Many of us have experienced (at least at one point in our parenting journey) the challenge of getting our children settled and sleeping through the night. Turning to Google for guidance in these cases, (especially while experiencing the joys of second-hand sleep deprivation) often generates more questions than answers, with so many conflicting theories out there (cry-it-out approach, co-sleeping/not co-sleeping, and sleep training to name a few).
Many of these sources tell you what you don’t need to hear: that what you are doing is ‘wrong’, triggering subliminal anxieties that the fact your child won’t get to sleep is somehow a reflection of your bad parenting (not true!). Rather than getting frustrated with ourselves, it’s important to acknowledge that the very fact that so many conflicting theories exist, shows there’s no such thing as a blueprint approach to getting your child to sleep better.
In this week’s blog, We’ve teamed up with Kerry Secker, a child’s sleep consultant, who combines her no-one-size-fits all approach with extensive knowledge accumulated over 15+ years of working with children. Our parents put together a little list of sleep-related questions to glean some professional insights – and without further ado…here they are!
1. How can I best manage the amount of screen-time my child is getting, and how much is too much in terms of sleep impact?
I’m all about finding a balance! As long as your child is getting plenty of fresh air/exercise and isn’t watching a screen for long periods of time (or all day!) then the use of screens is unlikely to impact their sleep. If you’ve got a very alert child who finds it hard to switch off or you feel it’s impacting their sleep then I’d recommend:
- Having regular breaks in between screen time
- Switching on the night mode in the run up to bedtime
- Switching off the screen 1-1.5 hours before bed
2. What are the best sleep inducing pre-sleep snacks and drinks?
Foods high in an amino acid called Tryptophan contain the sleep hormone melatonin and are believed to aid sleep. This can be found in turkey, lettuce, eggs, soy, seeds and nuts. Milk and tart cherry juice can also aid good quality sleep!
3. How can I encourage my child to take more exercise?
Make it fun and do it together! Games like chase, Simon says, football or setting up a little obstacle course are great ways to bond, have fun and get exercise. All three of these can help your child settle to sleep and more importantly stay asleep!
4. How can I settle my child?
There’s no right or wrong way to settle your child to sleep. If it’s working then all is well but the 2 key things are:
Have a bedtime routine: Doing the same few things in the same order every night before you settle them to sleep lets them know bedtime is coming and helps them settle down to switch off. It can be as simple as having a bath for 10 minutes, going into their sleep space for nappy/pjs and reading a book before saying goodnight. It maybe be simple, but when they can anticipate what’s coming it really helps!
Be consistent: Wherever your child sleeps or how they settle down try to be as consistent as you can. Doing this helps keep them calm and they know what to expect. Changing things up can be confusing for them and they can take even longer to nod off!
5. What is the best time to go to bed?
I don’t have a set bedtime because all children are different! However their sleep hormone AKA melatonin reaches it’s peak between 7pm and 7.30pm so I usually suggest before this time if you can.
6. What to do when my child wakes up at night and doesn’t want to go to bed (wants to play)?
- Keep them in their bedroom
- Keep it dark and calm
You may need to be there to make sure they’re safe but I wouldn’t actively engage in their play. Be as boring as possible if you can!
7. What are the main ways in which a lack of sleep affect children’s development?
It would take a long time of prolonged sleep deprivation to impact their development negatively. However, your child’s sleep, behaviour, diet and toilet habits are all holistically linked and if one gets off kilter the rest can follow. It’s a bit like a domino effect! Lack of sleep can certainly make for a tired and grumpy child prone to emotional outbursts.
8. What got you interested in sleep consultancy- specifically sleep consultancy with children?
I’ve always worked with children and had an interest in psychology. I was a Nanny for over 15 years and had a passion to get them to sleep well so it was a natural progression!
9. What sorts of problems do children typically lose sleep over, and how can I get my child to open up to me about these to relieve their anxiety?
The most common one is change. Change is strange and can cause them to be a little unsettled. It could be something like changing schools, holiday or illness. Having time to listen during the day is useful as talking about it at bedtime can cause anxiety. I also find they are more willing to talk if they are doing something else i.e. writing/cooking/walking and we resist asking to many questions. Talking about our experiences can be really useful!
Kerry Secker is a paediatric sleep consultant and the founder of her unique Care It Out sleep approach. She’s on a mission to share sleep education that you don’t HAVE to sleep train and you CAN improve your family’s sleep with an approach that’s sensible, scientific AND caring.
Kerry’s approach to sleep is that all families and children are unique and there isn’t a quick fix or one size fits all solution when it comes to children’s sleep; her mantra is one size sucks! She’s also passionate about having realistic sleep expectations and that sleep doesn’t need fixing; issues are only an issue if they are one for your family!
Kerry, a former Nanny, has over 18 years’ experience supporting and advising families with sleep, often writes for the Huffington Post and runs her popular caring sleep sessions across the UK.
If you are a sleep seeker, experiencing the bed dread or have a night time sleep stealer Kerry can support you to improve your child’s sleep the caring way. There is always a biological reason and sleep science behind bedtime behaviour and always a caring way forward.
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