Getting some kids to go to sleep can be tricky. Many parents come to our occupational therapy clinic complaining about their child’s bedtime antics, and looking for ideas to help their little cherubs get to more sleep.
Sleep is vital for our children’s health and wellbeing. It is during sleep that our children’s body systems repair and restore themselves. Extended periods of sleep are when hormones are regulated and little bodies grow strong muscles. Sleep also plays a crucial role in processing and consolidating new learning and laying down long term memory. With all the new learning and growing our wee ones are doing each and every day, it’s little wonder they need so much more sleep than us adults.
Since sleep is so important, you might be wondering if you child is getting enough? The clever people from The American Academy of Sleep Medicine got together in 2016 (Paruthi et al 2016) and developed some guidelines to help us understand how much sleep children of different ages need. Based on their recommendations infants from 4 to 12 months should be sleeping between 12 to 16 hours a day (including naps). Toddlers aged between 1 to 2 years should be getting between 11 and 14 hours of sleep in a day (including naps). Your 3 to 5 year old should be sleeping between ten to thirteen hours a day (including naps). Children aged six to twelve years should have nine to twelve hours sleep each night. And finally, teens should be enjoying eight to ten slumber-filled hours per night.
So what happens if your child is not getting enough sleep? Here’s our top tips for supporting your child to ease into sleep and stay there:
- Have a predictable bedtime routine: A bedtime routine should start about 30 minutes before bedtime. It will include activities that help your child’s brain and body move into a calm and relaxed state. Common examples of activities to help your child to get ready for bed include having a warm bath, reading a story book and enjoying some quiet snuggles. Other activities could include listening to a guided relaxation. We especially love Dinosnores Sleepy Mermaid or Snoozy Tyrannosaurus (you can find these on Spotify). Insight timer is also a great app that has guided sleep relaxation for older kids (and parents). Progressive muscle relaxation is also a beautiful way to calm little brains and bodies. You can find lots of scripts for progressive muscle relaxation for kids on google. A lavender oil foot or hand massage is also a beautiful way to reinforce the bond and connection you have with your child, while moving them closer to slumber. The key to a successful bedtime routine is to keep the routine calm and predictable. Ensuring you start the routine at the same time every night (even on weekends), and using the same calming activities each night will help your child’s brain get into the habit of being relaxed and ready for sleep.
- Think about the bedroom environment: Ideally, your child’s bedroom should be a place reserved just for sleep. Again, it’s about creating a habit for the brain to more easily relax into sleep. If your child’s brain associates their bedroom as place where exciting play happens, then this will just make it harder for them to relax, ready for sleep. Having exciting toys in the bedroom also makes it way too tempting to get out of bed and play after the lights have gone out. If your child struggles to get to sleep, then it’s worthwhile thinking about moving their toys to a different part of the house. Bedrooms should be quiet and dimly lit for optimal sleep.
- Scrap screen time: Our bodies produce a special sleep hormone called melatonin. Once the sun starts to go down, this sends a signal to our brains to start producing melatonin. The result of this increase in melatonin is increased sleepiness. This is exactly what we want at bedtime, right!? Screens, like TV’s, computers and devices all emit blue light. When we look at this blue light in the evening, it actually tricks our brains into thinking it’s the middle of the day. This makes our brains stop producing that very important melatonin, and suddenly we’re not so sleepy anymore. To help your child ease into sleep, we suggest no screens for two hours before bed. This will allow your child’s melatonin to weave its sleepy magic.
- Go play outside: Encourage your child to get as much natural light as possible by playing outside during the day. This is especially important in the morning. Recent research has indicated that exposure to morning sunlight helps to increase the production of that important sleepy hormone, melatonin when the sun goes down (Janjetovic et al., 2017). Outdoor play is also important for burning off excess energy, helping kids to feel more tired at the end of the day. Indoor play tends to be more passive table top or screen based play, where kids are not using up much physical energy.
If you’ve tried these top tips and bedtimes are still a struggle, then call and have a chat with one of our occupational therapists. Sometimes children need a more individualised approach to help them overcome their sleep challenges. You can call our clinic on 02 49512116, or to find out more about Stepping Stones Therapy for Children you can check out our website: www.steppingstonesforchildren.com.au.
Janjetovic, Z., Jarrett, S. G., Lee, E. F., Duprey, C., Reiter, R. J., & Slominski, A. T. (2017). Melatonin and its metabolites protect human melanocytes against UVB-induced damage: Involvement of NRF2-mediated pathways. Scientific Reports, 7(1), 1274. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-017-01305-2. doi:10.1038/s41598-017-01305-2
Paruthi S, Brooks LJ, D’Ambrosio C, Hall WA, Kotagal S, Lloyd RM, Malow BA, Maski K, Nichols C,Quan SF, Rosen CL, Troester MM, Wise MS. Recommended amount of sleep for pediatric populations: a consensus statement of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. J Clin SleepMed 2016;12(6):785–786.