As a parent, you can be forgiven for thinking overtiredness or a burst of energy just before bedtime is a clever sleep time stalling tactic by your little one. Just one more story, mum. I need a drink of water. Can I have another cuddle, dad? Where’s Teddy, I can’t sleep without Teddy!
However, for most children – and adults too – an inability to settle down and settle in for the night is a real thing. It’s called the Wake Maintenance Zone (or Second Wind as you or I may refer to it!), and it’s a 2-3 hour period of alertness that happens at night, right before genuine tiredness kicks in. It makes getting ready or motivated for bed incredibly challenging, and it’s even harder to fall and stay asleep.
Fighting our bodies natural habits and rhythms isn’t realistic, but learning to adapt and establish healthy patterns and practices that make bedtime achievable and enjoyable is the key.
An astonishing 70% of kids are reportedly not getting enough shut-eye at night. Obviously, sleep times are not set in stone, but if children don’t get anywhere near their recommended hours, the negative impacts are almost immediate. And unlike adults, they don’t necessarily act sleepy as a result of tiredness. In fact, they often become more hyper and irritable. There’s the struggle to get out of bed in the morning (Nooooooo) the mood swings (I hate school!), and short attention spans.
Here at happybeds we are sleep enthusiasts, and having young children of our own means we have experienced many of the same bedtime battles as other families.
So, in this – our first blog – we want to share some tips & tricks to help make sleep time a happy time for your family!
Routine – practice makes perfect(ish)
Establishing up a routine is a great way to set expectations and structure. Kids don’t want surprises when it comes to following orders, so creating a bedtime plan or process – whether it be flexible or strict, whatever best suits your family – ensures everyone knows what to do and will be in lockstep when it comes time to do it.
Choosing when everyone brushes their teeth and regular sleep & wake times is the most important part of any routine, because despite the protestations that will surely come when the “OK, it’s time for bed” call rings out, your brood will eventually adapt, and it won’t be as much of a chore in the long run.
Again, exact bed times depend on your family’s habits and circumstances, but a rough guide advises that children under 3 should be tucked up by 7pm, children aged 3-6 years in bed by 8pm, and kids over 7 (but not yet a teen), should be going to sleep no later than 9pm. It’s also worth noting that too many naps during the day can result in an interrupted sleep.
Unwinding with activities as part of a calmly reinforced routine will take the edge off set sleep times and tactics and make the occasion fun – even something to look forward to after a busy day!
After dinner it’s usually time for a wash, so your kids can have fun blowing bubbles in the bath, shaping wet hair mohawks and getting dry and dressed together before turning in.
Jumping into bed with your kids for a cuddle or wrestle could be a fun way to tire you both out, and chats about the day, songs and story-times are popular and fun activities the whole family can do together. Parents and siblings can take it in turns being chief storyteller or choir leader. In our family’s case, the boys have to say goodnight to our puppy Alby first, then Harry (our youngest) is the first to go to sleep, followed by Jack.
Exercise – no, not jumping on the bed!
Physical activity during the day is a great way to make sure kids are burning off energy to avoid a restless night’s sleep. Since exercise places a degree of stress on the body, the brain automatically increases the time a child spends in a deep sleep afterwards to “recover”.
Outdoor air and natural light (especially in the morning) is good for the body too. Bright light suppresses melatonin and helps your child feel awake and alert during the day and sleepy towards bedtime when the sun’s going down, which is exactly what we want.
If your child is school age, chances are P.E classes, recess and lunch time, after-school play dates and extra curriculum activities account for more than enough exercise and outdoor time. Encouraging kids to play games, jog, jump rope, ride a bike, and walk will do wonders too.
A plan of attack for snacks!
Eating and drinking the right amount of food at the right times during the day is another way you can help your kids sleep better. In the mornings, a healthy breakfast helps to kick-start your child’s metabolism and body clock. In the evenings, try to keep dinner satisfying, but not too filling, as feeling hungry or too full before bed can make your child uncomfortable.
Eating immediately before going to sleep may cause digestive issues such as bloating or acid reflux, sofinishing up dinner and desserts around 2 hours before bedtime is a good rule of thumb. However, never underestimate an “I’m hungryyyyyy” moan before then.
A snack before bed is not a cardinal sin, as long as it’s free from sugars or caffeine which will undoubtedly keep your kids up. Healthy pre-sleep snacks include bananas, almonds, walnuts, cherries, kiwi fruit, and yogurt. Keeping up fluids and hydration at every age is important too, so make water your kid’s weapon of choice. Drinking regularly throughout the day is ideal to prevent getting thirsty late and bathroom breaks during the night.
Turn off tech
At happybeds, we have some of the most exciting beds around, and some even include Bluetooth, speakers and LED lights activated by remote control for endless entertainment. Whilst the features provide heaps of fun, we do recommend having a technology free zone in the bedroom at least an hour before bed, to help ensure a great night’s sleep.
Other devices such as phones, tablets, TVs and radios are over stimulating and delay sleep time. It’s also worth double checking that digital clock faces, noises and lights in or directly outside your child’s room aren’t having a disruptive impact either.
Keep it cool – in more ways than one
The condition and comfort of your child’s room, bedding and what they wear to bed will play a role in how good a night’s sleep they’ll get too. A hot room will create discomfort, so turning off heaters and electric blankets once your child gets into bed in Winter or on cool nights is a good tip.
Hot or itchy pyjamas and synthetic bedding will encourage sweating and tossing & turning and can be an issue for kids with sensitive skin. Materials like flannelette, polyester and nylon can irritate or inflame predetermined conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, dermatitis and other allergies like hay fever, asthma and dust mite allergens. Cool, breathable and hypoallergenic alternatives like cotton or bamboo are ideal, as well as eco-friendly options.
Giving kids a cool space to sleep in, aesthetically speaking, is also a factor. Whether it be giving them a say in the design of their room, the type of bed they have (regular, custom, Bunk Bed, Princess Bed or Car Bed), the doona and pillow set or décor and accessories, giving their bedroom personality and appeal will generally make the transition from day to night easier too.
Night terrors or troubles
Finally, sometimes the reason your child cannot get to sleep is more psychological than physical: perhaps they suffer from nightmares or night terrors. Reducing their stresses and anxieties and addressing their fears may have to be a nightly undertaking until they grow out of it.
It can be as simple as making sure their favourite toy is on hand, showing them that there is nothing nasty under the bed or in the wardrobe before you turn the lights off, leaving a night-light on, or settling them one of our previously mentioned activities like a story or sing-a-long.
If any of the above tips don’t seem to do the trick, it’s always best to consult a doctor or professional, and watch for sleep disorders such as sleepwalking, insomnia, bed wetting, & snoring as this could be making going to sleep and staying asleep an issue.
Matt & Steph