A good night’s sleep is more than just going to bed on time. It’s about staying asleep and getting enough deep sleep through the night. The body needs time to recharge and adapt, processing the information gained from the day and putting items in short-term memory into the long term.
Your children need more sleep than you. Being young is hard work, as the body goes through so many changes and so much development. The brain is constantly adapting and growing, while the muscles build, the bones get stronger, and the hormones develop. You need to help your children get the best night’s sleep possible.
Younger children will even likely need sleep during the day. This will depend on the amount of sleep your child gets on a night, but a nap until around the age of three (at least) is normal to help with the energy levels and processes.
There are various things that will affect the sleep. A one-off isn’t going to do much damage, but regularly not getting the best sleep is going to be damaging for the mental and physical health. Here’s your all-in-one guide to make sure your children get the best sleep possible. It’s a look at improving your routine and steps to ensure a better night’s sleep.
Make Sure You Have a Set Routine
Children like routines. In fact, all humans tend to like routines. The brain gets used to the pattern and helps to set a rhythm for the full day. You’ll find that sticking to a set routine throughout the day will help your child develop fully and improve the sleep on a night.
Even if you don’t have a routine throughout the day, make sure you have a good routine on a night. This is more than just sticking to the same bedtime and wake-up times. You want to set up a routine that helps your children wind down from the day and the excitement of playing.
Try to avoid TV screens for the last half hour of the day. This is a good time to settle in with a book or to encourage some self-play. You can then opt for a bath (and a bottle or cup of milk for younger children). Opt for brushing the teeth and getting ready for bed and then it’s time to get into bed. Most children will fall asleep within 20 minutes of going to bed, as long as their bodies are ready for it. The routine helps get the body ready for it.
The routine will also help to relax. Your children feel safer and more mentally ready for bed. They’re in that state where they want to sleep.
Sticking to the same times will also help to set up the sleep schedule and get the body ready for a long night’s sleep. You want to avoid a time that is more than two hours either side of the regular sleep and wake-up time. Young children don’t understand the need to sleep for longer, but you can encourage them to attempt to fall back asleep with the use of some devices. Try a Grow Clock in their room, which has stars counting down for when the sun rises. This is excellent for older children, and even if they don’t go back to sleep, they’ll get used to staying in their beds!
The odd night where you don’t stick to the schedule and routine isn’t going to cause too many problems, but you want to think carefully about when you do this. It really should be a case of a one off now and then.
Cut Out the Daytime Naps
As children get older, they don’t need to nap during the day. The only time a nap may be needed for older children and adults is when they’re ill. That’s when the body needs extra sleep because the quality isn’t as good and sleep helps with the repair work.
Children aged more than five don’t need daytime naps at all. You may want to consider one on a weekend if they’re getting extremely run down from school, but most of the time those five and older can get through a full day without the need to sleep. If you do choose a nap, opt for a 20-minute power nap. This is enough time to rejuvenate the energy without disrupting the sleep schedule too much.
Those who sleep when they don’t need it will find it much harder to sleep on a night. If they do sleep, they’ll find it much harder to stay asleep during the night and can find it harder to wake on a morning because they’ve been up in the middle of the night.
When children reach three years old, you’ll want to consider cutting down on the naps. From this age, they can start getting through a day without sleep—although this does depend on the development and the individual. A 30-minute nap in the middle of the day may be enough to give them the power boost they need to get to bedtime.
You want to start encouraging a reduction in time on naps as they get older. Start waking them up and get them moving right away, helping them recover from the sleepy stage. This keeps them in a routine.
It’s also important to think about the timing of the naps. You don’t want your child to sleep at 6 pm, two hours before their bedtime. Their bodies won’t feel the need to fall asleep at 8 pm. Try to keep the naptime until just after lunchtime, so it’s in the middle of the day and gives them time to run out of energy before they need to sleep.
Get Rid of the Blue Light
The blue light comes from the likes of computer screens, tablets, phones and other devices. It blocks the development of melatonin in the body, which is the chemical needed to sleep. A person looking at a screen is less likely to feel tired, so they’ll find it much harder to get to sleep. This is especially the case for children.
You’ll want to avoid using them at least half an hour before bed, although an hour is even better. However, it’s not just about avoiding them before bed. You always want to avoid them in the room.
As children get older, they will want to take their phones to bed. They may like to watch Netflix in bed just before they go to bed. All you’re doing is delaying the development of the right chemical, so you delay their sleep schedule.
Plus, you don’t have control over what they’re doing on their phones and tablets. Children can like the adrenaline rush, without realizing the side effects of it. For example, they may watch a scary movie or put a show on that isn’t age appropriate. This leads to fears in the room, such as fears of cuddly toy shapes in the dark or a fear of the “creature” under the bed.
Children who feel safe will sleep better than those who have fears. Those with fears are more likely to have nightmares disrupting their sleep, and some can have night terrors.
If your child is afraid of the dark, use a nightlight in the room. This can also be beneficial because your child knows they can see through the room to get to the door to use the bathroom or get to you if necessary.
Use Natural Light to Your Advantage
The natural light is a good way to improve the sleep cycle. Our bodies natural want to be awake during the day. We’re not nocturnal animals, even though some of us can find it more comfortable to stay up at night instead of getting up on a morning. Your children will gain benefits if they spend more time in natural light.
You can do this by opening the curtains and letting light into the home as much as you can. However, the best option is to get your children outside as often as possible. Encourage them to play outside when the weather is good and take trips out when the time allows. It’s not always possible, but the more you do it, the more your children’s sleep cycle will benefit.
The daylight will help with the production of melatonin in the body on a night. This is necessary to help fall asleep.
Eat and Drink the Right Things at the Right Time
It shouldn’t need to be said, but caffeine affects the quality of sleep. Children don’t need caffeine, either. Avoid the coffee, the tea, and the energy drinks.
Some soft drinks are also full of caffeine, so you’ll want to think about cutting down on these. If you don’t want to cut out, then at least cut down on them and change the times you offer them. Drinking caffeinated drinks in the late afternoon and evening will mean the caffeine is still in the system on a night and will keep your children awake.
The same applies to sugar. This isn’t necessary for the body anyway but getting it at the wrong time or getting too much will affect the body’s ability to sleep and shut down. The sugar will cause energy spikes and then energy lows. You’ll get sugar cravings and mood swings. Not only do you have children with poor sleep schedules, but their moods will be all over the place.
Think about the timing of the food you do give them. Breakfast at the start of a day is good for children. It kickstarts the body clock in the morning, helping them wake up and get ready for the day. They’ll find snacking during the day less likely, and this will also help with maintaining energy levels and a healthy diet.
You’ll want to spread out the meals at regular times throughout the day. Avoid too much food late at night, as the digestion process can make it harder for children to sleep. At the same time, children being hungry will also make it harder for them to sleep well through the night. The body will wake them up to get them to eat something in the middle of the night.
Help Ease the Mental Health
While you’ll look after the physical health, you’ll always want to think about the mental health of your child. Anxiety fears, and worries are all perfectly normal and common for younger children. Even older children can suffer from anxiety and stress, making it harder to sleep.
You’ll want to find a way to ease any mental health issues to help your children fall asleep on a night. If your child has a fear of something in the home, help them settle down and show there’s nothing to be afraid of. It’s important to remain to understand, rather than getting annoyed. Sometimes a nightlight is the best option to help ease the fears throughout the night.
It may be worth spending some time talking about situations at school or discussing any worries. Stress will make it hard for the body to shut down. The blood pressure increases and the brain can go haywire. Help get to the bottom of the stress and ease the reason and not just the symptom.
Sometimes there isn’t going to be an immediate answer to the problem. Other times there will be. When there is an answer or a way to solve it, then go through with it. Your children will know that you’re there when they need you and the problem goes away. There’s no need for them to worry. When it’s a more long-term issue, do what you can and then help soothe your children’s worries. One of the best things to do is acknowledge the problem and understand it; then you can discuss options and things to do later.
Some children may want a comfort toy or blanket. Even older children can want this, as it becomes their safety measure. There’s nothing wrong with having this, even as children get older! If it makes them feel safe, it’s going to help them settle.
Make Sure the Bed Is Comfortable
You’ll know that having an uncomfortable bed is annoying and prevents you from getting to sleep. It’s time to think about the mattress, the pillow, the covers and more in your children’s rooms. Make sure they’re comfortable for the individual sleeping on the bed.
If your child complains of lumps in the mattress or a stiff neck after they’ve slept, there’s a chance that something isn’t right. You’ll want to think about the material of the pillows, such as latex, down, or even hypoallergenic pillows. Think about memory foam vs. spring mattresses and don’t forget about the thickness of the duvets.
While you’re looking at the bed, think about the bedroom. Is the heat at the right level? Is the heat at a consistent level through the night? If the room is too cold, your children will struggle to get comfortable. If too hot, especially if it gets hotter in the night, your children can struggle to stay asleep.
How Much Sleep Does Your Child Need?
Now you know how to set up a good sleep schedule, it’s important to know how much sleep your child needs. This depends on the age. Here’s a quick look at time in hours.
- Newborn: 16-18 hours, split up throughout the day
- 2 months to 12 months: 14-16 hours, with 2 hours of that as a nap during the day
- 1-2 years: 11-12 hours, with 1-2 hours as a nap
- 3-5 years: 10-11 hours, with a 30-60 minute nap
- 6-13 years: 9-11 hours at night
- 14-17 years: 8-10 hours at night
Help Your Children Get a Better Night’s Sleep
Your children rely on you to help them get the most out of life, and that means helping them get a good night’s sleep. This is more than just falling asleep on time. Your children need to stay asleep and feel refreshed the next morning.
If you’re following the tips and they’re still struggling, there’s a chance that the body isn’t making enough melatonin. Talk to your doctor about this and discuss the next options to help improve the sleep cycle. The sooner you do this, the sooner you can get the cycle to help with development and learning.