A vital function. A daily occupation which is often under appreciated until we are deprived of it.
Sleep has a number of roles within our bodies, including the development of new neutral connections, repair of body tissues, regulation of hormones, stress and emotions.
Children aged 3 to 5 years typically sleep 11-13 hours each night and most do not nap after five years of age. Difficulty falling asleep and waking up during the night are common. With further development of imagination, preschoolers commonly experience nighttime fears and nightmares. In addition, sleepwalking and sleep terrors peak during preschool years.
Children aged 5 to 12 years need 10-11 hours of sleep. At the same time, there is an increasing demand on their time from school (e.g., homework), sports and other extracurricular and social activities. In addition, school aged children become more interested in TV, computers, the media and Internet. This, along with hidden caffeine in many products can all of which can lead to difficulty falling asleep, nightmares and disruptions to their sleep. In particular, watching TV close to bedtime has been associated with bedtime resistance, difficulty falling asleep, anxiety around sleep and sleeping fewer hours.
Sleep problems and disorders are prevalent at this age. Poor or inadequate sleep can lead to mood swings, behavioral problems such as hyperactivity and cognitive problems that impact on their ability to learn in school.
Additionally children with sensory challenges, Autism, learning difficulties or other challenges may have an increase in the stress they experience throughout the day. This stress leads to increases in stress chemistry, adding to difficulties with sleep.
Wakefulness and sleep are controlled by the regulation of hormones, 24 hours per day. At night, we have an increase in melatonin, and a decrease in cortisol, prompting sleepiness. In many children with additional stress throughout the day, or specific sensory needs, this cortisol – melatonin relationship can be out of balance.
New research has also shown that exposure to blue light increases wakefulness. Blue lights would include TV, i-pads and game consoles. Exposure to light with an orange base can prompt melatonin production – think candles, some lava lamps and some light globes. From a sensory foundation, we also know that activities which provide heavy work to our muscles and joints, and deep pressure to our body, can be very calming and regulating for our central nervous system.
We also know that children with increased sensitivity can find it challenging to block out any background noise (such as the rest of the household still awake), may see or hear lights and sounds others don’t. We also know that smell is very strongly linked with our emotional center and survival instincts, hence, children can be very comforted by the smell of their primary caregiver.
Sleep Tips for your Family!
- Maintain a regular and consistent sleep schedule for the whole family
- Replace light globes in the house with pearl or warm tinted. Close all the blinds at least an hour before bed time. During the day, open blinds to let lots of light in.
- Get plenty of outside time early in the morning (before it gets too hot)
- Have a small snack with a long lasting carbohydrate to assist with falling asleep. Banana and milk, a slice of toast or a yoghurt.
- Have time set aside every night to talk about how the child is feeling and any thoughts which are occupying their headspace. Create a “thought box” where you and your child can draw or write down all the thoughts occupying their space and physically put them into a box. Let them know that you will look after their thoughts so they can rest. In the morning, look back over the thoughts and if they are important to the child, problem solve solutions together. If they are less important, have the child physically rip up the through and put it in the bin.
- Have a relaxing bedtime routine that ends in the room where the child sleeps. Begin with some heavy work, such as jumping of the trampoline, wheel barrow walks or some gentle rough and tumble play. This include a bath or shower with a relaxing scent and soft music playing. Use a patting motion rather than wiping for little ones with sensitive skin, or get a fluffy bathrobe which can be put on straight out of the bath and avoid towel drying all together
- Spend time together in the child’s bedroom, to ensure your child has positive feelings about being in their bedroom
- Eliminate the emotion around bedtime. Show excitement that it is time for sleep show your child that you enjoy sleeping. Count down to your own bedtime with glee.
- Clear your child’s room of highly motivating toys, game consoles, computers, TV’s and anything with a light.
- Add extra pillows to your child’s bed, or get a large U shaped pillow, to “cuddle’ your child as they are falling asleep
- Child should sleep in the same sleeping environment every night, in a room that is cool, quiet and dark – and without a TV.
- If your child requests a nightlight, find the dimmest one possible, with an orange base.
- If your child is slow to rev up in the morning, the addition of movement can be a great jump starter – think about riding a bike or jumping on the trampoline.
My final sleep tip for today is….. Lead by example.
Sleep affects all aspects of our cognitive, physical and emotional well being. Allow your child to see you sleep. Make it the norm that everybody in the house sleeps-in on the weekend, or has a nap when they need. And if your child is really having a tough time or their sleep is impacting their schooling, consider giving them (and yourself!) a day off once per week or once per fortnight.
Invest in your own health now, to create better health in the long run.
Check out http://www.sleepforkids.org/ for more great tips
Sweet dreams !!
x x Shannon