Sleep plays a crucial role in boosting children’s health, mental alertness, performance at school, among others. However, some children hardly get enough sleep.
Do you consistently struggle to get your kids sleeping through the night? Are you exhausted and fed up with the nightly tantrums, refusal to nap, and 3 a.m. ‘wake up calls’ in the middle of the night?
Here are some useful tips to ensure your child gets quality sleep every day.
1. Provide the right nutrition.
Foods can affect energy level and sleepiness. Carbohydrates can have a calming effect on the body, while foods high in protein or sugar generate alertness, particularly when eaten alone. A few ideas for pre-bed snacks are: whole wheat toast and cheese, bagel and peanut butter, oatmeal with bananas, or yogurt and low-sugar granola.
Vitamin deficiencies due to unhealthy food choices can affect a child’s sleep. So, ensure your child’s diet is balanced.
2. Help your child to be healthy and fit.
Too much TV watching and a lack of activity prevent good sleep. Children who get ample daily exercise fall asleep more quickly, sleep better, stay asleep longer, and wake up feeling refreshed.
However, avoid activity in the hour before bedtime, or they’ll be jumping on the bed instead of sleeping in it!
3. Create a cozy sleep environment
Where your child sleeps can be a key to quality sleep. Make certain the mattress is comfortable, the blankets are warm, the room temperature is right, pyjamas are comfy, and the bedroom is welcoming.
4. Set your child’s biological clock.
Your child’s biological clock has a strong influence on her wakefulness and sleepiness. When you establish a set time for bedtime and wake up time, you set your child’s clock so that it functions smoothly.
Aim for early bedtime. Most children will sleep better and longer when they go to bed early.
Take advantage of your child’s biology so that he’s actually tired when bedtime arrives. Darkness causes an increase in the release of the body’s sleep hormone — the biological ‘stop’ button. You can align your child’s sleepiness with bedtime by dimming the lights during the hour before bedtime.
Exposing your child to morning light is pushing the ‘go’ button in her brain — one that says, ‘Time to wake up and be active.’ So keep your mornings bright!
5. Develop a consistent bedtime routine
Routines create security. A consistent, peaceful and organised bedtime routine allows your child to transition from the motion of the day to the tranquil state of sleep.
Although establishing good sleep habits takes time and patience, the extra effort taken now will save many battles in the future.
You can try the following bedtime routine ideas:
Let off some steam
Sometimes it helps to let your toddler get any pent-up energy out of his system before you try to settle him down for the night. As long as you follow up any rowdy play with something calmer and quieter – like a bath and bedtime story – before he goes to sleep, it can be the first step toward bedtime.
Give him a soak
One of the most popular parts of many bedtime rituals is a bath. Sitting in warm water is a soothing experience but if your toddler doesn’t enjoy them, it’s probably better to leave them out of the night-time ritual. Instead, have a quiet cuddle or read a story.
Take care of business
Your toddler’s getting-ready-for-bed routine can include washing his face and hands, brushing his teeth, a nappy change or trip to the potty (if he’s old enough), and getting into his pyjamas. It’s important to start the habit of teeth brushing at a young age so your toddler gets used to it. Here’s a tip for saving time (and fuss!) – once your child is old enough to have preferences about what he wears, let him choose which pyjamas he wants to wear. Give him two options and let him pick one.
Play a game
Playing a quiet game in the living room or on the floor of your toddler’s bedroom is a great way to spend some fun time with him before bed. Older toddlers may enjoy simple puzzles or card games, and younger ones are always entertained by peek-a-boo. Your game can be as simple as taking turns saying the alphabet or counting to 10. Whatever entertains your toddler without getting him overly excited is fine.
Read a bedtime story
Rivaling the bath as an all-time favourite bedtime ritual is reading a bedtime story. Not only will your toddler learn new words – studies have shown that language skills and even intelligence can depend on a child’s daily exposure to a large vocabulary – but he’ll also benefit from time spent with you.
Sing a song
Singing a lullaby is a time-tested way to help a sleepy toddler drift off. He loves hearing his favorite sound – your voice – and the soft, soothing melody can calm him.
Try not to let music become a crutch, though – your toddler needs to learn to fall asleep on his own, as a result of establishing good sleep habits, rather than depending on any special noises or gimmicks.
Leave a light on
When you’re ready to tuck in your toddler, have one last cuddle, say goodnight, turn the lights off and, if you like, switch on a nightlight. Many children this age get disoriented and upset when they wake at night in a dark room and can’t see anything; shedding a little light on things can help tremendously.
Finally, the best defense against manipulation – something most toddlers will try – is a structured bedtime routine. Having a set schedule of activities before bed helps your toddler go smoothly from awake time to sleep time.