Good sleep hygiene for children

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Sleep hygiene tips for children!  

Putting the kids to bed is a constant battle which doesn’t get easier, no matter how determined you are. I heard about the practice of good sleep hygiene in children and wanted to know how this could help me.

I found sleep hygiene to be the practice of adopting a variety of habits to ensure a good night’s sleep, thus enabling you to be alert the following day. Here are 7 sleep hygiene tips for children which can be adopted to offer some respite: 1) Make children feel safe and secure, 2) Avoid caffeine stimulants, 3) Adhere to a common bedtime routine, 4) Consistent sleep pattern, 5) Nutrition intake, 6) Switch off electronic devices, 7) Physical activity and the outdoors.

In a little more detail, here is a breakdown of sleep hygiene practices, tips and tricks:

1) Make children feel safe and secure
Children need to feel safe and secure at bed times and during the night when it’s dark and much quieter in their room. When they are safe it may prevent them from waking up their parents in the early hours of the morning. Try some of these methods.

    •  Invest in a night light as it will help children feel safer. There is an abundance of night lights available on the market from a cost effective plug-in night light to a fancy Gro Clock sleep trainer. Make sure the light is not too bright otherwise it could keep your child awake.
    • Give the child a cuddly toy to which they are familiar with, especially helpful for younger children to cuddle and comfort
    • Reduce exposure to TV violence or computer games, especially for older children as it may promote fear when they are alone in bed
    • Blackout curtains are great to keep unwanted lights from shining through your bedroom window. In particular, the sun setting later in the day during the summer months creates challenges, especially when your child objects to it being bedtime because it’s not dark outside.
      We have all been there I am sure and this is where blackout curtains can help mask the light outside.

2) Avoid caffeine stimulants
This is a must to ensure good sleep hygiene, especially with older children. As we become wiser to the contents of the food and drink our children consume, we should make it priority to eradicate any caffeine stimulants.

This is especially the case in late afternoon or early evening and in some cases caffeine may need to be completely ruled out due to the adverse affects on your child.

Caffeine intake in children is at such a high and this leads to poor and disruptive sleep.

    • Fizzy drinks such as Cola contain up to 40mg of caffeine per can
    •  Energy drinks contain a staggering 80mg of caffeine per can (an equivalent cup of coffee is around 95g)
    • A bar of chocolate has around 70mg of caffeine

3) Adhere to a common bedtime routine
Adhere to a bedtime routine that your child is familiar with and don’t introduce any new tasks which could disrupt the routine.

Parents should try and follow a logical sequence of steps to ensure a familiar bedtime routine and improved sleep quality:

    • Bath time before bed relaxes your child by warming their core body temperature and soothing them enabling a better night’s sleep
    • Brushing teeth for the obvious reasons of hygiene and fighting tooth decay, should also be carried out prior to bedtime because it allows the child to get into a predictable routine
    • Bedtime stories work wonders as a tip to encourage good sleep hygiene by relaxing and soothing your child so they fall asleep. This together with bath time and brushing your teeth should not be disregarded.
    • Self-sleeping is essentially allowing your child to fall asleep on their own; after bathing, brushing teeth and a bedtime story. Depending on the child’s age, this could prove difficult but well worth the effort when they start to self-sleep without a parent in the same room.

4) Consistent sleep pattern
Consistency in a child’s sleep schedule will enable the child to sleep effectively at night, ensuring they have the energy and drive to function during the day. This is a key tenet of sleep hygiene.

    • Sleeping during the day for babies and children under 3 years of age, should be kept to approximately the same times each day and for the same duration, i.e. 1 to 1.5 hours per sleep session.
      Daytime sleeping for children over 3 years of age, should be much shorter at around 30 minutes duration in the early afternoon and should not be too close to their bedtime.
    • Sleeping and waking up schedule should be approximately the same times each day of the week, including weekends. The child’s body clock will therefore get used to this, enabling your child to fall asleep at roughly the same time and awake at roughly the same time each morning, which is positive sleep hygiene practice.

5) Nutrition intake

It is important your child eats nutritious meals including protein and carbohydrates to fuel their bodies at night and the following day.

    • Evening meal should be nutritious and filling to ensure your child doesn’t awake feeling hungry at night. However, try not to over feed your child as they may feel uncomfortable going to sleep with a full stomach.
    • Breakfast is equally as important and should be healthy to ensure your child is alert and gets through the morning.

6) Switch off electronic devices
Prior to sleep, it is advisable to switch off electronic devices such as tablets and smartphones because they emit short-wavelength blue light which could disrupt a child’s sleep. The blue light could impact the production of melatonin which is a hormone that helps us sleep at night.

The knock on effect of electronic devices is a poor night’s sleep and your child not being able to function in the morning.

Depending on the age of your child, it is advisable to either remove the device from their room or get your child into the habit of switching it to an evening mode.

Most importantly your child should be prevented from watching TV, playing computer games, using tablets smartphones at least one hour prior to bedtime

7) Physical activity and the outdoors

Taking your child to the park or to an outdoor play area will expose them to natural light and fresh air, keeping your child awake and alert during the day.

Older children should join activity classes such as Scouts, Girl Guides, gymnastics, karate, etc to develop new skills and interests.

Physical activity should enable your child to get to sleep that bit quicker at night. It also helps with your child’s fitness and helps combat obesity, therefore it has all round benefits.

The sleep hygiene Conclusion
Practising good sleep hygiene with children is theoretically, easier said than done. Whilst, we as parents can follow the above sleep hygiene tips, it is not the case that each tip or trick works for our child. Therefore, you should tailor the sleep routine to suit your individual child.

The aim is for a consistent approach during the day, in the evening and at bedtime which should help your child wind down and relax and put them in a good mindset the following morning.

After all this is what good sleep hygiene is about, having a good sleep thus enabling you to stay alert and focused the next day. It doesn’t need to be any more complicated than that.

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