Sleep, glorious sleep

It never ceases to amaze me how similar parents’ concerns are about their children, no matter where we are living. One of the most common areas of concern that parents express is around sleep or more correctly the lack of sleep.

Our bodies are finely tuned systems of energy and cell growth and having good sleep ensures we stay well, calm and capable of interacting with our world in this strange thing called life.

When we are sleep deprived we struggle even if we think we don’t. For babies, toddlers and children (and teens) their ability to manage their world is seriously compromised and often they display inappropriate behaviour in an attempt to cope. Sleep reduces stress both during the sleeping and the waking hours.

This article from the National Sleep Foundation (US) does a great job of explaining the sleep-wake cycle and how our circadian rhythms are regulated by light and dark, something that takes time for us to grow into.

It also gives a fantastic breakdown of how much sleep children and adolescents should be getting at various stages of life — 50% of their time as babies; 13 hours as pre-schoolers; and 10-11 hours between age 6 and adolescence.

Our adolescents need even more sleep than pre-pubsecents. I write in more detail about that in my article The nightmare of adolescent sleep.

Secure infants who are attached to their caregiver may have fewer sleep problems, but some may also be reluctant to give up this engagement for sleep. During the second half of their first year of life, infants may also experience separation anxiety. Illness and increased motor development, which may also disrupt sleep.

Sleep tips for babies, infants and toddlers

  • Have a consistent bedtime routine (i.e. dinner/bath/bed/story)
  • Ensure the room is a good environment for sleeping (calm colours, soft lighting, quiet, cool, etc.) and make sure the room is set up the same way each night
  • Gently encourage baby to fall asleep independently and to become a “self-soother”.
  • Security blankets/teddies, etc. (provided they are safe) are fine.
  • Avoid TV or screens in their bedroom.
  • Avoid too much stimulation from noise, loud voices, very large screens and chaos.
  • Use familiar calming music.
  • Use familiar night lights that build a sense of safety.
  • Use soothing techniques to soothe their nervous system.
  • For toddlers over 2, maybe try my free Sleepytime audio track.

A child’s need to feel safe is a primary need that builds deep human connectedness so please do what you can to meet this need. Eventually, they will be able to sleep alone without your help!

Some top tips for soothing young children (and triggering the love neurotransmitter oxytocin)

  1. Calm adults
  2. Touch and massage — especially the ‘tickle point’ (high on back — stroke gently)
  3. Rocking
  4. Go-slow childhoods
  5. Sucking
  6. Physical comforters — soft toys, dummies, blankets
  7. Warmth, approx 21 degrees C — (or cooling if child has a temperature)
  8. Low soothing sounds, familiar songs
  9. Bathing in warm bath
  10. Novelty — laughter
  11. Avoid overstimulation, especially loud voices, noises, too much chaos, and too much change.

What we know about poor sleep:

  • Impacts memory solidification
  • Increases irrational moods and especially irritability and “meltdowns!”Impedes learning capacity for next day
    Increases negative thinking and negative self-talk
  • lncreases chances of depression significantly
  • Can increase obesity
  • Reduces capacity to resist distractions like Facebook
  • Can depress immune system
  • Increases sense of vulnerabilty

Sleep needs to be a high priority in all homes. Calming home environments after dinner also need to be a priority to ensure that sleep is achievable and this may mean a reduction in activities that stimulate.

For those who have ‘roosters’ — our high-energy darlings — preparing for good sleep starts when they wake up in the morning! How can you keep their energy even? Watch sugars, increase protein, ensure complex carbs, also ensure vigorous physical activity preferably in the afternoon to reduce the energy reserves.

If you get desperate…

  • Make a banana smoothie with honey.
  • Try a warm milk drink not loaded with sugar
  • Massage feet or head.Get some Australian Bush Flower essences that promote sleep.
  • Use calming sandalwood, lavender or a combination aromatherapy and infuse the house.
  • Have everyone in the house try a calming audio relaxation such as Beach Bliss or Moonlight Magic — two to three times a week for three weeks will help build new calming pathways in their brains … habits become the norm!

One last message before you drop off…

If you have a child who makes a lot of nasal noises, seems to toss and turn restlessly most nights, get him or her checked out by your GP. My youngest was like this and would fall asleep on the floor sometimes — on closer inspection he was found to have massive adenoids and tonsils. When tested at a sleep clinic, he was only sleeping 27 per cent of the night! No wonder he was small. Once these were removed, he took off physically and energetically!

I wish you the magic of sound sleep – often – and don’t forget it’s OK to have a nap if you are a tired parent.

Also, this article from startsleeping.org (also US-based but totally relevant to all of us) is an incredibly comprehensive read about understanding what impacts our sleep and how to improve it so please do check it out.