I have been surprised recently by the number of parents wanting help with their children’s sleep. So I have compiled a huge list of things to try if your child is having trouble getting off to sleep or is waking in the night. Every child is different, so have a look through the ideas and try a few out. If they don’t work, go back to the list until you find something that does.
Thinking about sleep
1. Have plenty of conversations where you ask what your child will need to do (go to sleep in their bed and sleep through the night), what they might feel (worried, sad, lonely, frightened) & how they will handle feelings (cuddle soft toy, lie still- close eyes and relax, visualisation, deep breathing). Repeat questions frequently to help children picture themselves sleeping through the night
2. Talk to your child about why they have difficulty with sleep or why they wake and help your child find solutions.
3. Change the association your child has with falling asleep – make it in their own bed, without a particular sleep aid (e.g. dummy / TV) and without an adult present. Your child needs to learn to fall asleep on their own if you want them to get themselves back to sleep when they wake in the night.
4. Have a predictable bedtime routine (quiet time / bath / teeth / pyjamas / story / bed)
5. Make sure your child has a regular sleep pattern (e.g. 8pm-7am) even at weekends or have rules about what to do in the morning if awake earlier than parents such as helping themselves to breakfast if they wake earlier than you want to get up at weekends.
6. Limit activities in the hour before bedtime –make sure your child has a quiet relaxing time before bed. If one parent comes in late and wants some fun time with the children, spend it reading a book aloud while they snuggle up beside you
7. Make sure any homework is done early in the evening
8. Make sure any arguments are all sorted out before bedtime
9. Ask your child to jot down any problem that they are thinking about before they get into bed so they can relax knowing that they can pick it up in the morning and their issues can be out of mind overnight
10. Alternatively suggest they practice handing their problems over at night to a statue, palm-stone or dream catcher
11. Allow them to read a book before sleep, (but maybe not one that has action-packed excitement) or listen to an audiobook in the dark
12. There are some lovely books about sleep that you can read to your child. For younger children try:
Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown
Tell Me Something Happy Before I Go To Sleep by Joyce Dunbar
The Bedtime Bear: A Pop-up Book for Bedtime by Ian Whybro.
And for children over five, try:
The Huge Bag of Worries by Virginia Ironside (for children who worry)
The Wish Factory by Chris Riddell
13. List all the good things the child has done that day (and the qualities they display) just before sleep – it just puts the child in a happy frame of mind, where they have had their good qualities affirmed at the time their subconscious is most active
14. Plan a nice reward first thing in the morning, such as your child’s favourite breakfast.
15. Work towards a bigger reward for regular sleeping-through for several nights running, such as a small treat at the weekend.
16. Children who sleep through need extra cuddles in the morning and happy parents. Tell them what they did that you are happy about
Ways to feel sleepy
17. Make sure that children have 30-60 minutes vigorous exercise during the day, but not just before bed.
18. Avoid caffeine which is in coke and chocolate within 3-4 hours of bedtime
19. Avoid all screens 30 minutes before bed (TV, Computer, internet, iPad, mobiles etc.) the light and flashing images reduce the ability of the brain to produce melatonin which is necessary for sleep
20. Don’t have a TV or computer in the children’s bedrooms. The temptation to watch TV or use a computer close to bedtime (or after bedtime!) is difficult to resist.
21. Eat tea/dinner early in the evening so that the meal can be fully digested before sleep.
22. Eat whole-grain cereal or whole-grain bread or nuts if hungry before bed. They contain Tryptophan which may help regulate your child’s sleep cycles
23. Warm milk or Horlicks may help relax children before sleep
24. Consider a homoeopathic remedy such as Hyland’s Calms Forte 4 Kids, which you pop under their tongues.
25. A little cup of camomile tea may help
26. A warm bath with a few drops of lavender or camomile oil is very relaxing
27. Some children love to sleep with a pillow or item of clothing belonging to their Mum or Dad.
28. Reducing the amount of salt and sugar in a child’s diet especially before bedtime can help
29. Increase the amount of magnesium-rich foods your child eats such as whole grain bread or cereals, beans, nuts, pulses, green leafy vegetables, whole milk, peanut butter, bananas, raisins, corn, oatmeal and low-fat yoghurt.
30. Try to make sure your child does not nap after 2 pm
Making the bedroom suitable for sleep
31. Some children need their bedroom to be completely darkened (thick curtains, blackout blinds or alternatively an eye mask). Others need to have some light (Night light / low wattage light). Find out what works for your child.
32. Consider changing the position of the bed. Your child may associate the new position with a new sleep pattern. Some people believe that sleeping with your head pointing towards the South aids restful sleep.
33. Make sure your child has a comfortable bed with soft, cosy, warm bedding. Some teenagers enjoy having an electric blanket to warm the bed before sleep.
34. Make sure bedrooms have a calm feel to them, and are decorated in muted colours (not bright red!)
35. Try to encourage the use of bedrooms for sleep and relaxation (and not homework if possible).
36. Make sure the room is well ventilated by opening windows for a short time each day.
37. Sleep is often enhanced by having the bedroom temperature a bit lower – about 18oC. (During overnight flights on aeroplanes the cabin temperature is reduced to 18oC to enable passengers to sleep)
38. Make sure the bedroom is quiet and your child is not able to hear noise from adults talking or from a TV. If noise is a problem consider using earplugs, an electric fan or ‘white noise’. You can get white noise generators, white noise apps for iPhone or mobiles, and even a kindle download!
Ways to relax
39. Yoga is great to help children relax. They can watch a YouTube video, get a DVD or go to classes to learn the techniques.
40. Deep breathing is also good for relaxation. Once again look at some clips on YouTube or get a DVD. This is deep breathing where your child’s belly goes up and down rather than their shoulders.
41. Progressive relaxation – sit on your child’s bed just before they go to sleep and get them to tense their muscles and relax them, in turn, working up from their toes to their face.
42. Encourage children to listen to chill-out music, natural sounds CD or ‘white noise’
43. Children can learn how to meditate using Video clips from YouTube or a CD
44. Massage can relax children just before sleep, particularly when combined with a relaxing massage oil.
45. Guided visualisation just before sleep. There are some great CDs you can buy. I particularly like:
Indigo Dreams / Indigo Ocean Dreams by Lori Lite
Help Children Sleep Bedtime Audiobook CD – Seashore by Charles Vlad
Bedtime Meditations for Kids (Calm Kids) by Christiane Kerr
Mermaids and Fairy Dust (Calm for Kids) by Christiane Kerr (for girls)
Magical Meditations for Superheroes by Marneta Viegas (for boys)
Nighttime waking – Experiment and see what works for your child
46. Teach a child about sleep patterns and how everybody ‘wakes up’ for brief periods each night, but they learn to go back to sleep each time until morning
47. Teach your child a relaxation technique, visualisation or deep breathing exercise to use when they wake. Alternatively tell them that if they can’t get back to sleep, lying down with their eyes shut and relaxing their muscles is the next-best thing!
48. Talk about how proud he/she will be when they sleep through the night
49. Ask frequent questions about how they will get back to sleep if they wake in the night
50. Express confidence that they can sleep all night in their bed (give examples of other challenges they have overcome)
51. Use the rapid return technique where each time your child wakes you put them back in their bed with minimum communication.
52. As a general rule be very uncommunicative after your child’s bedtime, so they learn that you are boring at night and not worth waking up for!
53. Some children like to see the time on a digital clock if they wake in the night, so they can work out whether it is morning time. Or have an alarm clock that lets them know they can get up. Other experts suggest removing all electrical items from your child’s bedside. Once again experiment and see what works for your child.
54. Make sure your child has a soft toy or blanket that they associate with sleep in the bed beside them so they can cuddle it if they wake up
55. Have a drinking bottle or no-spill beaker for water at your child’s bedside just so they do not need to get up because they are thirsty
56. Put a small cup of ‘Sleepy tea’ by your child’s bedside. This is a small drink of water with a few drops of camomile extract in it. Be sure to let your child how effective this remedy is when they wake up. It has little more than a placebo effect, but if your child THINKS it will make them go back to sleep – it probably will!
57. If your child tends to wake up worrying about a letter they should have given you or something they should have told you to put a pen and paper next to their bed to jot down thoughts in the night & deal with them in the morning
58. If your child is too young to read the time, get a clock which shows children it is morning (such as the Gro clock sleep trainer). Or set up a wake-up light which comes on in the morning. You can purchase a light for this purpose or set up a plug-in timer with a bedside light.
59. If your child wakes up in the night, give them a ‘Sleepy pad’ – a handkerchief or small pad with a drop of lavender oil to put beside their pillow.
60. Don’t forget if your child does manage to sleep through the night give them an immediate reward on waking (some families have found a reward or ‘fairy dust’ from the sleep fairy works well – or just their favourite breakfast). Also in the morning make sure your child has a very happy Mum or Dad with lots of hugs and smiles and descriptive praise.
If you have any other ideas of techniques that have worked for you, please jot them in the reply box, so we can make this the most comprehensive list for children’s sleep on the internet!
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