If you’ve followed my blogs, you know what a passion I have for kids and good sleep. This blog is for all parents, whether or not their kids have any trouble with sleep. Prevention is everything! In the book, Sleep-Wrecked Kids, the author, Sharon Moore, gives very detailed instructions on creating a good “sleep sanctuary” for children. I highly recommend the book, and will share some highlights.
First of all, bedtime should always be seen by your child and the whole family, as a good, positive experience. It should feel like a great part of the day. It should be happy and comfortable. This starts with the bedroom itself, and extends to the routine.
Look at your child’s bedroom from a sleep perspective. It may be full of toys and stimulation for day play, which may distract from sleep. Ideally, kids sleep in complete darkness. If your child needs a nightlight, keep it dim. Does light come in the window or under their door?
How comfortable is their bedding and pajamas? Both should be appropriate for the season, and as soft and comfortable as possible. Is the room too warm or cool? Feeling discomfort from pajamas, bedding, or room temperature can cause fitful sleeping. If the bedding is tossed about at night, or bunched up at the foot of the bed, there’s not good sleep going on!
How noisy is your house at night? Watch for obvious distractions like music or TV from another room. Outdoor noises may be beyond your control, but you can muffle them with a fan, white noise, or soft music.
How safe does your child feel? Kids can fear sleep from fear of monsters or real things, like something tense that happened during the day. If they express fear, listen to them and act on it. If it’s monsters, create some kind of monster repellent. If it’s a person or event, talk it through and always assure that you will protect them while they’re sleeping. Like adults, stress weighs on the mind, and causes sleep loss.
The other half of the sleep sanctuary is the routine leading up to bedtime. If the bedroom is a soothing place, and the routine to get to sleep is enjoyable, the sleep itself will also be better. The routine should start an hour or two before bedtime, by shutting down screen time and getting things done for the next day. A warm bath is always nice before bed. Get in the habit of reading to your child at bedtime, and using that time together to talk about whatever is on their mind. The emotional comfort they get goes a long way toward good sleep. If your child has trouble winding down, try relaxation techniques or meditation. Your child is never too old to sleep with a stuffed animal, so comfort items like that should be encouraged.
Whatever routine you set up, stay consistent with it. It should rarely vary, especially with younger children. Children like the familiarity of knowing what comes next. If you’ve created this wonderful sleep sanctuary and your child still shows signs of poor sleep, make an appointment and I’ll check their airway to see if they have an obstructive sleep disorder or other treatable cause.