It’s an old cliché of parenting that we never love our children more than when they’re in the land of Nod, but it’s also true we never appreciate them less than when they just won’t sleep.
We know no child will always hit the hay at exactly 7pm and sleep through the night without ever disturbing us. If, however, your child regularly refuses to go to bed and evenings have turned into an increasingly exhausted battleground, it might be time to put some strong sleep strategies in place.
As parents, we need to reconnect with ourselves and our partners, and our non-infant kids need at least eight to ten hours of rest to function.
With that in mind, help them drift off fuss-and-fight free with our top sleep tips for children.
1UNDERSTAND YOUR CHILD’S SLEEP CHEMISTRY
When we’re ready to go to sleep, we produce a hormone called melatonin. This is usually triggered when it gets dark.
Sometimes, our bodies need a little prompt to produce melatonin at the right time.
First, turn off all electronic devices at least an hour (and ideally two) before bed. TVs, tablets and computers all block the production of melatonin, and can delay sleep-onset by up to three hours.
Try increasing melatonin production naturally by providing food containing tryptophan. Cherry juice, bananas and chicken are all natural sources.
2GOOD SLEEP ROUTINE
It sounds obvious but it’s always worth taking a moment to assess your child’s sleep routine.
Suggesting you get them ready for bed at least an hour before they go down isn’t just advice for advice’s sake. It creates a routine for your child’s body as well, increasing production of that all-important melatonin.
3CHECK THE TEMPERATURE
If they have a bath at bedtime, make it as warm as your child can safely stand. Raising their core temperature slightly then dropping it again will make their body become tired.
The bedroom should be slightly on the cooler side, around 65 degrees Fahrenheit or 18 degrees Celsius. Use sheets and blankets rather than quilts to maintain a comfortable temperature.
If they’re too hot, don’t let them sleep naked. Put their sheets in the freezer before bed and cool the room with fans, and dress them in cotton underwear.
Naked bodies retain heat naturally, whereas cotton will lift away sweat and keep them cooler.
4KEEP IT SIMPLE, STUPID
The environment in which your child goes to sleep is critical. If it’s too busy then you risk them choosing to play instead of rest.
If it’s too simple they can get bored, which leads to repeated attempts to come downstairs (and a sudden, all-important need to tell you everything about their lives, despite having nothing to say to you the rest of the day!).
5TRY A SLEEP SCRIPT
Try a gentle sleep story. Place luminescent stars on the ceiling of your child’s room. These act as a visual prompt: instead of reading you can create a story in their minds.
Get onto the bed with them, ask them to close their eyes and take three deep breaths, then take them on a journey through the stars.
Encourage them to get creative with where they might go and what they might see. If it gets too exciting, tell them to take three more deep breaths.
This works in two ways – it helps them relax and settle, but the act of breathing also changes which part of the brain they’re using, helping them get into a better mental state for rest.
6ENGAGE THEIR SENSES
Triggering sleep can be done by engaging your child’s senses, and by making sure their sensory needs are met.
A hungry, thirsty, hot or cold child, or one who needs the toilet, is not going to fall asleep. Start there, and then work your way through the five senses:
Smell: Use a sleep spray containing lavender or a cream like Lush’s ‘Sleepy’ to trigger powerful olfactory reactions.
Sight: Soft light is OK if your little one can’t abide the dark but don’t use anything too glitzy or sparkly.
Touch: If your child is anxious or likes to be snugly tucked in, you might want to try a weighted blanket.
Hearing: Some children like total silence but many do better with gentle noise in the background. Try a sleep app, such as Sleep Machine, which plays a variety of white noises for as long as you need.
Taste: If necessary, leave a lidded cup (to avoid spillage) on the bedside table.
Finally, while it’s easier said than done, don’t give in. Return them to their rooms quietly each time they try to get your attention. Don’t make eye contact and don’t reward them by getting frustrated.