or using electronic devices too close to bedtime. In an ideal world, your children should not watch TV or use devices such as a tablets for at least two hours before they are set to go to bed as the light from the screens that they’re transfixed with interferes with the production of the hormone melatonin, and could keep your child up for an extra two hours even after they’ve been tucked into bed. However, with the likes of TVs, tablets and laptops being staples of the modern world it is unrealistic to avoid them completely; but you can switch them off well before bedtime and help your children switch their minds off when it’s bedtime.
As well as this, your child’s stress level must be reduced in good time before they hit the hay. The ‘stress hormone’ cortisol interferes with sleep, and when it’s too high your child’s body will not be able to shut down and fall to sleep. So get all that homework done straight after school, and not right before bed.
Create a sleep-inducing environment
The environment in which your child sleeps, probably (hopefully) their own bedroom, must be as comforting as possible in order to induce sleep. Providing your child with a stuffed animal is recommended, as the stuffed entity in question could offer them the comfort of having ‘someone’ there with them, whilst still letting them sleep alone, which is a pivotal milestone and life lesson in itself. A stuffed animal, or other inanimate object that means the world to them, can also serve as protection for them. For example: their favourite toy could ‘stand guard’ over them and protect them from the monster under the bed, if these sort of fears are what is stopping them from getting to sleep, or indeed waking them up in the form of nightmares. However, providing them with too many toys or stuffed animals at night is not advised as they may distract them from the matter at hand: getting to sleep. The daytime is for your children to play and enter their own little world with their toys, the night time is for them to sleep and for them to enter their own little world in their dreams.
Aside from inanimate objects such as stuffed toys, there other things in your child’s sleeping environment that can help them in their quest for a sound night’s sleep. Soft sheets, bedding, cushions, quilts and other kids' bedroom furniture will offer comfort and not restrict their movement, which is pivotal for allowing children to slip off to sleep; whilst darkness and calm will help them differentiate between day and night, meaning instruments that shut away the outside world, such as curtains, are a must.
Listen to the season and act accordingly
Simply put: if it’s winter, make sure your child is warm enough, and if it’s summer, make sure they’re cool enough. In the winter, keeping your little one fit and healthy is one of, if not the most, important task any parent has. Not only is this important because, well, you want them to be as healthy as possible at all times, but because illnesses disrupt their sleeping pattern. Whether it be coughing fits, sneezes or a runny nose: illnesses, even mild colds, take their toll on anyone who is trying to sleep; sometimes, in fact, it’s as if these illnesses come out to play specifically at night. For this reason there should be added incentive to keeping them wrapped up when they go out. Also, being cold at night is just, well, uncomfortable.
And temperature control doesn’t stop in winter. In the summer air conditioning units, such as a direct expansion system that cools your space by absorbing heat from it, are recommended, but a simple fan will suffice. Finding that perfect temperature is just as important as providing your child with soft sheets and bedding when it comes to comforting them to sleep.
Reduce the focus on sleep
This is especially for those of you with children who are prone to fits of rebellion at any time of the day, let alone at night time. Do not insist that it is time to sleep, because it could make them want to rebel. An idea is to give them a choice, but not too much of a choice: ask them, ’Do you want to go to bed now? Or do you want to go in five minutes?’, as this will make them feel that the power is still in their hands. They will more than likely want to stay for an extra five minutes, but that’s nothing; to them though, it’s everything. It means an extra five minutes of enjoying themselves, as well as feeling that they are in control of the situation. A way of pushing them towards a certain choice, if that is what you want to do, is by making connections between a good night’s sleep and the things that they enjoy doing. For example, if they enjoy sporting activities, then make them realise that getting enough sleep is pivotal to allow them to perform better, and if they want to do well at school, say they need to go to sleep as early as possible so that they can wake up as early as possible in the morning and be ready for the day ahead.
So, there you have it. A few hints and tips as to what you can do to push your children towards their nightly dreams. But please remember that even when they’re not children anymore, your job still isn’t done. Your next step is guiding them to sleep when they’re a teenager; and don’t think just because they’re not children anymore, that they won’t need the help, because they most certainly will! Click here to get a heads up on how to help your teenager get enough sleep at night so that they can tackle some of the most important days of their lives.