Sleep gets a lot of press. Sleep hygiene gets a lot of press. And now, sleep hygiene for children has hit the charts of top parenting concerns. Sleep ranges from something we take for granted, to a part of our lives high on lists of major parenting concerns. What’s happening?!
Not too long ago sleep was a passive activity that came at the end of a physically demanding day, and it was a given. It got dark, we got tired, and we gratefully went to bed and went to sleep. Today, younger, and more, children have developed sleep challenges. They suffer from sleep deprivation, causing noticeable life disruption, in multiple settings. At any one time, numerous sources report that up to 25% of children will have behavioral sleep disorders and sleep deprivation at some point.
You Know If Your Children Sleep Well
You can tell and their teachers can probably tell. Trouble falling asleep, trouble staying asleep, refusing to sleep their own bed. Poor school performance. Trouble with social interactions. Behavior problems. Low frustration tolerance. Whining. Poor appetite. And, just the look on your child’s face. When you think how bedtime goes, it might just look like your children don’t even know how to sleep. You also know something about the long term effects of sleep deprivation. Work problems. Not accomplishing life up to potential. Relationship problems. Emerging health problems like anxiety, depression, substance use. Foggy thinking and disorganization. You don’t need to read more about the problem, though, because you are here for ideas to help your children learn how to sleep better. Right? “What can I do to help my children sleep like champs?”
What to Do for Better Sleep
1. Round up the Professionals
To rule out a medical issue, see your pediatrician for a thorough assessment from that angle. She can tell you if your child’s odd sleeping style is medically based or behavioral, or both. Next, find a pediatric mental health/behavior therapist. This person will guide you through the maze of “what-to-dos” and “what-works” It’s hard to decide on a path for training your children to sleep better without professionally based strategies to lean on when the nights get rough. And, nothing changes overnight, right? This professional will also coordinate with the pediatrician to match parenting strategies to medical findings.
2. Changes You Can Start Making
Ok. That part is covered. What the doctor and therapist have to say matters critically. And, nothing they say will work if you don’t do your part at home. Correct! You are the change maker here. No one else can pull off sleep improvement but you.
Do A Deep Clean
First, how many things can you name that can mess up a child’s sleep? Let’s see – TV, computers, cell phones, tablets, video games, late dinners, parents’ long work days, after school sports practices, early morning sports practices, sugar, sleeping in the parents’ bed or on a couch, tension in the home, noise in the home after bedtime, a pattern of tension loaded bedtime routines, poor bedtime routines, no bedtime routine, never having learned self-soothing, pets in the room/bed,…..well, we get it. Right? And, this is a short list. Go through every possible things that could be part of the problem, your problem. Start addressing one thing at a time. It often doesn’t matter where you start, just that you START! And, WHOA! Pretty soon you will notice your children have learned how to sleep better! Success! Here are a few ideas.
From the Beginning, and On
Baby sleeps in her own bed. It’s just too hard to get her out of your bed later, and her little wiggly self in your bed will disrupt your sleep, too. Philosophies on this vary and each parent has their own. It’s just something to consider. Bedtime routine that takes more than an hour has become stressful and too complicated. Put together your bedtime routine to fit in about an hour, which means really it fits into 45 minutes, to allow for glitches. Set a bedtime and stick to it. You are the boss and baby does not get a vote. No waiting for baby to “get tired” because sometimes tiredness is hard to read. Trust me. Baby is tired at bed time, even if she acts otherwise. While you are waiting for baby to act tired, baby might just be waiting for you to be a wise parent.
The Environment for Sleep
Children need a dark, quiet, room, with no strong smells, no pets (caged or otherwise), and no TV, or other back-lit screens, anywhere to be seen. A clean, dry, warm bed. But not too warm. Keep the room in the 60s and go after warm sleeping clothes rather than piles of blankets. Kids squirm in their sleep, naturally. Once the light is out, try not to train baby/child to “need” a night light. And, if kids don’t act ready for the responsibility of turning off phones etc. in the bedroom (as evidenced by the fact that they DON’T turn them off) then respectfully check the devices in with you for the night and give them back in the morning. They will squawk but, no biggie. It’s not a punishment. You are in charge!
The Bedtime Routine
Getting children ready for bed takes about an hour, so, put down what you are doing, get yourself centered, and create a calm, unhurried atmosphere so your sleepers (and you) can wind down. Turn down a few lights. Change the music to something low volume and calm. Lower your voice and focus entirely on your routine.
All technology needs to shut down about one to two hours before bedtime. Yep. Even the TV. Backlit screens, those that you can see in the dark, agitate brain wave patterns and wreck sleep. “But what will we do until bed time?” I can hear the protest. Can’t you? How about playing a calm game, reading a pleasure book, and, getting ready for bed. What about relaxing and telling stories by candle light in the living room while you have a cup of tea with your children. End with telling one good thing each about the day.
A warm bath can have powerful results. Remember, this is not about getting clean, rather, it’s about tricking the brain to produce melatonin naturally as the body temperature drops after the bath. Melatonin makes us feel sleepy. Ever noticed how sleepy you get after a bath, or shower? This works, and, so does herbal tea without caffeine or any sweetener. Look for special, gentle tea blends made just for children. Check the health food stores.
Always read to your children at bedtime and make sure you choose pleasant stories! Even to the older children who can read to themselves. Do you remember the last time someone read to you? Do you remember how soothing it feels? It feels like a massage with words! Then, kisses and lights out. No second trips to the toilet or second drinks of water, because your child doesn’t really need these things. Never give in. Just make sure you have taken care of all of that during the routine. Children fake this really well and….might even cry when you turn them down. However, they will quit asking quickly.
You’re in charge. Notice, no gimmicks. Clean and simple. You don’t need gimmicks, and if you add things like bribes, bargains, etc, you will teach your child to manipulate. We don’t need these things for sleeping – doing what is natural.
Change takes time, so expect your children to react to these changes at first. We all do, so stick to it and don’t doubt yourself. Power calmly through the rough spots. Tell yourself what a good job you did at the end of each day. Next morning, tell your children how well they slept and give them the credit. Thanks for reading and….sleep well.