How Are Your Children Sleeping?
For many of us, the two years of lockdown have brought significant changes to our priorities and our outlook on life.
But, many recognise that it’s the children and elderly who have borne the brunt of its impact, losing out on education, their in-person relationships, team activities and quality of life.
Children’s mental health, social skills and wellbeing have all been affected by the pandemic and their sleeping problems have consequently escalated.
According to a 2021 NHS Digital survey and a survey by The Prince’s Trust of 6 -23-year-olds, both surveys reveal that 67% of young people feel that the pandemic will have a long-term negative effect on their mental health. (Source: – www.youngminds.org.uk/about-us/reports-and-impact/coronavirus-impact-on-young-people-with-mental-health-needs/)
Having trouble sleeping on three or more nights a week, not drifting off to sleep or waking up in the night or especially early have all been identified as the main concerns of the survey’s respondents. The American Academy of Paediatrics found that sleep problems affect between 25-50% of children and 40% of adolescents, with 25% of children under the age of 5 not getting enough sleep.
A child’s ability to sleep well is influenced by the vicissitudes of their daily lives, how they feel about what’s happening, their inner talk and stress levels. Establishing a calm, secure base can make all the difference to how well they cope and remain healthy.
So, let’s look at the best sleeping conditions and sleep hygiene for children.
What can be done to support them?
Start by helping your child relax and get ready for bed by building calm, quiet activities into their bedtime routine, maybe playing gentle music, reading a story together or encouraging them to take a pre-bed bath.
A regular, consistent bedtime routine is especially important for children, in order to ensure that they get enough sleep, whether they are young and still growing or older and studying for exams. Winding down and turning in at a specific time, as well as the familiarity of getting ready for bed all prepare a child for sleep.
Their lifestyle has a big influence on a child’s health, resilience and ability to switch off and sleep. Having a healthy, nutritious diet with minimal junk and processed food, caffeine and sugary treats, especially before bed, has a beneficial impact on a child’s quality of sleep. Fresh air and regular exercise are good for heart, lungs and breathing, as well as helping them burn off some energy and cope better with stress.
Going for a walk, run or bike ride whilst the evening meal or Sunday lunch is cooking could be a good way of spending quality time together to chat, compete and have fun as a family. Also, eating together as a family once or twice a week keeps everyone in touch and enables parents to quickly notice if a child’s behaviour has changed, their relationship with food is different or they’re appearing stressed.
A clutter-free bedroom is important, with minimal technology and any work stations screened off, if possible, when not in use. It’s important for a bedroom to be the place to relax and sleep in. Good ventilation and not too warm is important, as is lighting. Nervous children may appreciate a night light, so that the bedroom is not too dark at bedtime.
Turning off technology, TV screens and video games a couple of hours before bed and having a light supper before bed can be ways to indicate that bedtime is approaching. Some children find stories reassuring at bedtime, and an appropriate story can help a nervous or anxious child settle.
Some children appreciate a cuddly toy at bedtime, and even 10% of adults disclosed in a recent survey that they like to take their teddy bear to bed at night. Students leaving home for the first time for university often take their teddy bear with them, finding it to be a reassuring presence at bedtime, bringing comfort, a connection to their roots, helping them feel safe and secure.
Accept that it’s not uncommon for very young and early school-age children to experience sleep-related problems, like nightmares, night terrors, bedwetting, sleepwalking or talking, or thumb sucking. Often these are temporary behaviours which are usually grown out of.
Providing a safe environment and familiar routine, where children feel protected, listened to and understood is the key to enabling a child be able to go to bed at night, ready to relax and drift off into a good night’s sleep.
Susan Leigh, Counsellor & Hypnotherapist lifestyletherapy.net