With school in full swing, you may have noticed your kids are more tired than usual as they make the transition from relaxed holiday routines to long childcare, kindergarten or school days. A lack of sleep is incredibly common in children from infancy to school-age, so you’re not alone if you’re child doesn’t get a good night’s sleep, every night!
Why is sleep so important for kids?
Getting your child into bed early has many more benefits than just you putting your feet up and enjoying a few hours of peace at the end of a long day! Sleep has a profound impact on your child’s development, behaviour, cognitive ability and overall wellbeing.
Sleep regulates your child’s endocrine system, which produce hormones that help control metabolism, regulate mood, modulate growth and regulate puberty, amongst other things.
Sleep strengthens your child’s immune system and reduces inflammation. While they’re sleeping, cytokines are produced which are vital for fighting infections and illness, and stress.
Sleep also improves the function of your child’s nervous system by replenishing brain chemicals. A lack of sleep can impair you child’s ability to learn, reason, problem-solve and concentrate.
Adequate sleep in children has been found to help maintain a healthy weight, reduce risky behaviour and provide emotional stability. The list of benefits is extensive, and sleep should be considered equally as important as the food your child consumes and the activities they do each day.
Encouraging your kids to wind down and get more sleep
At this time of year I see plenty of families with children suffering from fatigue as they adjust to a new schedule. I also meet many parents who are struggling to get their kids into bed at a reasonable hour to ensure they achieve adequate sleep each night.
Here are some tips I share with families in my clinic and that have proved very useful for my own kids:
Establish a bedtime routine that you can stick to
Setting up a bedtime routine is important for your kids to slow down and get prepared for sleep. Ideally you’ll start this routine after dinner, allowing 1.5 hours for your child’s body to wind down naturally and his or her digestive processes to finish.
Encourage your child to engage in quiet activities during this time. Run your child a bath if you find this helps them to relax. Adding some magnesium salts into the bath can be beneficial to facilitate the wind down process. If you find baths are too stimulating, try a shower instead.
Complete the bedtime routine with your child brushing their teeth, then reading a story or two in bed. The more consistent you are with the bedtime routine, the more likely it will become a positive habit for your child.
Switch off the electronics
Immediately after dinner, switch off the TV, computers and devices like the iPad and iPhone. In my household, we have a rule where all screens are switched off from 6pm.
TV after this time is often too stimulating and the content in many programs, such as the news, is simply inappropriate for kids viewing. The “blue” light emitted from screens can also prevent the production of sleep hormones like melatonin which help to initiate sleep.
Remove electronics from the bedroom
Screen savers, blinking lights and the sound of electronic equipment in the bedroom will prevent your child from falling asleep, and hinder their sleep quality. It’s best to keep the bedroom an electronics free zone, making it an enticing environment for sleeping. If your child requires a nightlight, ensure it is dim enough so that it doesn’t affect their ability to get to sleep.
Are there any natural medicines that can be helpful?
Yes, there are! Nutritional and herbal medicines can be used safely and easily with children of all ages who are experiencing sleep difficulties. However, they will need a prescription from a well-trained Naturopath with experience treating children for the medicines to be used safely.
There is also no ‘one size fits all’ approach when it comes to natural medicines. As a Naturopath, I tailor a prescription to each individual child and their family’s needs.
For parents who have tried everything to improve their child’s sleep quality and duration, natural medicines can be particularly beneficial. However, it’s also important to investigate whether the child’s sleep issues are part of a more complex health issue like anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), other developmental behavioural problems, or obstructive sleep apnoea. If an additional condition is identified, an individual approach is vital.
Getting children to sleep at an appropriate hour can be incredibly frustrating for parents. Whether it’s toddlers who struggle to fall asleep or teenagers who won’t switch off their screens; dealing with the challenges at kids’ bedtime can be draining. If you’re not seeing any success with these tips, visiting a Naturopath may prove very helpful.