Clare Marcangelo is one of our fabulous Healthy Mummy wellness experts. She’s a Children’s Nutritionist and explains how you can help kids sleep at night, so the whole family feels more rested.
We all know how important sleep is. We decided to dive deeper with Claire to see what we could do during the day to help improve our kid’s sleep at night.
As parents, we often think we have done all the right things, ticked all the boxes and set the stage, and yet the sleep isn’t happening or perhaps a shift has come out of nowhere.
This can even develop into insomnia, a place none of us want to find ourselves in. It can take months or even years to resolve, so we need to take action as soon as these issues arise.
Lack of sleep has a huge impact on behaviour, so with children, the question of whether they are getting enough sleep will always be the first port of call.
If children are tired or overtired, everything is blown out of proportion, so the red flags are easily identified. So you want to ensure you do what you can to help kids sleep at night.
Even as adults, we’re short-tempered, irritable and more irrational when we don’t sleep well. We make poor choices with things like food, and everything is exacerbated. It’s not to say that sleep is the be-all-end-all, there may be several other things at play, but a good place to start is to help kids sleep at night.
But don’t panic – if you feel as though you’ve done all you should do to improve the quality of sleep and it’s still not happening, there are some tricks or things you can do during the day which affect what goes on at night time.
Often we see patterns in our children related to stages of growth and maturity, but that doesn’t mean we have to sit and wait it out, hoping for it to pass. Finding a way to help kids sleep at night will ensure anything else that might be going on is supported with a good night’s rest.
Night wakings can be related to age-appropriate growth phases. These could include a child’s brain making a giant leap in development, or they’ve learnt a new physical skill that day. So they may seem a bit switched on or wired even though it’s time for sleep.
Apps such as the Wonder Week app can set you up with expectations surrounding developmental leaps in babies and toddlers.
And these fluctuations will continue right through childhood and teen years, especially as we become more sensitive or perceptive to environmental stimulation or worries.
You can then better prepare for them and help kids sleep at night.
It can be likened to trying to fall into a deep sleep right after attending a loud and stimulating party.
Often, when we’ve been out and about (not that we get out that much once we have kids!) or doing things out of the usual routine, it can take time to get back into a calm state of mind. But in this way, we can have a big hand in controlling behaviours during the day that better supports better sleep at night.
If a child has an enormous amount of energy, it’s about expending that energy in the day so that they can feel rested at night.
Or it may be the opposite, and your child seems tired during the day, but you have to use your instincts and control day sleeps to help kids sleep at night.
Some children simply need less sleep from a younger age, which isn’t alarming, and it’s good to never compare your child’s sleep needs to another of the same age. They’re all different.
The day nap is such a tricky one and a point of contention in so many families. Drop the nap, and they may be down and out by 7pm, but it may also mean witching hour is horrific, they don’t eat their dinner, and they’re over tired. If you want to help kids sleep at night, you need to balance these.
The nap means you get a rest and can sail through the witching hour, but they’re up till 10pm. It feels like a battle you can’t win.
You may just need to shorten that nap, and if it can’t be done in the bed at home, this may mean sacrificing your much-needed rest for a car ride or a quick nap in the pram. And a quick nap could just mean 15 min.
Pick your battles! And if dinner is going to be a right off, make sure you give your kids a nutritious breakfast. This way, you don’t need to sweat over dinner, making sure they eat every bite of food before bed.
And continue that rest time right through until they start school as kids need a wind-down or rest time after being stimulated at school. Darken the room and do a quiet activity with them to allow them to recharge. This will also help kids sleep at night.
Calming mediation apps can be used to instil rest time qualities, and all parents used Cosmic Yoga on YouTube during lockdown!
But children will develop the need to assert themselves or control their own lives, certainly some more than others!
They know they can start saying no to things, which may present at meal times and often at bedtime. Not to suggest they’re all master manipulators, but they certainly start holding the cards. And this can hinder any attempts you make to help kids sleep at night.
They know they can start asking for you on repeat and procrastinating from going to sleep. So it’s good when this starts to happen to look at your child’s day and see where they may have had other opportunities to assert themselves.
They may need some age-appropriate chores or jobs that give them a sense of responsibility. Or empower them by giving them a few options for clothing in the morning and letting them choose. Or offer them food choices for lunch, giving them a sense of control. But not too many you’re still the parent and need to keep that dynamic!
They don’t need endless options or complete freedom, but whatever is practical will help. And offering these options earlier in the day can assist with your efforts to help kids sleep at night.
They may also need that special connection or “one-on-one” time they get with you before bed. You could work this into your daytime routine, so it isn’t craved right before bed.
And this can be so tricky if you’re working and the kids are at daycare, but it can make a huge difference and help kids sleep at night. This special time can be worked into the usual evening routine, and it can take as little as 5 min to fill their cup.
The best advice when looking at a behavioural issue is simply to reconnect with your child before anything else.
Then you can consider strategies, as often that issue will go away without you needing a follow-on strategy at all. Connection is key.
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