Establishing A Good Sleep
Sleep is vital for good health! While we are sleeping, our
body rebuilds cells, grows, builds
up our immune system and generally allows us to give our nervous,
skeletal and muscular systems a chance to recover and reconstruct. For children, sleep is very
important as their bodies are going through a very active growth phase. So how much sleep is
recommended? The following is a general guideline for children:
up to 18 hours
1 to 12 months
14 to 18 hours
1 to 3 years
12 to 15 hours
3 to 5 years
11 to 13 hours
5 to 12 years
9 to 11 hours
9 to 10 hours
Sleep is controlled by many factors, one of the very strong factors being
clock (body clock). Put simply, the response of the
body to daylight causing wakefulness, and dim light/darkness and causing
There are also different stages of sleep, rapid eye movement (REM) and non rapid eye movement (NREM). REM sleep is a period when our brain is almost awake, our eyes move rapidly and we
dream. NREM sleep is when our brain activity slows down, our blood supply to our muscles is
increased, tissue grows and
repairs and our energy is restored. It is also the period of sleep where
important hormones are released in the body
promoting development and growth.
So, enough with the science! How do we get our children to
establish a good sleep pattern?
Firstly, let’s go back to the circadian clock, also known as our body
body’s naturally respond to
light and darkness in terms of sleep. We are most active in light
and that is where our energy levels are high. In darkness, our body slows
down and we have less energy.
Our eyesight is not good in the dark and we have more of a tendency to
sleep. Given this factor, the first thing that you can do is to ensure that your child’s bedroom
is sufficiently dark to encourage sleep. With our very long daylight
hours in the summer, blackout blinds or curtains can be very useful. Dim light can help your
child to relax and move into a state of sleepiness.
A good routine, particularly for younger children, can be very helpful in
establishing a good pattern for bedtime and sleep. There are many actions you can
take to help, from winding down time to routine charts. Winding down time is very
important. Have a period at bedtime where your child relaxes and winds down before
TV or other stimulants in their bedroom.
Have a routine of preparing for bed (putting on pyjamas, washing, brushing
them to relax by reading a story, having a quiet chat, cuddling and helping them to feel secure. This can be a very enjoyable
time for both you and your child.
The environment should be as relaxing as possible.
Remember our circadian clock and try to have the room dimly lit to encourage
sleep. Remember, blackout blinds or curtains are a great
try to have the room quiet and peaceful to avoid stimulating your child.
You could use a chart to establish the routine with
children. Depending on the child’s age, this could be a simple picture chart or a mixture of pictures and text. For bedtime routine, the chart
could have a picture to represent each stage of getting up to bed:
Having a routine chart will help your child to follow the steps of bedtime. If
you have difficultly getting them to follow the routine, you could introduce a reward
star could be awarded each time the routine is followed by your child. A reward can then be given when
a certain number of stars have been earned.
Many parents ask what they should do if their child wakes up in the night.
A lot of time the child simply needs reassurance from you that they are safe and
secure. Comfort them with a soothing voice and physical contact (perhaps a
cuddle) and this will help them to go back to sleep. If your child has awoken
because of a nightmare, reassure them, comfort them and help them
to feel safe and secure with you to help them to stop being frightened of the nightmare. If they can tell you the
nightmare, you could try to think up a happy or a funny ending to the dream. Be aware of things that may be
causing nightmares - TV programs, computer games, family situations and many other items may be triggering a nightmare for your child.
Listen carefully to what the nightmare is about and try to ensure that there isn’t
something happening in the child’s environment that could be causing these
Children have wonderful imaginations. It is this imagination which
can create the nightmare in the first place so it makes sense to use their imagination to creatively banish the
one our parenting courses, we discussed nightmares in young children. One Dad told us a lovely story
about how his daughter, aged 4, woke frequently worried about the bad fairy that came into her room. He bought some ‘magician’ type
materials from a local hobby store including glitter flakes, stars and a magic wand. Later that day, he brought his
daughter up to her room and went through a ceremony of sprinkling the fairy charms around the room and then used the magic wand to tell the bad fairy to go away and not to
come back. He then let his daughter keep the wand in her room so if she was worried about the bad fairy coming
back, she could wave her magic
wand and the bad fairy would not come back. It was a sweet and simple story
but it worked for that little girl.
Maybe something like this could work for you? Another example that we heard
from a parent on one of our courses was about his little boy who was having nightmares of having
monsters under his bed.
He loved his teddies and usually slept with a number of them around his
night, his Mother had a chat with each of the teddies and gave each of them a job about
protecting the little boy from the monsters and then placed the teddies around his
little boy slept well because he knew that his teddies would keep the scary monsters away! As long as your child believes
in the solution, it will work. You know best what will work for your child so use your imagination to solve the nightmare
Many of the common behavioural problems of young children presented to us over
the years, are simply due to the child not getting enough sleep and being tired through the
day. Getting sufficient sleep us essential in helping your child to grow, renew and behave well so work at establishing a good
routine, it will be worth it to all of you -sleep well!