A Good Night’s Sleep
Sleeeeep – oh, the beauty of a good night’s sleep! Conversely, how lousy do we feel when the night has been an exercise in logrolls and sheep counting. Of course it is natural to have good nights and bad nights, with daylight savings, heat waves, activity levels and emotional states potentially playing temporary havoc with our ability to enjoy deep ZZZZZ. Frustrating, but that’s life. However, continual sleep difficulties can cause serious detrimental effects to both children and adult’s health and functioning.
Children’s sleep is one of the most common concerns mentioned by parents in my practice. 31% of ‘normal’ school children aged 6-13 are reported as having disorders of initiating and maintaining sleep, and 41% of parents feel their children (aged 2-14 years) suffer insomnia (1). The amount of sleep required by children obviously varies depending on age, as well as from child to child. Be aware that school kids aged 6-12 years old still need 9-12 hours of sleep every night (2).
Sleep is required for growth, immune function, healing, learning and memory formation. A recent study found that children who sleep too little may suffer depression, anxiety and impulsive behaviour, and have poor cognitive performance. The effect on depression may last up to 12 months after the period of sleep issues (2).
In my book ‘Switched-on Kids – the natural way to help kids be their best’, I write about the importance of establishing a set and calming routine to prepare for bed. Here are some helpful hints to discuss with parents when talking about children’s sleep:
Start slowing down activities one to two hours before bed. Take a relaxing, soothing bath or shower and do quiet activities together such as reading books, telling stories, drawing, breathing exercises, meditation, doing craft or a puzzle in the time before bed. A cup of chamomile tea or warm milk can be very calming. Avoid adding sweetener, as that may increase activity levels in the short term. It is best to not eat a lot just before bed, as digestion may interfere with sleep. If the child is hungry, offer a light snack, ideally a food containing tryptophan to help produce melatonin (chicken, eggs, cheese, fish, peanuts, pumpkin and sesame seeds, milk and turkey). Avoid caffeinated drinks for several hours prior to bedtime.
If a child has trouble sleeping due to anxiety, or tends to wake from nightmares, it is important to talk about it, but earlier in the day. Just before bedtime it is better to chat about happy places and things to encourage a relaxed state conducive for sleep.
In the pre-sleep time, preferably at least one hour before bedtime, it is important not to use screens such as TV, computer, iPad or phones. The blue light emitted by these devices stimulates the brain and keeps it active, which is what we do not want at this time. Also avoid TV’s and computers in the child’s bedroom, as we want the brain to associate the bed with sleep, not with game playing and socialising.
Try to keep the child’s bedroom free of toys and clutter to minimise the inspiration to play at this time. Keep the room dark, cool and comfortable. A nightlight may help with this. At the end of the day it about ensuring the kid feels safe, loved and relaxed to help the whole family sleep well and be their best.
- Prevalence and Course of Sleep Problems in Childhood Leonie Fricke-Oerkermann, Sleep Oct 2007
- ‘Sleep duration, brain structure, and psychiatric and cognitive problems in children, Wei Cheng, Molecular Psychiatry 2020