This post was written by guest blogger Ashley Perna. She’s our Office Manager and a mom who has lots of experience dealing with a child who just can’t sleep.
We all know the benefits of a good night’s sleep; better brain function, increased short-term memory abilities, improved mood, and better control over behaviours and attitudes. The same is true for children – in fact, many studies have shown that children who do not get enough sleep, or get inadequate sleep, find functioning the next day exceptionally difficult. This is especially true for children who suffer from ADD, ADHD, or other behaviour challenges. Children facing these difficulties are also the same children who find it difficult to rest at night, often being unable to slow down or to stop worrying about the day ahead. As a parent, nothing is worse than knowing that your child is having a rough day, and it’s harder still when the problem can be traced back to a poor night’s rest. Here are just a few tips that have worked for other parents to help their children go to bed, and get some sleep, at night.
Have A Regular Routine
Following a regular routine that works for your family is a fantastic way to help get your child ready for sleep. A warm bath, followed by a treat of warm milk, and a favourite story read at the same time each night will help your child associate those things with rest. A warm bath helps to make your child feel rested, while warm milk helps to make him or her start to feel sleepy. Reading stories throughout the day is a great idea, but save a favourite, calming story for bedtime. Make all of these activities seem extra special, whether it be with bath toys or an appealing bath soap, and serve the milk in a special mug that’s just for your child at bedtime. By doing so, it will help make your child feel more relaxed and more at ease with the process, and can in turn help him or her fall asleep faster.
Set An Individualized Bedtime
Some children simply need more sleep than others, but experts recommend between nine and twelve hours each night. If your child is an early riser, for example, set his or her bedtime earlier so that enough sleep can be had before he or she wakes for the day. Children who sleep in later, or who do not need to wake up as early, can have their bedtimes pushed back later, so long as they still get enough sleep at night.
Set An Individualized Wake Up Time
Giving your child the option to sleep in on the weekends and on holidays may seem like a generous treat, but it can cause serious disruptions in their sleep cycles. Sleeping in later can affect children the way jet-lag affects adults. Try to be sure your child is waking up at around the same time each day to be certain his or her sleep cycles aren’t interrupted.
Limit Screen Time
Children love to play video games and watch movies on tablets or TV. While cutting back on screen time at any time during the day is a good idea, it’s especially important to do so before bed. A study conducted in 2007 showed that children who played video games within an hour of bedtime showed sleep disruption, whereas children who did not were able to fall asleep faster, and stay asleep longer. Try to remove the tablets or video game devices at least an hour before bedtime, and replace them with quieter activities, such as colouring or reading a story.
Even adults benefit greatly from reducing the amount of stress in their lives before bed. Cortisol, also known as the stress hormone, wrecks havoc on a person’s ability to fall asleep and to stay asleep. Ensuring that your child has quiet time before bed, involving books or other calming activities, can help reduce his or her cortisol levels. Dim lights and a quiet environment are also beneficial. In addition, do your best to address any fears your child may have. Some children are afraid of the dark, or worried about monsters under the bed. Instead of dismissing them, address them head on, by providing reassurance to your child. In cases where reassurance isn’t enough, consider buying a special toy who can “guard” the door, or give them something to help them feel they have some control over their environment. A “magic wand” that banishes monsters, or special “monster spray” consisting of a spray bottle and some water or room fragrance can be very helpful in helping your child feel at ease in his or her bed, encouraging sleep.
Keep The Room Cool and Dark
While a small dim nightlight isn’t likely to cause serious disruptions to your child’s sleep, the bright light of a streetlamp or even the sunlight if your child goes to bed early enough, can be distracting. Invest in blackout curtains to reduce the amount of outside light that seeps in, and be sure to use a very dim bulb in the nightlight. Reducing the temperature in the room can also have a positive effect on your child’s ability to fall asleep.
While each child is different, following these above suggestions can help your child get a good night’s rest. Be on the lookout for any sleep disorders, however, and be sure to address these with your child’s physician.