Sleep can elude the smallest of children. Many parents struggle to maintain calm evenings in an attempt to give their little ones a restful sleep. As a result, a time for relaxing and sweet dreams turns to nightmares for all involved. Dear parents, don’t give up! Developing a healthy sleep routine will help your child throughout his/her life. Knowing how to ease themselves from relaxation into a deep slumber is a necessary skill, which leads to a healthier body and mind.
Significant sleep disturbance is typically an indicator of poor health. Sleeping too little and, conversely, sleeping too much or having difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep is a way for your body to tell you it is out of sync. While many times it can point a practitioner to decide your child may be anxious or depressed, I say let that all go at the bedroom door. Worry less about what may be wrong and more about what you have going right.
Start with what you enjoy about your nighttime routine and build from there. Maybe it is a warm bath, story time, cuddles as you talk about the day or a brilliant combination of all three. Decide what is worth saving from your schedule and incorporate as few or as many of the following ideas to establish a healthy sleep routine for your child. Personally, I would vote for the combo package.
1. Turn off technology two hours before bed. Say good-bye to computers, iPads, television and phones. The light from these screens stimulates the mind and some researchers believe it goes so far as to trip your body’s natural sleep-wake cycle by reducing the production of melatonin in the body (a hormone needed to maintain healthy sleep).
2. Eat/drink for sleep. Avoid sugar, caffeine and simple carbohydrates. Many people would be surprised to learn the lowering of blood sugar levels while sleeping causes the body to rustle awake. The dip in levels can be caused by the high sugar in breads, pasta, and sweets your child consumes before bed. Not to mention the evening dessert of ice cream before sleep can cause a spike of energy that makes it difficult for your little one to calm down. Instead, focus on consuming tryptophan-rich foods such as turkey, eggs, chickpeas, almonds, pumpkin seeds, milk, bananas, unsweetened yogurt, sesame seeds, and peanuts. Tart cherries and chamomile tea aid the body to sleep as well as a nice helping of complex carbohydrates. Ever wondered why you felt tired after a large serving of beans and rice? The complex carbohydrates are carriers for the amino-acid, tryptophan, I mentioned previously, which means they help your body and mind move towards hitting the pillow.
3. Exercise daily. There is no greater aid in getting to sleep than movement during the day. Your body and mind depends on it. Exercise works as an anti-depressant by releasing feel-good hormones, which reduce stress, worry and increase relaxation. Not only this, exercise helps fine tune your sleep-wake cycle. The mad scientists at The National Sleep Foundation had this to say about exercise and sleep: “Exercise triggers an increase in body temperature, and the post-exercise drop in temperature may promote falling asleep. Exercise may also reduce insomnia by decreasing arousal, anxiety and depressive symptoms. Insomnia is commonly linked with elevated arousal, anxiety, and depression, and exercise has strong effects on reducing these symptoms in the general population. Finally, exercise may reduce insomnia by its effects on circadian rhythms (body clock).”
4. Move outdoors in the morning. Avoid being a little vampire and get some reasonable sun exposure. Sunlight exposure within 2 hours of rising helps set the circadian rhythm locked within your child. All humans are equipped with rhythm of the circadian type and working to keep it in tune is essential. Just to clarify: “Your circadian rhythm is basically a 24-hour internal clock that is running in the background of your brain and cycles between sleepiness and alertness at regular intervals. It’s also known as your sleep/wake cycle.” So try to eat on your back porch in the morning or near sun-lit windows. Walk to work or school. Take your lunch outdoors. Move family exercise outside. Move family activities outside. Just move outside.
5. Be consistent with your routine. The second little Jack or Jill knows he/she can move into your room past 8:00p.m. or find an excuse to push the set bedtime, the more likely he or she will do it. Wouldn’t you? If I knew my parent was going to cave on the routine I would be the first kid to attempt to make them cave. You have to set a regular bedtime even on weekends and you have to stick to it. Not only is the schedule and structure good for your child; it is another way you are naturally helping to set their internal clock.
If you have a child or adult, who is particularly wired before bed, you can have him/her write a list of their worries down in a notebook before sleep. Journaling about the day is another useful tool. And if the kiddo cries out for you in the middle of the night. Go to their room and comfort them instead of having them come to you. Responsive night parenting is a must. Letting a child cry it out will only raise his/her cortisol levels making it difficult for them to find sleep or to even comfort themselves.
Good luck, parents! I wish you all a restful night’s sleep!