A simple enough question, however when a child does not get enough sleep the consequences often impact across not only their lives but the whole family as well.
The sleep diaries and techniques in this book can help establish good sleeping habits for your child that can be used throughout their lives. “Insomniac’s A-Z Alphabet technique for adults”
The minute you walk through the door, after bringing your newborn baby home, you begin counting their hours of sleep.
The number of hours your infant sleeps has a major impact on your own personal health and well being.
I was so sleep deprived with my last born child that once I got up for the 2am feed, bumped my toe against the pram, fed the baby and went to bed, only to discover later that I had completely removed the toenail on my little toe. It was the pool of blood forming around my foot that woke me.
Fortunately, parents usually catch up on their sleep once a manageable routine has been established.
Our children’s sleep patterns continue to influence us well into adulthood. In fact, a new kind of sleep deprivation, with the associated irritability, rears its ugly head around the time your child starts school. It is a ‘no brainer’ that we should be helping our children develop and maintain good sleeping habits as early as possible.
Sleep deprivation in children may cause:
- Meltdowns – because the child is struggling with tiredness. Meltdowns tend to make everyone in the home grumpy and unsympathetic
- Fractious kids are a drain on one’s patience and often cause a parent to ‘react’ in ways that inflame the situation
- Reacting parents cause a child to become more stressed, insecure, and possibly also to feel guilty and unloved
- Kids to struggle at school and find it difficult to socialise with their classmates
- Struggling kids often feel inadequate, excluded from friendships and depressed
If your child is struggling, helping them may be as easy as developing a better sleeping pattern.
IT IS NEVER TO LATE TO CREATE A NEW SLEEPING PATTERN
Developing a good sleeping habit for your child
Studies have shown that it takes at least 4 weeks to develop a new habit. This will be the best investment in time you ever make. It has the potential to increase the health and well being, not only of your child but all members of the family.
Reduce Sugar & Caffeine Intake before bedtime:
Sugar is present naturally in fruit, so when you see the ‘no added sugar’ tag on a fruit juice, you need to be aware that there IS sugar in the product already.
Most parents understand the impact of caffeine on their first drink of the day; it makes sense to avoid giving your child drinks containing this in the late afternoon.
If you have diabetes or suffer from a condition called hyperglycaemia, you will be well aware of the effects of sugar and how quickly the addition of sugar can change how you feel
Sugar Test for Parents
If you do not suffer from any sugar related condition, that you know of, then I suggest you do this little exercise to gain a greater understanding of the effect sugar may have on your child if consumed before bedtime.
Avoid ALL SUGARS for 48 hours and then eat a small bar of chocolate and observe how the sugar makes you feel. All sugars mean no soft drinks, sugar in tea or coffee, no chocolate drinks, no cakes, cookies, ice cream, flavoured yoghurt, alcohol or fruit juice with natural sugar
When you eat the chocolate bar at the end of the 48 hours, the high sugar levels in your blood will give you a feeling of wellness, possibly a fun ‘buzz’ which may feel great. However, this is not at all helpful if you are a child and need to be relaxed, and calm, tired and ready for sleep.
It is important that you only consume the one small bar of chocolate and do not eat or drink any other sugar for about an hour afterwards so that you can experience the effects fully.
After the sugar high wears off there is the inevitable sugar low to cope with and the side effects of that include feeling down or sad and, occasionally, the shakes or headaches.
Definitely not what you need to be feeling when you want to go to sleep.
Before you begin using the sleep diary
A few things to think about before you begin to help your child develop a good sleep pattern:
No Electronic Devices before bedtime
Studies have shown that removing devices and stopping children from watching television at least 90 minutes before their bedtime will give them a better chance of a good night’s sleep.
Use the 90 minutes before bedtime to help your child wind down from their day. Quiet play, relaxing music, possibly aromatherapy oils in their bath, and story time will give them an opportunity to relax before it is time to get into bed.
The Australian Department of Health’s guidelines recommend that children five to 12 years have no more than two hours of screen-based entertainment per day, and that two-to-five year olds have less than one hour. Children under two should have none at all.
Studies are ongoing worldwide and I am following them with interest.
In a nutshell:
- Using television, tablets, iPads, smartphones, laptops, computers or other electronic devices before bedtime delays your body’s internal clock or circadian rhythm
- This suppresses the release of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin which makes it difficult to fall asleep, mainly due to the short wavelength artificial blue light that is emitted by devices
- The more electronic devices that a person uses in the evening, the harder it is to fall asleep and to stay asleep
- Viewing devices increases your alertness at a time when you should be getting sleepy
- Using these devices before bedtime delays the onset of REM sleep
- Reduced REM sleep compromises alertness the next morning
Developing new sleeping habits program:
Sleep Diaries for Children
The sleep diaries are to help parents develop good sleeping patterns for their children. When completing the questions over four weeks, your child will, hopefully, be able to see that certain things they do during the day, and in particular before bedtime, impact on how well they sleep at night.
Use the Sleep Diaries and School Kids Sleep Diary Activity book to get your child started on a new sleeping pattern as soon as possible.
Use one Sleep Diary and Sleep Diary Activity Sheets for each of your children.
Discuss with all family members what it is that you are hoping to achieve from the exercise. If your children are older you may consider having a family team meeting to ensure that everyone is on the same wavelength.
Your children’s age and your specific lifestyle will determine what time they should go to bed.
If you only get home from work, and after-school activities around six in the evening, it will be unrealistic for your child to go to bed much before seven. However, you could begin the ‘no devices and no sugars’ regime.
Older children may need to do homework or complete alignments for which they will likely need their devices. It is unrealistic to enforce the ‘no device rule’ for them at this time.
If you are concerned that your child may be using social media when they should be doing their homework, be aware that while you can disable apps on their devices, they are still able to log into social media via Google, Firefox, Safari etc.
Communicate. Really TALK to your teenager about the dangers that lurk online and let them know they can talk to you about those sorts of things.
Younger children can be bathed and readied for the evening meal, without having the television on in the background. Try recording programs you don’t want to miss and enjoy watching them in peace once the children are asleep. Make sure that you also stop watching or using devices at least 90 minutes before your bedtime if you struggle to fall asleep.
I found that my children enjoyed being in the kitchen when l prepared the evening meal and I often gave them things to do to help me.
Activities such as colouring in books, or playing a word or board games are a great way to focus the child’s mind away from any stresses of the day.
Reading or storytelling with your child at bedtime has worked for generations.
Use the time before bedtime to ensure everyone has everything that they need for the following day to avoid stress in the morning.
Invest in a digital clock for the bedroom with red-lit numbers. Clocks with green light display tend to be too bright and may disturb their sleep. Having the time visible when they wake up may reassure them enough to enable them to get back to sleep.
If you have a young child that gets out of bed too early, there are Grow Clocks available. These clock faces show stars at night and an image of the sun when it is time for the child to be getting up. You can then tell your child that they can only come out of their bedroom when the clock is showing the sun shining. You can set the time that the clock face changes to showing the sun to suit your family timetable.
Establishing a routine around bedtime
Use the Sleep diaries provided to create a timetable that suits you, your children and the overall well-being of the family.
It will take about four weeks of working with the diary to create a new bedtime habit in your home.
Try not to become too rigid in the implementation of the bedtime you decide is best for your child or children. If you do that it may become additional stress to be dealt with. There will be evenings when you receive unexpected visitors who may disrupt everyone’s good intentions. Share with them what you have been doing. Perhaps they might like to read a story to the children and help you maintain some of the schedules. If that is not practical mark the evening as ‘unscheduled break from routine’. Relax and enjoy the evening and get the children to sleep as early as you are able.
Bed Exercises before you say goodnight
These simple bed exercises were part of my bedtime routine as a young child. I still do them, and use the alphabet technique on those occasions when I find myself struggling to sleep.
Ensure your child has been to the toilet and has a water bottle beside the bed in case they get thirsty in the night. Drink bottles are less likely to spill and wet the bed during the night than a glass or mug.
- Let them get into bed and lie under the covers
- Lie flat on their back
- Stretch legs with toes pointing towards the end of the bed, hold to the count of 5
- Next, pull their feet, so the toes point towards the ceiling, hold that position and count to five
- Move both feet in a circle, first to the left for three times and then to the right for three times and then opposite directions
- Lift their knees, so their heels are pushed close to their bottom, lift their bottom off the bed and hold it there to the count of 3
- Straighten the legs again and push the small of the back into the mattress by pulling in their tummy, hold for three counts
- Right hand straight above their head and stretch it as far as possible while pointing the left leg hard towards the end of the bed (stretching their side muscles) then repeat with the left hand and right foot
- One deep breath in, hold it for a few seconds before exhaling, repeat three times
- 10.Crunch up their shoulders so that they almost tough their ears, repeat three times
- 11.Move their head so that their ear is close to the pillow, first one side then the next hold each side for the count of three
- 12.Put their chin down onto their chest, as close as possible, hold for the count of three
- 13.Open their mouth as wide as they can and like their tongue out, three times
- 14.Open their eyes as wide as they can, then close them tightly, three times
- 15.Wiggle their ears. If they can!
- 16.One last long stretch with arms above their head and feet pointed, count to three
The exercises release endorphins which help one relax at bedtime.
Strategies to help your child unwind at bedtime
Not every child is the same and so don’t expect everyone to respond in the same way. I raised three daughters who were all very different from one another. Trust me, one size does not fit all when it comes to children.
- Some children will thrive on the schedule and the security it gives them
- Another will use it as an excuse to push the boundaries for all they are worth
- And one child may not be able to shut down enough to fall asleep ‘on demand.’
- Try not to make to big a deal of the exact time that the child should be asleep
- Your child may have issues with a teacher or feel excluded at school. They may even be bullied or molested
- Taking time with each child, at their bedtime will give you an opportunity to chat with them about their day
- Ensure your child feels safe and able to tell you things they are concerned with
- Try to initiate a discussion about how people make them feel, reminding them that they can say ‘No’ when asked to do something that makes them feel uncomfortable
No devices or television in the bedroom when they are going to sleep. That is at least 90 minutes of device-free time before bedtime
Ideally, all devices in the house should be charged at a central point, kitchen, lounge or study, including the devices of the parents if they wish to demonstrate a willingness to participate in the new Sleeping Pattern Program for the familyThe Sleep Diary Activity Book is designed to give your child an awareness of things starting with the letters of the alphabet.
When your child is in bed, the last thing you do with them is to suggest they think of the alphabet and ask them if they can remember something for each letter.
A young child may have this sort of conversation with you:
A for Andrew, he sits next to me at school; B for Brenda, she lives next door; C for Coffee that mum drinks in the mornings, D for Daddy, E for elephant, F for Freddie our dog, G for garden where I pick flowers, H for home, I for ice cream, J for January when it is my birthday, K for my blue Kite, L for lollies – yum!, M for mummy, N for Nanny (when is she coming to visit us again?), O is for orange juice, P is for my brother Peter, Q is for the queen, R is for the river we cross driving to school, S is for school (of course!), T is for teacher, Miss Ward, U is for umbrella and underpants too, V is for Vanessa my cousin, W is for water in the glass beside my bed, X is for Xylophone (no you cant play it now!) Z is for zebra.
Using the alphabet in this way makes a list that distracts them from thoughts that may prevent them from falling asleep.
The list does not have to be alphabetical and can be of anything at all that you know your child enjoys or is interested in.
Suggestions such as:
Think of games you enjoy the most, can you think of any new ones you would like to play tomorrow?
Can you think of the last few movies you enjoyed lately?
Can you think of cartoon characters or superhero characters you like and why you like them?
An older child may be able to count to 100 in their head
A teenager may enjoy thinking about a video they could make to share with the family that has interviews with grandparents, aunts and uncles talking and demonstrating how things were when they were children
Nightmares and a fear of bedtime
Some children have nightmares and are afraid to go to sleep because of them. I have seen great success in overcoming the fear of nightmares when using things such as
Legend has it that the spider web design of the dream catcher would allow good dreams to pass through and float down the hanging beads and feathers to sleeping children. Bad dreams, however, would be caught in the web. As the first rays of the morning light hit the dream catcher, the bad dreams would disappear.
In my experience, Dream Catchers are a visual reminder to reassure your child that a bad dream will not harm them
Amulets are said to provide protection from danger
Charms are usually worn, to attract good luck to the wearer. They work well when placed under the pillow or besides the bed
A talisman is used to attract a particular benefit to its owner
Crystals are said to aid sleep and can be personalised for your child
Never discount the power of a teddy bear at bedtime, they have been protecting children since 1902
Soft toys and super hero dolls
Special toys who are incredibly brave and able to protect your child at night can be invaluable. Do not dismiss the use of these sort of things to help your child simply because you don’t understand them.
Monster under the bed spray
Make your own Monster Repellant spray by using distilled water, plus a few drops of essential oils such as lavender, mandarin, peppermint etc. Spray under
Mayan Worry Dolls
Mayan legend stats that: “When a person cannot sleep well due to worries, they tell the worries to a worry doll. They put the doll under their pillow and during the night the worry doll worries in the person’s place, allowing them to sleep well and wake refreshed”
The Worry Tree is a special tree with baskets that hang down for a person with worries to place them into. The magic tree dissolves the worries overnight so when you go to fetch them in the morning – they have gone. “The Worry Tree” is a delightful book written by Marrianne Musgrove which is suitable for ages 8 – 12 years old
Music or relaxing sounds playing softly in the bedroom when your child is getting ready for bed can be most helpful.
Try not to dismiss things you do not believe in, such as crystals and dream catchers. It is essential is to give your child a safe, secure place to sleep each night. I am sure you would not hesitate to give your child a crutch to help them walk if they hurt their leg. Please don’t hesitate to provide them with something a little out of the ordinary to help them get through fear of going to sleep at night.
Suggestions for that child who finds it difficult to switch off at bedtime:
Don’t despair if you have a child that struggles to switch off at night. They are usually very creative, and their imagination tends to go into overdrive much later in the day that seems reasonable to others. They are generally not “morning people.”
“Ah”, I can hear you thinking as I type… “If they went to sleep at a reasonable hour then perhaps they would be better little human beings in the early mornings.”
Some kids cannot switch off quickly. They need a little help to unwind.
The time you put into developing good sleeping patterns with this type of child will be very beneficial to them in later life when they do not have someone looking over them to see they get enough sleep.
- Be sure the child understands that even if they cannot fall asleep, they do have to remain in bed in a restful position and not disturb other family members
- Allow them to have a subdued light that will not disrupt the family
- Colouring in intricate patterns can be relaxing for some children
- Designing things such as fashion clothing, bridges, unique buildings and floor plans for furniture can give a ‘wired’ child’s mind something to focus on that does not cause stress and allows them to relax enough to fall asleep without too much time passing
- Creating with pen and paper will enable the child to wind down in their own time, without any additional stimulation from a device
- I know of some children who make us stories as they wait to go to sleep
- Best selling sci-fi author, Hugh Howe, of books such as Wool, Sand, Shift and Dust, told me that as a child, he used to make up a story about life on Mars when he wanted to get to sleep.
- Some individuals do not require as much sleep as the rest of us, if you feel your child is one of those individuals, I strongly urge you to enforce the no device rule for 2 hours before bedtime. Give them a pen and paper instead.
Positive Distraction at Bedtime
Use definite distraction ideas to give your child something fun to think about at bedtime.
Undertake creative projects that you can do together that will require your child to research and think about what they can do to help you.
Doing ongoing projects with your child gives them something positive to think about at bedtime.
Projects such as:
- Painting rocks to hide
- Creating a photo book of the favourite family recipes
- Time Capsule
- Family Yearbook
Reminding your child at bedtime about a project will give them something fun to think about when they are about to go to sleep.
I know it is tedious having to settle a child, especially at the end of a long day and your brain has the song “but what about me?” on repeat play. It is worth the effort, as the reward can be life-changing for everyone.
Speak to your doctor or health practitioner if you continue to be concerned about your child’s sleep patterns.