With busy holiday schedules, interrupted routines, and amped up anticipation levels, kids and parents can suffer from seriously disrupted sleep routines. We checked in with our sleep consultant, Alanna McGinn from goodnightsleepsite.com, to find out about the biggest reasons for sleep disruption, and what parents can do to guarantee a good night’s sleep.
Q ~ What are the biggest factors interfering with our childrens’ sleep health?
A ~ Too Late Bedtimes
Even as our children get older, we need to keep their bedtimes consistent. The later our children go to bed, the less sleep they will have, and the more difficult it will be for them to fall asleep. Bedtimes are getting later and later due to busy lifestyles and lack of understanding of individual sleep needs. The practice of age appropriate bedtimes, as well as calming and relaxing bedtime routines, ensure that our children can get much-needed healthy sleep.
Our children may wake at night for different reasons:
- Not having independent sleep skills in place, and needing parental assistance to fall asleep and fall back to sleep when waking throughout the night.
- Starting school, social situations, change in their lives, and even scary thoughts can give kids anxiety, which can affect their sleep.
- If your child has enlarged tonsils and adenoids, they may be unable to sleep restfully throughout the night because they are pausing in breath and must work to catch their breath in their sleep cycle.
Q ~ What are your top 5 strategies for helping a child develop a healthy relationship with sleep?
A ~ Open Up Communication
It’s important that all parents consistently communicate about bedtimes: don’t just tell your child that they need to go to bed, but why they need to go to bed. Ask them the questions – “how do you feel when you’ve had a good night’s sleep?” and, “how do you feel when you haven’t had a good night’s sleep?”
Explain to your child how happy you are when you are able to spend time with them at bedtime, especially when it’s a peaceful experience, and how great you feel when you are well rested, too. Opening communication about the importance of sleep and making it a priority in your home will help your child establish a healthy relationship with sleep that they will continue to have as adults.
Practice Healthy Sleep Hygiene
The first step towards healthier sleep for anyone is to start promoting proper sleep hygiene, at all ages:
- Practice consistent sleep patterns with your child, with regular bedtimes and wake-times.
- Bring back bedtime and incorporate a calming bedtime routine (with no electronics) at least 60 minutes before bed. Use this time to bring down stimulation for your child, connect with them after a busy day, and prepare for quality sleep. I love Michele Kambolis’ example of bedtime connection in Generation Stressed (pg. 229.) where she encourages bubble bath time with your child. This is a great example of creating a calming and relaxing environment, which is distraction free, where you and your child can connect and discuss the day before bedtime.
- Provide your child with a sleep environment that is conducive to sleep. Install blackout blinds and create a nice and dark environment to help signal to your child’s brain to release that sleep-inducing hormone, melatonin. Remove technology from all bedrooms, and role model good habits by creating a family docking station within your home, where everyone can plug in and disconnect overnight.
Combat Childhood Anxieties and Fears Before Bedtime
It’s important to remove pressure from sleep for both parents and children, as it can trigger the start of a stressful cycle. Your child will stress before bedtime, because he or she knows they’re going to have a hard time falling asleep, and then you may have conflict over it, and then no one is falling asleep any time soon. Children often feel the pressure when we are just telling them to go to bed. Explain to him or her why they need to sleep, and then incorporate different techniques that can help.
- Swap the bedtime stories for colouring. Adult colouring is now on the rise, and the calming benefits of this activity are being scientifically proven. Colouring with your child is not only relaxing for both of you but also provides you a great opportunity to ask those open-ended questions to find out more about your child’s day and what may be causing some of their anxieties.
- Have your child create a shared journal with you. In this journal, your child is able to write down any worries or concerns that they want you to know about, and there is an understanding that you will read it. Sometimes it’s difficult for children to admit their fears out loud, but they still want to share them with us. This shared journal can act as that bridge for communication between you both.
- While I encourage you to stay away from brightly lit tech, stories on tape can work really well, and your child may find it calming to listen to one before he or she goes to sleep.
- Teaching children how to relax before bedtime through mindfulness, yoga, and breathing techniques can help relax their body and quiet their minds, making it easier for your child to fall asleep. The Chi School Bubble Buster (link and put download onto the website) and The Sponge Squeezer (link) are great tools to add to your sleep tool kit to encourage deep breathing and progressive relaxation.
- Sit down for a family meeting where you can map out bedtime routine through pictures (or verbally) so that your child is clear on the expectations at bedtime and throughout the night.
Monitor Parental Involvement
Try and step back from the situation: are you too involved? Are you an obstacle to your child sleeping soundly at night? If so, you aren’t alone, and putting a consistent plan in place can help you all sleep better at night.
Your goal is to work with your child’s basic biological needs and body clock and give everyone the gift of sleep. By allowing your children to learn how to fall asleep on their own, you are teaching them that they are capable. You are surrounding them in love and support but still providing them the opportunity to acquire independent sleep skills. THAT is an amazing gift, and a crucial skill for your child to learn.
“Your child can learn to fall asleep themselves, and they can be happy and content in their sleep environment. They can be calm and fall asleep peacefully on their own. They can do anything, if we allow them the chance to do it.”
Be Your Family’s Sleep Role Model
Getting back to your family’s usual sleep routine isn’t a walk in the park for parents either. If your own sleep schedule has been neglected, it’s important that you also make changes to get back on your sleep track. When your children witness you making those changes, they’ll be ready and willing to follow suit.