In my practice, I see children who struggle academically or emotionally. I am never surprised when they tell me that their sleep is bad too or that they wake tired in the morning. Bedtime itself can be a bone of contention between parent and child.
Working on ‘sleep hygiene’ with child and parent immediately makes other issues easier to deal with. We explore how things can be improved between them - how each has a responsibility - and in my practice, I teach the child or teenager what he can do immediately to improve the quality of his sleep. Giving them this responsibility can be very empowering and effective.
Here’s my sleep guide, which sums up what can be done.
Children’s Sleep Problems - A Parent’s Guide
How do you help your children sleep well? How do you get them to bed as easily as possible?What about yourself?
Good sleep improves minds, health and grades. It is as important as healthy nutrition. As parents we need to educate our children about sleep matters and encourage them to take responsibility for their own sleep as soon as possible – just as they take control of eating well and drinking sensibly when they are older.
Here are 12 of the best ideas on offer from sleep experts.
Help Your Child Sleep Well
1. Encourage your kid to get enough exercise and fresh air every day. At least 30 minutes of it.
2. Cut down on sugar and carbs. Have less of it in the house.
3. Teach your child to take private time each day – time that does not need to be accounted for and when she is not available to chat on social media. (One 16 year-old recently discovered how alluring it was to be thought of as elusive when she didn’t immediately respond to facebook and text messages.)
4. Make time to solve problems during the day. Bedtime is never the time to solve problems or worry. Many children like making a little ‘worry pot’. I encourage them to put any worries In there and see what’s still in the pot in the morning. Illusory monster repellent spray works too.
5. Be selective about TV watching. The right programmes inform, inspire, entertain and increase vocabulary. A recent study from Harvard University though, discovered what many suspected for some time: children lose 7 minutes of sleep for every hour they watch TV.
6. Take all LCD screens out of the bedroom at bedtime. This means no TV, smartphones, laptops or tablets. They deplete the body system of melatonin which you need to sleep. Turn everything off about an hour before bedtime.
(Dyslexic children I have worked with, can also very unsettled by too many books in their bedroom. Either because they can’t read them or because they are troubled by all the thoughts and ideas contained within them.)
7. Make sure the bedroom is dark and well ventilated. Keep a window open.
Making Bedtime as Easy and Comfortable as Possible
8. Bedtime is a shared responsibility. Stick to your side of the bargain and avoid getting distracted by your mobile, laptop or tablet. Put all those devices away for as long as it takes to be present.
9. Make bedtime a fixed time. Establish a daily routine (of about 20 – 30 minutes) and try to stick to it as much as possible.
10. Ask your child to tell you 3 good things that happened today, however small. Training your brain to look for positive experiences or interpretations is an important habit to set up.
11. Read or tell a story - not too exciting perhaps, but definitely reassuring.
12. Do some deep breathing – where the out-breath is longer than the in-breath – to calm down the mind and body.
Some children prefer to do a simple calming visualisation, imagining themselves in a nice place – by a beach or in the mountains – listening to the wind and waves or floating down the mountain on skis. This will take them off to sleep in no time.
What about you? How can you improve your own sleep
All the above principles apply to you too, of course. A few extra tips:
1. Avoid coffee after 2pm and tea after 4pm.
2. Watch the booze. It is a false friend. More than one glass of alcohol in the evening will need to be metabolised and this will affect your sleep.
3. Wind down with a warm bath – not too hot.
4. Just in case you have worries: keep a little notebook by your bed to log anything you don’t want to forget. But that’s it. Store the thought and go to sleep.
5. If switching off is hard to do, I recommend my own CD 'Learn to Unwind and Re-energise' specially designed for all my clients, or Michael Yapko’s Sleeping Soundly.
Do you have any other ideas that work well for you and your family?
Please write in and share your own experience and findings on how to improve sleep. I look forward to hearing from you.