Getting to sleep is something that many adults struggle with. Helping children get into good habits when they’re young can make the process much easier for them over the years that follow. Children struggle for all the same reasons as adults and more. If they have persistent sleep problems, you should talk to them about possible reasons why – for instance, they may be stressed about a situation at school or worried because of tensions between other family members. If that doesn’t help, it may be time to visit the doctor in case there’s an undiagnosed problem like a breathing issue that keeps waking them up. In most cases, however, these simple tips will make all the difference.
If your own evening routine has often been variable, it can be all too easy to overlook the importance of a regular routine for kids. Going to sleep at the same time every night makes it much easier for them to establish healthy biological rhythms, which make getting to sleep easier. You can gradually move bedtime later as they get older. Settling them down and reading them a story makes bedtime feel less abrupt, and over time they will adjust to reading by themselves instead.
Serve the right supper
Often a part of the routine of getting kids to bed involves serving supper. If everybody eats together, it reinforces family unity and makes children feel less aggrieved at having to go to bed whilst others in the house are going something more interesting. Sugary suppers are a no-no, however, as they will make it hard for children to settle. Stick to simple food that provides protein and some carbohydrates. Serving a small warm meal will often help to induce a feeling of sleepiness.
Change the lighting
Human metabolisms are geared to take cues from sunlight. We naturally feel ready to wake when there’s bright light around us, and get sleepy as it goes dark. A brightly lit home can disrupt this natural rhythm, and it’s even worse if children are using computers last thing at night, looking at screens which tend to give out the bright bluish light out bodies associate with morning. Try to ensure that the computers are turned off an hour before bedtime. Dim the lights slightly or adjust the colour of the light (easy to do with modern LED bulbs) to give it a rosy glow, a natural cue for drowsiness.
Make the room monster-safe
Another aspect of our biological heritage is that children are naturally fearful of predators when they’re left alone, a fear that can get worse when it’s hard to see. This can create a state of hyper-alertness that makes getting to sleep impossible. Even a child who is brave about the matter will often admit that she loves her night light, and providing a night light, however small, can really help to enable sleep. You can also help by checking for monsters before you leave the room. Remember that the fear itself is not unreasonable, just out of date.
Provide a guard
If you have a child who keeps getting up at night and visiting your room in search of reassurance, remember that there’s a big difference between being ready to sleep apart from you and being ready to sleep alone. The right companion – whether it’s a plush animal, a plastic dinosaur or even a friendly pillow – can make all the difference. Often children feel safer with toys they think of as fierce, because they can be reassured that those toys will be able to defend them against any intruding monsters.
Make the room easy to sleep in
Just like adults, children need their rooms to be well suited to sleep, especially if they are to avoid waking up in the middle of the night. Aside from night-lights, which can often be set on a timer so they eventually fade out unless children reactivate them, the room should be completely dark. The temperature should be between 18 and 21 degrees Celsius, and the room should not be too dry. It’s a good idea to have a fresh glass of water within easy reach in case your child wakes up, as this will often be all that’s needed for them to feel able to sleep again.
Although some children have more complex sleep problems, most will find that these simple measures make it much easier for them to nod off. You can help by having confidence as you undertake them because the last thing you want is your own worry about your child’s sleeplessness to be picked up by that child. When the whole family can relax together, things will get much easier.