Most of us think of childhood slumber as deep and carefree but not all children sleep easily. Some are hyperactive at night and can't seem to fall asleep. Some wake up frequently and need to touch base with their parents before sleep is possible. Some only sleep for a few short hours every night and are up with the dawn, much to their parents' sleepy chagrin. It's even worse if your child wants to sleep, but can't.
Whatever the circumstance, parents and guardians often need a few tricks up their sleeves to help children get to sleep, stay asleep, and build healthy sleep habits. If you have a child who is having trouble sleeping, try a few of these techniques to get your kids to sleep with an improved environment and ability to go back to sleep after waking up.
1. Prevent Outside Distractions
Children can be very sensitive to sounds and events that happen around their bedroom. Anything from the sound of the TV downstairs to neighborhood dogs barking can wake them up and keep them awake. Some children rise as the sun comes through their window, others are constantly woken by nearby sounds or vibrations.
You can help by making their room resistant to these interruptions and distractions. Heavy curtains can block light and sound more effectively. And hanging a few decorative blankets or pillows on the wall can help with sounds from other parts of the house. And, of course, remember to keep your own activities quiet while the child is sleeping.
2. Make it Darker
Most young children prefer to sleep with a nightlight. This allows them to see their room or the way into the hallway clearly. Nightlights are useful in their way but just like adults, children sleep better in a darker environment. The more light you can remove from their room during sleep time, the easier it will be to get your kids to sleep, reach a deep slumber and stay asleep for longer.
Eliminate unnecessary sources of light. A lot of modern toys, gadgets, and alarm clocks have very bright LEDs or even screens that can fill the room with ambient light when the overhead bulb is turned off. Turn off these items or cover them with a cloth before bedtime.
3. Find Their Natural Circadian Rhythm
Every person has a natural circadian rhythm when they would go to bed and wake up normally without any alarm clock or schedule. This is determined initially by your physical response to the sun and is why people tend to be diurnal or nocturnal. Your child also has a circadian rhythm and it may not align with the bedtime you have set. If they are always hyperactive at bedtime or are up too early, their circadian rhythm is the most likely reason.
The easiest way to discover your child's circadian rhythm is to let them sleep and wake up whenever they want for a few days in a row. Declare one weekend a 'no bedtime' holiday but plan calm evening activities that are easy to fall asleep to like a familiar movie or quiet games. When your child starts yawning or curls up to nap, that is their natural bedtime. When they wake up without an alarm for several days in a row, that is their natural waking time. Do your best to align your parenting policies with their natural times for better, more predictable sleep.
4. Experiment with Bedding
If your child's complaint is that they can't sleep or they are uncomfortable, the problem could be bedding-related. Sheets can be too warm or too slick for comfort while blankets can be too heavy or light for the season. Your child's pillow needs to hold their head in a comfortable sleeping angle and their pajamas can't be scratchy or binding. There is a careful balance to find when building your child's sleep environment and every factor can play a part in their sleep problems.
Hand-me-downs may also come into play. Old pajamas from siblings or cousins are likely to be worn and softer than new items but old mattresses can be lumpy and uncomfortable. While it can be tempting to up-cycle every children's item in a big family, consider new mattresses and pillows for each child as they grow. These items wear out much faster than most people realize.
5. Play Soothing Familiar Sounds
Children need to feel safe and secure when they sleep. Some have no problem with this while others are very nervous sleepers. If you have noticed that your child tends to get up to 'check on you' at night as part of their sleep problems, they may be waking up to sounds of you and any awake family moving around. These children are also more likely to be bothered by outside sounds from the neighborhood.
White noise has been incredibly helpful to get your kids to sleep because it both masks outside sounds and can make almost any sleep environment more familiar. Choose one or a small collection of white noise tracks to make familiar. Without a white noise generator, you can use the soft sound of familiar television shows your children have fallen asleep to in the past.
6. Chill the House
Body temperature matters, especially for small children. Children both get cold and overheat more easily and it's important to know how to respond to this. The best way to sleep, for all people, is in a cold room with a heavy blanket. Something about this combination makes us feel cozy and sleep deeply. Turn the AC up in the warm months or the heat down in cold month and give your child a second blanket to pull over themselves if they get too cold.
A cool house will both help your child become sleepy and help them to sleep deeply once they drift off. The extra blanket ensures that if they wake up too cold, more heat and the comforting blanket-weight will help them stay healthy and go right back to sleep.
7. Provide an Assurance Routine
Finally, for children whose sleep troubles are related to anxiety, you may want to build a special reassurance routine. If your child wakes up from nightmares or to check on you frequently, they may need a way to calm their worries and go back to sleep quickly in order to get a full night's rest.
Build a routine with your child that will make it easy for them to ease their mind. If it's monsters they're afraid of, make a 'guaranteed' monster-check that can, ideally, be completed from their bed. If the child wants to touch base with parents, consider walkie-talkies or some easy call-and-response you can do with them from the living room during your evening after their bedtime. This will help your child get more sleep even if they wake up often.Building the right sleep environment for your child is important. They need a dark, secure space, comfortable bedding, and trusted adults nearby. By eliminating extra lights, cooling the house, and building a comforting bedtime routine, you can help your child sleep deeply and more consistently through the night. For more information about how to build the ideal sleep environment for your child, contact us today!