Sleep. For some lucky parents, it’s not much of an issue, but for others, it’s the most frustrating part of child rearing. Colic, night terrors and nap skipping for young ones and staying up all night, sleeping all day for teens. Kids need their eight to ten hours to stay healthy but why is the simple act of closing their eyes at night and waking up at a decent time in the morning such a difficult routine to lock down?
Pick up any parenting magazine and you’re guaranteed to find a headline on the cover proclaiming a new cure for sleep issues. Here are some ways to help your child achieve a restful night’s sleep!
Newborns to six months: all sleep, all the time
It’s not uncommon for newborns to sleep up to 18 hours a day, waking every three or four hours for feedings. During their first 12 weeks, it may take anywhere between three to five months before they sleep for more than five hours at a time – or as long as their tummies will allow. One way to help your baby get used to a day and night sleep cycle, or circadian rhythm, is to include her in your daily activities. A 2002 study conducted by Wulff and Siegmund showed that newborns who were active at the same time of day as their mothers were more likely to adapt to a daily schedule than those who were not.
Keep in mind that while it’s normal for infants to wake up several times a night, it’s helpful to avoid any kind of stimulus that will prompt them to wake up fully instead of just letting them fall asleep again on their own. Too much talking, engaging in play, bright lights and noisy toys can turn a fussy few minutes into hours of lost sleep for both of you in the middle of the night. A warm bath just before bed is always a good way to help baby wind down and prepare for a restful sleep.
Six to 12 months: setting a pattern
By now your baby may have established a sleep pattern that works for her. Infants this age still need about 14 hours of sleep with two to three naps during the day lasting anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours. If you find your baby has difficulty falling asleep at night, it could be due to a few simple reasons. You may be underestimating how tired she is, for example. Parents sometimes try to establish a bedtime when the child is too young and is simply not tired enough to go to sleep. The opposite can also be true; waiting until your child is overtired might backfire as tired babies can become more awake as the night goes on.
Look for these signs indicating sleepiness: rubbing eyes or pulling ears, a lack of interest in people or stimulating toys or behaviours, yawning and/or fluttering eyelids.
Ages one to three: when things fall apart
When it comes to sleep, the toddler years can be some of the most frustrating; for some kids, this is also a time when separation anxiety kicks in and crawling into bed with mom and dad can bring comfort. Now is the time to start thinking about set bedtimes and naptimes. Toddlers need about 14 hours of total sleep over the course of 24 hours. Life happens and their sleep schedules might not always be set in stone, but try to build appointments and visits around naptimes and certainly before bedtime. An overtired toddler can collapse into a meltdown that can take some time to turn around.
A bedtime routine is a fun way to wind down the day and can be a ritual you all look forward to. It’s a great way to let your child ask burning questions and tame some fears before going to sleep. Allow anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes to read a story (or two, or three) review the day, make plans for tomorrow and put a few stuffed animals to sleep, too.
Try not to let the routine draw out too long and if your child continues to get out of bed, simply escort her back as many times as you have to. This is also the stage when active dreaming starts and nightmares can wake your child up frequently. Hold him, let him talk about his bad dream and quietly exit the room after he’s calmed down.
Elementary school age: the rhythm of the night
Technology use starts to ramp up around this stage. More and more young children carry cell phones and frequently play games on mom’s iPad. While you might think that time spent on educational games is healthy, the blue light emitting from LED screens can be disruptive to a child’s circadian rhythm by suppressing the release of melatonin, the hormone responsible for letting them relax and fall asleep.
A study conducted at the University of Basel in Switzerland concluded that people who looked at LED screens, which emit twice as much blue light as old-style fluorescent monitors, experienced a far slower rise in melatonin in the body, therefore taking longer to fall asleep. Enforce a no-technology-before-bedtime rule at least an hour before your kids hit the sack. It may be easier said than done; a tell-tale light shining from under their covers will surely give them away!
Homework, sports teams and sleepovers can also add to your child’s already busy schedules. Factor in stress before tests and tension with friends and you have a child that lies awake worrying and missing out on precious sleep. Maintain a constant dialogue with your kids and ask them what’s on their minds if you notice they’re not themselves. Sometimes conversations offering solutions or even a chance to vent can bring sleep schedules back into line.
Teens: let’s make a deal
If you think your teenagers are out of the woods when it comes to sleep problems, you’re in for a surprise. Though teens only need about nine hours of sleep a night, most get far less and end up chronically sleep deprived. But despite how much you might nag them to get to bed already, their “stay up later, wake up later” habits are really not their fault. Puberty hormones tend to push teens’ body clocks ahead by a couple of hours, causing them to want to sleep later, which they tend to do – especially on weekends. This can start a perpetual cycle of sleep deprivation and lead to problems concentrating in class, irritability, depression, risk-taking behaviour and missing school.
The chances of your teen going to bed when you tell him are slim to none, but there are some things you can suggest. Look at his schedule to see if he’s over committed; too many after-school activities can cause sleep to go on the backburner when in fact it should be a priority for active kids. Try negotiating an early turn-in time on Sunday nights. Chances are your teen might not have gotten up until 2pm that day, but modeling a relaxing, wind-down time yourself might get the whole family in the habit.
Discourage caffeine-laden foods and beverages like chocolate, colas or energy drinks which can have effects hours after consuming. If you think your teen’s sleep issues may stem from a mental or medical illness, have him assessed by your family doctor. There could be more to his erratic schedule than just wanting to stay up late.
Kids and sleep sometimes don’t mix. But with a bit of patience and recognizing the signs of what can hinder a good night’s rest, your family can hopefully manage the bumpy ride together without losing too many z’s!
Talking to your Naturopathic Doctor about sleep concerns can be really helpful as well. Your ND might suggest some nutritional products to help support sleep, especially in older children. Magnesium and homeopathics can be quite helpful but always check with your healthcare practitioner.
Learning about why sleep is such a problem for some kids may help you find a resolution so the whole family can get some rest!