Sweet Dreams: how parents can make bedtime less of a battle

Primary Times explores the importance of a good night’s sleep for children

Every living creature needs to sleep. It is the primary activity of the brain during early development. The sleep-wake cycle, scientifically known as the circadian rhythms, are regulated by light and dark and these patterns take humans time to develop, resulting in the initial irregular sleep cycles of newborn babies.The more structured sleep cycles begin to develop at about six weeks, and by three to six months most infants have a regular sleep-wake cycle.

By the age of two, most children have spent more of their lives asleep than awake and overall, a child will spend 40 percent of his or her childhood asleep. But the real question is, why is sleep so important for my child?

Sleep is especially important for children as it directly impacts mental and physical development. Well-rested children tend to be more able to reach their full potential in all aspects of their lives, whether that be in their everyday lessons at school, their physical health, or their moods. As a result, a lack of sleep can leave children (and adults!) feeling groggy, irritable and distracted.

There are however a number of factors which can hinder your children’s sleep, one of the most common of these being night terrors and sleepwalking. There is a natural rhythm to our sleep and we actually go through a cycle of deep sleep, followed by a light sleep every 2-4 hours. Although your child may fall asleep quickly when they go  to bed, some children may have difficulty passing smoothly from one phase of sleep into another and instead remain in a state in which they are only half-awake. In this state, you may see your child wandering the house or coming into your bedroom as a result of a nightmare, therefore causing their sleep patterns to be broken.

Another common problem for a number of parents is bed times, when a child simply does not want to sleep alone in their own room. Problems surrounding bedtime can range from children being scared of being alone, being afraid of the dark, or simply becoming ‘overtired’, irritable and overactive. To combat this, there are numerous ways in which parents can make bedtimes easier.

Top Tips! For making bedtime easier...

1. Routine is Key
If your child tends to be reluctant to go to bed, getting them into a more set bedtime routine every night is likely to help. This could start with some quiet time to help your child to wind down - for example, a bath followed by a short bedtime story before you say goodnight.

2. Scrap the Screens
Television, computer or phone screens can keep your children awake or leave them feeling groggy the next morning. Our devices give out bright lights and keep our mind distracted, so shutting the screens down an hour before bed may help children to better fall, and stay, sound asleep.

3. Keep a Sleep Diary
If your child’s sleep is consistently poor, a sleep diary can be a great way to find out what triggers poor sleep behaviours and what seems to help. As many children will show variable patterns in their sleep, it is helpful to keep your diary over a two-week period to paint a fuller picture.

4. Create a Blissful Bedroom
It helps to make your child’s bedroom a safe, calm and pleasant place to be in. Your child may find that certain ‘props’ may help them to fall asleep, such as night lights or quiet music. On the other hand, if your child is sensitive to sound, avoiding any loud noises from outside the room may help too.