Perhaps one of the biggest difficulties parents regarding their children is sleep. The good news is that most sleep issues can be addressed. It’s a fairly unrecognized “routine” but probably one of the most important. It is during sleep that the brain is at its most active! This is particularly true in the developing child. The child is taking all the information that it experienced during the day and making sense of it, either filtering or storing for use. Each of the sleep stages has its own unique purpose and feature for assimilating information.
Lack of sleep results in a number of issues:
- Difficulty with concentration leading to poor learning
- Behavior changes including sleepiness, crankiness, hyperactivity, short temper
- Overall schedule disruption
Getting a good night sleep starts with good sleep hygiene.
Make sure a typical schedule is in place. Don’t think you have one? You might be surprised if you actually go through what a typical day looks like approaching bedtime. Almost everyone usually has some sort of pattern that they follow when winding down at night. After examining the routine, figure out where regular changes can be made to create a more relaxing situation heading into the bedtime hour.
- Eliminate screen time at least 1 hour prior to sleep – studies suggest screen time continues to stimulate the brain whether the person is engaged with it or not.
- Bath time – Try a warm bath with soothing scents and/or follow with lotions. Lavender, chamomile, and Eucalyptus are said to have calming effects on the senses. Add a deep massage for further calming.
- Snacks – Watch the type of snacks that your child is eating both before bedtime and during the day. Highly sugared, simple carbohydrate snacks will actually give a boost of energy. This includes most snack foods and many manufactured juices. Items that contain colored dyes can also create a hyper effect particularly those with red and orange colors.
- Nap time – make sure naps last no longer than 1-2 hrs depending on the age of the child (Infants vary) and they do not extend past 4 pm on average if the aim is an 8-9 pm bedtime.
- Bedtime – Consider gradually backing up bedtime by 15-30 min increments. Actually, a significantly earlier bedtime can be easier for getting a child to fall asleep then keeping them up until they seem really tired.
If the problem still exists, consider ideas like heavy quilts and blankets, swaddling, regardless of age, white noise, room temperature, etc. to help keep a child asleep. If the problem continues to be significant, consider talking to your doctor about some of the natural sleep aids that are readily available or investigating any underlying medical conditions. And don’t forget to discuss it with a medical/early intervention provider. While not every sleep problems is correctable, trying some of the above strategies may prove very restful!