How To Get Your Child To Sleep at Night

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During a typical school day, your child is dealing with varied academic, social and physical challenges. By the end of the day we would expect them to be tired, yet they struggle to fall asleep?  There is likely to be a cranky, concerned and exhausted parent or carer in close proximity – is that you?

Tacking sleep problems is not always simple as every child is unique and depending on what their day has served them, they may find it harder to settle on some nights than others.  One size does not fit all but rather a concoction of different approaches may help to break bad habits that have formed, or ease genuine sleep difficulties.  Generally speaking a primary school aged child needs between 11-13 hours sleep, whilst a pre-schooler needs 11-13 hours during a 24 hour period. Try a few or all of the below to help your child learn to fall into a deep blissful sleep.

As far as possible, try to keep to a regular ‘bed’ time and ‘wake up’ time

Children have circadian rhythms too!  Your child's biological clock has a strong influence on her wakefulness and sleepiness. When you establish a set time for bedtime and wake up time you "set" your child's clock so that it functions more smoothly. 

There is value in that saying ‘Early to bed and early to rise, makes us healthy, wealthy and wise’. This is especially true for younger children.  An early night (before 8pm) is generally best for them although it does mean your lie in the next morning may be jeopardised.

Establish a regular evening routine

Young children thrive on routine although it can get boring for adults.  Routines help them to feel secure.  Start with getting them to shut the curtains around the house, set the table for a meal.  Wherever possible try to eat together and encourage them to talk about their day over your evening meal. This provides opportunities to learn about issues they may be dwelling on which could prevent them from falling asleep.  Your family routine may then be to send them to bath or shower, brush their teeth and use the bathroom, before a bedtime story, or quiet reading time alone. If they can write a short sleep diary to download their day and clear their minds may help.

When they are in bed, whatever your religious beliefs, a few words of thanks or a short prayer, said quietly in the dark, can help them to reflect on their day, and may encourage them to speak about something that is worrying them. With their worries shared, they may settle a little faster. 

Some children like a gentle lullaby or quiet song sung to them.

Influence light and dark and set his body clock!

Dim the lights in his bedroom an hour before bed time as he comes in and out from his shower and or evening meal. Darkness stimulates the production of melatonin (the sleep hormone) which sends his brain a message it’s time to start calming down. Similarly in the morning, open the curtains/blinds or turn the lights on in his room as you enter, and let the light shine in, sending a message to his brain that the day starts now.  

Create a sleepy mood

Make sure your child’s mattress is comfortable and bed is inviting.  Natural bed linen and duvets will always provide the most comfortable, hygienic sleep for your children – particularly if they suffer from allergies or hay fever.  Room temperature should be cool (18 to 200C) and his body warm (not hot). Vapourise some essential oils, sprinkle lavender on their pillows and remove all electronic devices and noisy (stimulating) games from their bedrooms.  Homeopathic remedies will also help your child to settle faster. The routine of taking them at bedtime as well as the nutrients and sleepy herbs within them will help to rebalance their magnesium levels so they fall asleep faster, have a better quality of sleep and stay sleeping through the night.

Televisions, computers, hand held devices and mobile phones should not be available to use at least a few hours before you want your child to sleep.

Encourage some ‘down- time’ during the day

Children can live life at a frenetic pace and some rest in the middle of their day does them the world of good!  If they won’t sleep in the afternoon, try getting them read quietly on their bed, do a puzzle, colour or draw - independent of siblings and other stimulation.  Believe it or not, this short respite will help them to settle better at night.

Consider their diet and exercise

A child who is active during the day and eating a balanced diet will have a better chance of sleeping well at night and feeling refreshed in the morning. Avoid sugary, rich, high protein meals at night as they are harder to digest and may cause your child discomfort, and delay their sleep onset. However, a hungry child will also struggle to sleep!  A small milky drink, bagel or toast, yoghurt or banana, are all good choices for a bedtime snack. 

Sadly these days, many children don't get enough daily physical activity. City living, parents working long hours and hence not being available to take children to after school sports, television, computers and hand held devices are all contributors to children having less time doing exercise. 

Ban technology after dinner!

Wherever possible, set clear boundaries around screen time and encourage your child to be doing something active to burn off that energy!  At night, have a policy of no internet or gaming at least two hours before sleep, particularly if your child struggles to settle. Television is also known to be stimulating not only because of the content but because the screens emit a bright light, sending a message to your brain to slow the release of melatonin!

Good luck! Let us know about other things that have worked for you!