Understand how sleep works
Most parents know how hard it can be to put children sleeping.
It is said that one in three children under the age of five has disturbed nighttime sleep and even greater percentage do not want to take a nap.
Elizabeth Pantley, in her book The no-cry sleep solution for toddlers and preschoolers says:
When you hear about those toddlers or preschoolers who willingly go to bed, stay there all night, and wake up at a reasonable time in the morning – happy and refreshed, mind you – please know that they are the unusual, remarkable (and slightly odd) minority!(or else the storyteller is too embarrassed to admit that the four-year-old stays up until 10 p.m. watching t.v. and wakes up twice a night needing Mummy or Daddy to lie with him(…)
How many times before bedtime, they start asking for food or drinks, they want a doll, they call us an infinite number of times, to postpone that moment the most possible? It can take us out so much energy that sometimes if we lay down next to them we end up sleeping too.
After reading some parenting books about this subject, I started to put in practice some of the tips I will share with you and things improved a lot around here.
Of course, my children are still resisting sometimes, there are days things just do not work, but mostly because I failed some of the important steps recommended (letting them watch tv before sleeping or not giving them enough physical activity during the day).
According to Dr.Miriam Stoppard, in her book The first years of your child:
Bedtime does not imply necessarily a rigid schedule, but it must be connected to specific procedures, like a ritual, that the child is waiting for with impatience like a happy ending of her day (…) The way a child gets asleep is important for a good recomposition, not only physical, but also intelectual and espiritual.
The five sleeping stages
When parents think about our children sleeping, just visualize a kid with closed eyes.
However, sleep is a dynamic activity and it passes for several stages, with specific characteristics that contribute to relevant aspects of health and well-being.
Elizabeth Pantley in the book mentioned above says that:
Each of the first four stages of sleep lasts from 5 to 15 minutes, and a complete cycle of the five stages of sleep takes between 90 and 110 minutes. Stages 2 and 3 repeat backward before dreaming sleep is entered, so the sleeping cycle actually looks like this: drowsy, stage 1, stage 3, stage 4, stage 3, stage 2, REM (dreaming), continuing through the night by alternating between REM with non-REM sleep in cyclical pattern. A full and healthy night’s sleep that brings the best benefits of restfulness and rejuvenation allows an adequate number of these cycles, usually between four and six.
This implies that to have a good night of sleep, our children must have time to calm down and relax before going to bed.
If they cry or feel stressed before sleeping, that will interrupt the cycles more often (children in early stages of sleep wake easily) and then bring a bad night of sleep and possibly a day with irritability and parent’s fatigue too.
Many times, the main reason for temper tantrums, fussiness, irritability, dawdling, and stubbornness is the lack of restful sleep. Perhaps an even bigger catastrophe is that poor quality sleep sets Mum and Dad adrift in that same fog when a child isn’t sleeping in a way that allows parents to replenish their reserves. This creates chronic fatigue in the parent(…)which can seriously reduce the parent’s ability to navigate the day effectively. So the family ends up with a grumpy and non-cooperative child handled by a parent with a very short fuse. So everyone in the family suffers.
10 tips to help children sleep well
- Create a consistent sleep routine plan – This means that every single day (even on weekends) you should follow a ritual similar to this: after dinner pack toys; dress pajama; wash teeth; pee; listen to a story; kiss goodnight. There are authors that defend that bedtime should be rigid and between 6h30 a 7h30 because of the way the biological clock works. Others just say the routine would be enough. This routine should start one hour or one hour and a half before the time you want the child in bed, to let her take her own rhythm.
- Do not let the child cry or feel stressed before sleeping. We already talked about this one above, so I will not enter in details.
- Encourage daily naps – a daily nap makes the body release hormones that combat daily stress and tension. That will automatically reduce the possibility of tantrums. It also helps in brain developing. Avoid naps after 3 p.m. once they will bring a late bedtime.
- Dimme the lights two hours before bedtime – It will help to reduce the rhythm and calm down, feeling bedtime as a peaceful moment. Strong lights keep your child awake and will make the bed routine harder.
- Choose a good mattress and a good pillow, if possible – as you like comfort, your child also does and it can make a big difference in sleep quality. Pajamas should also be comfortable.
- Do not warm your child too much – this does not mean you let her get cold, all the opposite, but if children are too wrapped up, they can feel hot and wake up more often during the night. When I was living in Germany, I was surprised that some mothers let their babies in the stroller outside, sleeping, with the winter cold. The funny thing is that it worked. They had warm clothes but the cold air helped somehow to let them sleep better and more. The ideal temperature for a bedroom is between 15Celsius to 21Celsius (60F to 70F).
- Encourage your child to sleep with a lovey – can be a teddy bear, a doll, something that brings some emotional comfort when you are not there during the night.
- Avoid letting your child watch tv before sleeping – not only because it can delay bedtime but because, even if your child is getting asleep with it, several studies say it does not benefit the brain.
- Be attentive to the food you give your child before sleeping – some carbohydrate food are known for having positive effects on sleep. Pure carbohydrate snacks can help to create the right mood to bedtime (it takes around 1 hour to make an effect). Avoid high-protein food like beef or products with caffeine that can delay bedtime (only exception here is milk. it is rich in protein but helps). Give foods like turkey, tuna, cheese, bananas, avocados, yogurt.
- Let your child move during the day – exercise reduces tension, anxiety, helps the flow and transition between sleep cycles, tires the body, is healthy. If your child is tired will sleep better, but do not let her exercise too much after 4 p.m. because exercise releases adrenaline and that brings excitement. Two hours before sleeping do activities that are slower, calm.
In resume, sleeping is an active but yet complex process that needs a consistent routine and some good habits. If you put in practice the tips in the article, you will probably notice the difference. Let me know about your progress.