Supporting children’s sleep

an adorable girl hugging her teddy bear while sleeping
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We all know how good it feels, waking up from a really great night sleep. Sleep is so important! It’s vital to our mental, physical and emotional wellbeing, and having a bad night sleep can impact every single aspect of our daily lives. This is true for our children as well. Some children are super lucky and effortlessly enjoy restful nights of slumber. Other children need a little more support from their adults, and this can sometimes be tricky.

Throughout childhood and adolescence, sleep accounts for approximately 40% of a child’s average day, highlighting how significant sleep is for children. Sleep is crucial for all aspects of child development and impacts on many aspects of life, including:

  • Attention and concentration
  • Emotional and behavioural regulation
  • Mental and physical health
  • Motor skill development
  • Cognition
  • Mood
  • Overall health and wellbeing

Is your child having difficulties sleeping through the night?

Does your child often wake feeling tired?

If you answered yes to those questions – you are not alone. To help you out, Stepping Stones has developed our go-to sleep hygiene list for parents.

Sleep Hygiene refers to optimising habits and practices for better sleep. 

Tip 1: Create a Routine

ethnic mother reading fairytale with kids
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Implementing a consistent bedtime and waking time is the first step to training your child’s body to sleep well. Ensure that your child has time before bed to settle and wind-down from their day (see pre-sleep activities below). Following the same activities each night, such as having a glass of water, dressing into pajamas, and brushing teeth, reading a book together and singing a calming song will all help prepare your child for sleep.

Tip 2: Pre-Sleep Activities

Have your child engage in calming activities for 15-30 minutes before bed. Calming activities will vary for each child, however, some activities to try can include gentle stretching, breathing techniques, listening to calming music, reading and mindfulness. Research suggests that mindfulness calms the nervous system and decreases stress. (Hot tip: there are plenty of cool mindfulness apps out there!)

Tip 3: Naps

Sleep is for when you are sleepy! Do not force your child to nap if they are not tired. We want to avoid spending time awake in bed.

Tip 4: Avoid Caffeine

Just like you or I shouldn’t have a double-shot long black two hours before going to sleep, children shouldn’t have caffeine before bed. Avoid sweet drinks, chocolate, and sweets for at least few hours before going to bed. These sweets act as stimulants – increasing brain activity and interfering with the ability to fall asleep.  

Tip 5: Bed

Try to avoid activities in bed other than sleeping. Watching television in bed will trick your body into making a connection with bed + TV, rather than bed + sleep.

Tip 6: Bath-time

Research suggests that having a hot bath 1-2 hours before bedtime can help your body prepare for bed. A decrease in body temperature after having a hot bath can result in feeling sleepy.

Tip 7: Sleep Diary

Completing a sleep diary; tracking when your child goes to bed, how frequently they wake up during the night and their pre-bed activities may help give you an idea of any issues there may be impacting on sleep.

Tip 8: Screen-time

boy in black framed eyeglasses lying on bed
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I know, I know – we have all heard this one before! But it really is important. No screens within one hour of bedtime is crucial for good sleep hygiene. Bright lights (such as those produced by a phone, television, or iPad) are stimulating and impact on melatonin production.

It is also good to monitor the content of the things your children are watching. If they are often watching scary shows (especially before bed), they are likely to have stress and anxiety which may result in sleep difficulties.

Tip 9: Exercise

Ensuring your child engages in regular exercise is important for both their physical and mental wellbeing and therefore sleep. However, keep in mind that strenuous exercise within a few hours of bedtime may cause your child to be overtired or overactive.

Tip 10: Nutrition

Like exercise, ensuring your child has a healthy diet is essential for all components of life and assists with having a good nights’ sleep. Get those veggies in!

Nutritionists are experts at determining whether nutritional deficiencies might be contributing to your child’s sleep problems and they have lots of supplements tailored to your child’s individual needs to help them get a better night sleep.

Tip 11: Environment

Having a safe and comfortable environment for your child to sleep in, is essential for optimizing sleep. Suggestions for this include having a dark room with curtains that block out early morning sun, having a cool room temperature (with enough blankets to keep warm, of course!), minimizing loud sounds and reducing strong and overwhelming smells.

girl sleeping soundly
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Best results are often seen when more than one sleep hygiene strategy is used consistently. Not all of these strategies will work for your child, so some trial and error may be needed!

If you have tried these strategies and your child continues to have difficulties with sleep, please speak with your Occupational Therapist. It’s also important to discuss your concerns with your child’s pediatrician or general practitioner.

If you are unsure whether Occupational Therapy might be helpful for your child, you can always reach out via the contact form on our website or give us a call on 02 49512 116.

References

  1. Centre for Clinical Interventions. (2019). Sleep Hygiene. Retrieved December 20, 2021, from https://www.cci.health.wa.gov.au/~/media/CCI/Mental-Health-Professionals/Sleep/Sleep—Information-Sheets/Sleep-Information-Sheet—04—Sleep-Hygiene.pdf
  2. Desrochers, P. C., Kurdziel, L. B., & Spencer, R. M. (2016). Delayed benefit of naps on motor learning in preschool children. Experimental Brain Research, 234(3), 763–772.https://doi.org/10.1007/s00221-015-4506-3
  3. Duncan, D. T., Kawachi, I., & Redline, S. (2019). The social epidemiology of sleep. New York, NY:  Oxford University Press.
  4. Maasalo, K., Fontell, T., Wessman, J., & Aronen, E. T. (2016). Sleep and behavioural problems associate with low mood in Finnish children aged 4-12 years: an epidemiological study. Child and adolescent psychiatry and mental health, 10, 37.https://doi.org/10.1186/s13034-016-0125-4
  5. Suni, E., & Vyas, N. (2021). What Is Sleep Hygiene? Retrieved December 20, 2021, from https://www.sleepfoundation.org/sleep-hygiene
  6. Waldon, J., Vriend, J., Davidson, F., & Corkum, P. (2018). Sleep and Attention in Children With ADHD and Typically Developing Peers. Journal of attention disorders, 22(10), 933–941. https://doi.org/10.1177/1087054715575064

Author: Georgia Ostler Paediatric Occupational Therapist

Editor: Michelle Newby BHSc(OT) MSc PhD Candidate  

Copyright Stepping Stones Therapy for Children 2021/22


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