Lack of sleep affects children and adults in different ways, and can have a negative effect on behaviour, emotions, attention, social relationships and school or work performance. For example, your child might be moody, have trouble concentrating on school, act difficult and defiant and get run down and get sick a lot. When you as a parent lack sleep you might have trouble making decisions, get drowsy while driving, have a lack of patience, loss of memory for simple things, feel moody and have trouble following conversations. Tiredness really does affect your ability to perform really simple tasks well and we know as parents how tough it can be to be exhausted! There have actually been studies on tiredness of just tired mums that say that they are more dangerous behind the wheel than drunk mums! Three women were…tested over two-hours of ‘driving.’ One of them was a well-rested 35 year-old who gets eight to nine hours sleep a night; the other, a tipsy 27 year-old, one- and-a-half times over the legal alcohol limit and the third was a harassed 38 year-old, mother-of-three who has to survive on five to six hours sleep a night…By closely filming their ‘eye droopiness’ (how closed they are at any given second) they found that over a 65km stretch of motorway, the Tired Driver’s blink duration was twice as long as the Drunk Driver. An average driver would have their eyes closed for less than one per cent of the time, but here, the Tired Motorist spent eight to 10 per cent of the time with her eyes closed. The video of her ‘nodding off’ into ‘micro-sleeps’ is genuinely shocking (not least to the woman herself who was totally unaware).
It is essential that our children get enough sleep not only for their own health and well being but for parent’s health and wellbeing too!
Research shows that up to 40% of children and teenagers have some type of sleep problem. Sleep problems are problems with getting to sleep or staying asleep. You can manage and get over many sleep problems in your child using common behaviour strategies.
Firstly consider the sleep environment, a sleep environment that is too noisy, light, cold or hot can make it harder for children to get to sleep. People tend to sleep deeper when the temperature is colder, which is why most children who wet the bed will wet more frequently in the cooler months as they are in a deeper sleep state and less likely to wake when they feel the need to go to the toilet. So if your child is restless and wakes easily overnight, try to ensure the temperature of the room is cool enough to make them comfortable and sleep deeper. Children need about an hour of quiet time to wind down and relax for sleep. Too much excitement, noise and activity before bed can get kids revved up and make it harder for them to settle down for sleep when it’s time. Changes to children’s normal bedtime routine or environment can affect how well they settle down too, for example, daylight saving, jet lag, an unfamiliar bedroom, moving house or a sleepover can have a child bouncing around when they would normally be asleep.
Here are some tips to help you with some positive strategies to help your children sleep better, different things work for different people, so these are a general guide with things to consider that will assist you to cover off on some things that may help you.
My Favourite Tips that really worked for us:
- Sleep Competitions: Have a competition for the older ones who love to win a contest! This is a really effective, sneaky tip that always gets my boys to settle quickly and prevents them from mucking around. I tell all the kids that I am going to listen and watch to see which child is the quietest. They do not have to be the first one asleep, they just have to have their eyes closed, lie very still and not make any noise, and I tell them that whoever can do this for the longest time is the winner. I do not pick the one who goes to sleep the fastest as that can tend to add a level of stress to the kids that really want to win, but who just are not as tired as the others, the goal is to get them to relax and settle down quickly in order to get to sleep at their own pace without stalling and playing around. Then I keep an ear and an eye out and then I let the kids know in the morning who won. I will let them have a reward, like a star on their chart, or half an hour of TV or iPad the next day after their homework or chores are completed, a special outing with mummy or daddy or they get to choose what movie we watch on the weekend together, etc. Choose an appropriate reward for your children and your family.
- Relaxation Techniques: May assist too! Practicing deep breathing can help your child relax and get to sleep. As they are lying in bed tell them to breathe in slowly through their nose for a count of 4, hold their breath for a count of 2 and then breathe out slowly through their mouth for a count of 4. Tell them to imagine blowing out a candle (they could even hold a finger up and pretend it’s a candle). Repeat 5 or so times for the best result. A relaxation technique that really worked for my boys, was to say goodnight to different parts of our bodies progressively from our toes upwards, we pretend that there is a candle in each part of our body and we say goodnight to each one and then blow out the candle in there, E.g. “Goodnight toes…..(then get them to “blow” out the “candle” in their toes”, “Goodnight ankles…..(then get them to “blow” out the “candle” in their ankles, then keep going all the way upwards through the body until their head/mind is last. We first explain before we do this, that when we say goodnight and blow out the candle, that this part of their body is asleep and now needs to be still and asleep. It might sound a bit far out, but it honestly worked with my boys, if they are still wriggly, then we say, “Oops, toes, you are meant to be asleep, now it is time to sleep and be still, let’s blow out it’s candle and say goodnight again”, then go back and do it again until it does work.
- Keep them very active during the day: Give them lots of opportunities for active play during the day, so they are REALLY ready for bed that night, this ALWAYS works for us! Chasing games, loud music and dancing, running races, swimming, whatever it takes for them to get some exercise and help expel any excess energy that might keep them wide-eyed and bushy tailed in to the night.
- Play calming music and dim the lights: For the last hour before bedtime where possible, it starts winding them down and signalling their minds and bodies that it is soon time to rest. Then try to keep voices soft and low and calm when going through the bedtime routine, although I may have “tested” it out numerous times 😉 yelling out loudly, “BRUSH YOUR TEETH AND GO TO THE TOILET!” or “NOW LIE DOWN AND RELAX” doesn’t help at all – ha ha ha – and only gets them more stimulated again.
It is really important where possible to establish regular routines:
- Keep regular sleep and wake times where possible: If your child is six months or older, help your child to go to bed and get up around the same time every day. Keep wake-up times on school days and weekends to within two hours of each other. This can help get your child’s body clock get into a regular rhythm. The body clock is just developing in children younger than six months, but you can still encourage a regular bedtime and wake-up time.
- Avoid daytime naps for older kids: For children five years or older, avoid daytime naps. Daytime naps longer than 20 minutes can make it harder for children over five to get to sleep at night, to get into a deep sleep and also to wake up in the morning.
- Relax before bed: Encourage your child to relax before bedtime A regular bed time routine of bath, story and bed help younger children feel ready for sleep. Singing soothing lullabies to children very slowly and quietly can help them to relax if they are all revved up too. Older children and grown-ups might like to wind down by reading a book, listening to gentle music or practising breathing for relaxation.
- Prepare for the day ahead: If your child has a busy morning routine, encourage them to use some wind-down time at night to complete morning tasks, such as getting clothes ready for the next day, making lunch, or getting their school bag ready.
It is important to check your child’s sleep environment to ensure it is optimised for sleeping:
- Make sure your child feels safe at night:
- If your child does feel scared about going to bed or being in the dark, you can praise and reward him whenever he’s brave. Avoiding scary TV shows, movies, computer games or books can help too. Some children with bedtime fears feel better when they have a night light or a personal alarm under their pillows.
- Check the temperature, noise and light in your child’s bedroom:
- A dark, quiet, cool, private space is important for good sleep. You can check whether your child’s bedroom is too hot, light or noisy. It will probably help to turn off electronic at least one hour before bedtime. This includes loud music, mobile phones, computer screens and TV.
- Hide the clock if you feel your child is ‘clock watching’:
- Encourage her to turn her clock around or move it to where she can’t see it.
- Try relaxing activities before sleep: If your child can’t get to sleep straight away, he could try doing something relaxing like listening to gentle music or reading a book under dim light. In the mornings, he should get out of bed when he wakes up, rather than trying to go back to sleep.
Encourage good health and nutrition:
- Eat the right amount of food at the right time: Make sure your child has a satisfying evening meal at a reasonable time. Feeling hungry or too full before bed can make the body more alert or uncomfortable. This can make it harder to get to sleep.
- Get plenty of natural light in the day: Encourage your child to get as much natural light as possible during the day, especially in the morning. This will help her body produce melatonin at the right times in her sleep cycle. A nutritious breakfast also helps to kick-start the body clock. Having exposure to natural light earlier in the morning is very effective in light therapy for helping people wake up feeling better in the mornings, so if your child takes a long time to wake in the morning and is very sleepy, try opening their blinds/curtains a little earlier.
- Avoid Caffeine: Encourage your child to avoid caffeine – in energy drinks, coffee, tea, chocolate and cola – or avoid offering them in the late afternoon and evening.
- Do an Emotional and Mental Health Check: If fears or anxieties affect your child’s sleep, you could work on the problem together during the day. You could talk about it with your child or he could try writing anxious thoughts in a journal.
- Do plenty of exercise: Physical activity and exercise help children aged 2-15 years to sleep longer. Keep the kids physically active during the day. Visits to the park, fun outside with balls, bike rides, swimming, chasing games, running around the sprinkler, I like to spend a lot of time with the kids outside during the day. Having a very active day helps the kids settle sooner in to bed and have a restful night. After lying in their bed for 15 minutes or so, they are normally fast asleep. It’s not a good idea to play sport or be active late at night, though. The stimulation and increase in body temperature can make it harder to go to sleep.
I TRULY, TRULY hope these tips help you, I know with my first child, he had terrible, horrible, unbelievably distressing sleep issues from Day 1, and they lasted for the longest time and it was absolutely horrendous for the longest time, I remember being so teary and feeling so unbelievably hopeless from sleep deprivation taking away my ability to perform the most simple of tasks! It felt like the sun came out once he started sleeping better once solids were started successfully, it took loads of work, tears, time, patience and love, but we got there eventually and he has been a perfect sleeper ever since. But for ten months, he would only sleep for fifteen minutes at a time!! It was so, so, so hard and the closest I have ever come to feeling really, really blue. Amazingly, I was then rewarded with baby number 2 and Baby number 3 who slept so much from Day 1 that I actually thought that there was something wrong with them! I never had to do anything special with them, they had just read the manual already! Whereas, with my first even a midwife came in on Night 2 and plonked him back in my arms after she had taken him to try and settle him and she said abruptly, “Oh I don’t know what to do with this one, good luck!”, didn’t give me any reassurance at all!! We got there, but it took a long, loooooooooooong, (did I say long?) time!!!
So I don’t want anyone else to go through that same torture! I can see why sleep deprivation has been known to be a form of torture!! I so hope this helps you! Please share any other sleep successes or other suggestions with us!! Any help to keep us other mummies going is SO appreciated!!