8 best-ever kid's sleep tips
The value of sleep for children can't be underestimated. We know that children with healthy sleep patterns have better attention spans, more typical neurological development and higher IQ's. They're more fun to be around, more sociable and less demanding.
Basically, good sleep is the holy grail of family harmony. But it can seem oh, so hard to achieve when children seem to want the exact opposite of a full night's shut eye. Here are some great tips to help you on the right track.
1. Wear them out
It seems grandma was right - "wearing kids out" actually works. Research shows that kids who are more physically active during the day take less time to fall asleep, sleep longer and sleep more deeply than those who are sedentary. Another good reason to encourage participation in a sport, or just get outside together for a bounce on the trampoline in the afternoon.
2. Know their 'tired' signs
Fatigue in adults is easy to spot. We droop, we yawn, we look tired. Fatigue in children can look quite different. A child wants to be part of the action, so their natural response to feeling sleepy is to "fight it" and remain awake and alert. This results in the secretion of hormones like adrenaline, which then cause them to become over stimulated and hyper-alert. Your child can seemingly be "wide awake" but exhausted at the same time. Fussiness, irritability and difficulty falling asleep is the end result (interestingly, this state often induces night awakenings, too).
Putting your child to bed earlier, not later is the key here. Sometimes even 15-20 minutes earlier may have a significant impact.
3. Routine, routine, routine
You've heard this one before but it's so important. Have a "bed time" - even a ballpark is better than nothing. This should be before 8pm for preschoolers, who need 11 hours sleep a night. What you do around bedtime is just as important as the time you go to bed. Whatever it is, make it consistent every single night. So you might have a bath, PJ's, a book. Or you might read together in the lounge, then get jammies on, put the Sleepy Time Inhalant on in the vaporiser and lights out. Maybe there's a special musical toy, or maybe it's a song you always sing. Children's brains not only love routine (it makes them feel safe), it allows for sensory 'cues' whether they're auditory (song, music) or olfactory (the smell of lavender oil), that help tell the brain it's time to sleep.
4. Be prepared for the boogie monster
For some children, fears can get in the way of good sleep. Have a plan in place to deal with bugs, bad dreams, boogie monsters and other things that go bump in the night. One of our favourite is this home-made "Monster Spray": Fill a spray bottle with water and add a couple of drops of lavender oil. Give the room a good spray before bed, and use during the night if monsters rear their ugly heads! Dream catchers or notes to fairies can also help anxious kids have some peace of mind.
5. Steam away colds
Colds can rob children of a good sleep and they can seem constant - kids catch up to 6 colds a year. If sniffles and a blocked nose are keeping your child awake try a chest ointment such as Euky Bearub. If they have a cough, try raising the head of the bed by using pillows or propping up the mattress, and run a steam vaporiser overnight to create helpful humidity in the room and ease congestion.
6. Don't pile on too many blankets
Production of the sleep hormone melatonin only happens at room temperature or lower. If you've got the thermostat up and the blankets piled on them, it can be hard for children to get that natural hormone boost they need to sleep.
7. Snack cleverly
Take advantage of that pre-bedtime snack to give children food that helps promote sleep. Foods that combine protein and carbs are best, like oatmeal with milk, or toast with natural peanut butter. These form amino acids that work like tryptophan, another "sleepy" chemical in the brain. Yogurt, eggs and bananas are other good choices. Try these yummy banana pancakes: In a bowl put 1 tablespoon quick oats, 1 tablespoon wholemeal self raising flour, 1/2 teaspoon bi-carb soda, 1 mashed banana & 2 eggs. Beat all ingredients together and cook in non stick pan. Serve with a dollop of greek yogurt and a drizzle of honey. (Brush teeth afterwards!)
8. Reign in holiday sleep ins
School holidays allow us all to relax a bit, but don't allow kids to get too carried away with late nights and long sleep ins - experts say we should stick to usual bed times within about an hour, to prevent issues with getting back into the swing of things when school begins. That goes for weekends too... if school night bedtime is 8pm, weekends should be no later than 9.