Just as you are about to slip into blissful sleep, your toddler cries. Again. Frustrated out of your mind, you get up to go and see what’s up. It’s past 12 and you have an important meeting tomorrow morning. Can’t your child go to sleep already!? Sound familiar?
Many parents wonder why their children struggle to sleep at night. When I asked Google whether my child is getting enough sleep, it gave me 5.3 million hits in 0.44 seconds. So clearly this is a question worth asking: Is my child getting enough sleep?
Myths about children and sleep
There are a lot of interesting ideas out there about child’s sleep. But obviously all of them can’t be right, right? Surely some of the old wives’ tales are wrong? Let’s have a look at some of the very common myths about children and sleep.
Everything in the house must be completely quiet before your child can fall asleep.
This is not quite true, nor is it practical. If you only have one kid, it might not be that difficult to stay quiet while he or she drifts off. You can wash the dishes after you are sure that the little one fell asleep, or you can time the dishwasher to do its thing at midnight. But what if you have two or three children? How do you keep them all quiet at the same time, especially if the age gap is big enough that they go to bed at different times? It’s gonna be difficult.
Another thing to consider: If you manage to keep your house and all of your household activities quiet at night, your child might struggle to fall asleep in any other environment. This is not a good thing. According to pediatricians and sleep practitioners, it is better to make your child used to falling asleep with household noises in the background. There are no studies that I know of that proves it; but some sleep specialists say that children who are used to falling asleep amidst some hustle and bustle are likely to be solid sleepers throughout their lives. So if you want to give your children one of the best gifts any parent could ever give a child, make them used to sleeping with a little noise in the background!
Naps aren’t necessary.
False. Up to six months, babies need to sleep for 20 hours out of a 24 hour time frame. That is a lot of sleep, if you ask me! After that it eases out a bit, but not a lot. It is recommended that toddlers sleep for 14 hours in a 24 hour period, and take two naps throughout the day. From four years of age, children can sleep two hours less, meaning they have to sleep for 12 hours out of 24, including a nap. Even preschoolers are still encouraged to take naps in the afternoon and to get in at least 11 hours’ worth of sleep over the period of a day.
A lot of people believe that if they deprive their children of an afternoon nap, they will fall asleep faster at night. But this is not the case. By skipping naps you can disrupt the little one’s sleeping patterns and have exactly the opposite effect! If your children struggle to fall asleep at night, try bringing back the afternoon nap. Children that skip a nap are often grumpy or irritable around bedtime, so save yourself and your kid some hassle and let him or her nap.
Tiring your child out before bed is a good idea
Nope. It is not. Sure, make your child get rid of all that energy. But be sure to do it before dinner time. Children are very excitable and if they are too active right before bedtime, they might struggle to fall asleep. Their tiny bodies may still be filled with adrenaline from running around, screaming and shouting. Only once the adrenaline worked out will they be able to come to rest completely.
Instead of having your child do cartwheels before bed, read him or her a story. Let him or her draw something, build a puzzle or do some colouring. These kinds of activities tend to make children sleepy and if it doesn’t, at least it doesn’t induce too much excitement.
Put your kid to bed later than usual
This point ties in nicely with the previous one. There are people that, if your child struggles to fall asleep, you should put him/her to bed later than usual. But according to The Baby Sleep Site, this is simply not the case. They say that overtired children can struggle to fall asleep and if they eventually do fall asleep, they tend to wake up during the early morning hours. So keeping your child awake for longer won’t work. As if it would? How would less time in bed make you sleep more? It doesn’t make sense at all…
Let your child watch TV before going to bed
This is probably the worst idea I have ever heard! If you think that this is the best way to make your child sleepy, you are sorely mistaken. I do not mean to offend anyone that puts their child on front of the TV to calm him/her down, but there are plenty of reasons why this is not such a good idea.
First off, the light coming out of the TV screen, computer monitor, cellphone screen or tablet suppresses the release of melatonin. This is the hormone that tells your body it’s time for bed. Therefore it makes sense that, if you watch TV before bedtime, you won’t be very sleep when you get in bed. This in turn might lead to not being able to fall asleep, which leads to sleep deficiency. Something you don’t really want to encourage in your children.
Secondly, while looking at a screen might seem harmless and even calming, it is not. The brain gets stimulated by the constant change of scenery. This makes the brain more wakeful, which might cause problems when it is time to fall asleep.
As a side note: In general, watching TV is not the best past time for children. A UK based study showed that Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in children can be linked to watching too much television. According to the study, entire days or even weeks can be portrayed in one episode of a TV series. If children watch enough TV they will become used to an ever changing environment, hence they cannot focus on anything for extended periods of time.
Play your children music before bedtime
While it is not exactly a bad idea, it might not be such a good idea either. Especially not if you plan to play heavy metal or big room smashers… The problem with playing music, or even singing to your children before they go to bed is this: What if they need to go to bed and you or your music is not around? If they wake up in the middle of the night, how are they going to fall asleep again if you made them used to falling asleep with music in the background? I’m pretty sure you don’t want to go and put the music on or sing every time your child wakes up during the night.
Another problem with playing music to a sleeping child is that, even when sleeping, the young brain still tries to listen to the music. This might induce restless sleep.
But it is not all bad. If you want to sing to your baby before bedtime, just do it in hushed tones and try to repeat the same song over and over. Gentle humming may actually be more effective. Why? Certain research shows that, when someone is falling asleep, a sudden change in the background noise startles the brain into a more wakeful state. So basically, changing the song means that you are delaying the onset of sleep.
The weekends are made for catching up sleep.
I hate to break it to you, but they’re not. Especially not for children! It is recommended that, up to the age of 16, children should sleep for at least ten hours a night. Every night. It is very important that children get in their beauty sleep, because if they don’t it might lead to behavioral disorders and worse. Sleep deprivation in children might cause physical health issues in children that can stay with them throughout their lives.
So instead of keeping your child awake all week and thinking that he or she will catch up on that lost sleep over the weekend, put him/her to bed at the same time every night. Even on weekends. This might mean that you will have to keep more regular hours, but is it not worth it? Is your party habits more important to you than your child’s future? Besides, children that sleep enough are happy children and we all want happy children, don’t we?
How can I be sure that my child sleeps enough?
Here are some tips on how to make sure your children gets enough shut eye:
Create a steady routine
From recent research it is quite clear that children function better when they have a sleep routine. This is especially true for children up to the age of six. But don’t think once they hit six they can just go to bed whenever they want. They still need a routine. You can go back and read some of our previous blog posts to see that getting in a sleep routine yourself might not be such a bad idea. And if we prescribe it to adults, surely it goes for children too!
So basically, make sure that your kid knows when he/she has to take a nap, when they have to go to bed etc. Try your best to make them go to bed around the same time every night. It is recommended that they do not stay awake or fall asleep more than half an hour later/earlier than usual. The same thing goes for afternoon and morning naps. Decide on a time and stick to it. Obviously all children are different, so also take into account your child’s circumstances and deposition.
Read to your child at bedtime
If you want to calm your child with a bedtime story, read it to him/her. Don’t let them watch the story on some screen. The sound of your voice will comfort and sooth the child, whereas a TV will just excite the poor kid. Reading to your children also has the added benefit that you actually get to spend some time with your child. Besides, reading to your children forges a bond between you and them.
Show your loved ones affection
How can this help your child sleep? It is a bit of a psychological thing, really. If your children see that you love your spouse in the way that you talk and act towards him/her, the children will feel safe. Showing love and affection towards your family members and even towards your pets creates a sense of belonging in a child. If the child can see that you take care of everything that you love, and you tell the child that you love him/her, the little one will rest easy.
On the other hand, if you do not show affection to the ones you love and you don’t handle them with respect, your child will pick up on that and feel unsafe. It’s amazing how perceptive children can be and if they see that you and your spouse are fighting or unhappy with each other, their little brains start to feel insecure. I don’t know about you, but I don’t really sleep well when I feel unsafe, do you? If I can’t sleep when I feel unsafe, and I’m a grown man, how will a child sleep if he/she feels unsafe?
Have your own healthy sleep pattern
The best way to teach children something is to show them. If your children know and see that you follow a healthy sleep schedule, chances are they will do the same. Sp next time you want to skip your afternoon nap, think of your children and take the nap!