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Five ways to get your child’s sleep back on track

Updated: Dec 20, 2023

By Susan Chan and Ian Geddes

There are so many factors that can break our sleep routine. If that is true for us, then it is equally a factor for our children. We need to make sure they are rested by getting them into good sleeping habits. We know about the variables such as holidays, weekends, a legacy from COVID, illness and so on.

 

This can be a challenge after so long, so here are my top tips to ensure they are bright-eyed and yawn-free for the whole day! (Acknowledgements to www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/articles/z3kbsk7 )

 

Routine

Even the most disciplined parents have probably found that routines and structures have become rather slack. Imposing habits on 'free-range' children can often seem daunting, but it is critical to getting a good night's shuteye.

Try to put an exact bedtime schedule that can become predictable so that each stage induces a deeper state of relaxation. It should involve low stimulation, and children should quickly learn what to expect next – a bath, putting on pyjamas, brushing teeth, dimmed lights, bedtime story/reading for older ones, and lights out. This structure and predictability make them feel safe and secure (which is all the more critical in today's uncertain world) whilst also conditioning their bodies to start relaxing at specific cues.

The routine also eases the transition from 'awake and lively' to 'sleep and quiet' – without a predictable routine, it is hard for that transition to be achieved. So, the same bedtime routine, at the same time, allows their day and night rhythms to adapt to the schedule most suited to their needs.

 

Sleep 'hygiene'

Sleep hygiene is about ensuring that both the environment and our habits are best placed to promote a night of good sleep. Easy ways to improve sleep hygiene include ensuring that your child's bedroom is a quiet, calm and darkened place to rest. Try to put any exciting activities... like that computer, tablet or phone out of sight.

Consider switching off devices an hour before bedtime to avoid too much stimulation. Similarly, for younger kids, don't make that bedtime story too exciting with voices and actions!

Caffeine should be avoided from teatime – this includes colas, energy drinks and chocolate. Another surprising thing to prevent just before bedtime is exercise; whilst plenty of daytime activity, especially outdoors, is excellent for children, if it is too close to bedtime, it can be too stimulating.

 

Gradual adjustment

When children, or indeed adults, have become accustomed to going to sleep a few hours later than they need to for a school night, their body clocks are on a different 'time-zone'. Suddenly switching them to the new time zone will only lead to frustration, anxiety and ongoing sleep battles since the body clock can not adjust so quickly.


Consistency

Once you have a good bedtime schedule, try not to let it slip. Irregular bedtimes correlated with bad behaviour in children, even if those children were getting plenty of sleep. 

Another study, this time of teenagers, showed that consistency in sleep patterns had a positive effect on mood, irrespective of the amount of sleep they managed.

Finally, school students may have difficulty sleeping because they are worried or upset. Take time to discuss the day and anything that might have disturbed or distressed them. Various apps can offer good relaxation content for young people.

Take some time to look after your own sleep patterns.

 

Susan Chan @New Horizons has a arrange of supportive audio downloads to help you through these difficult times: https://www.susanchannewhorizons.com/audio-downloads

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