Sleep tips for school age children

Here’s our list of tips to help your child fall asleep and stay asleep, and therefore get the amount of sleep needed:

Routine:

While we all know about routine and babies, it is equally important that older children have a regular sleep routine. Try to keep your child’s bedtime and wake-up time should be about the same time everyday. There should not be more than an hour’s difference in bedtime and wake-up time between school nights and weekend nights.

Bedtime routine:

We recommend a 20- to 30-minute bedtime routine that is the same every night. The routine should include calm activities, such as reading a book or talking about the day, in the room where your child sleeps. Reading stories in bed, even lying down on their pillow can really help with relaxing and getting ready to fall asleep.

Bedroom environment:

Your child’s bedroom should be comfortable, relaxing, quiet, and dark. Although we think a nightlight is fine, as a completely dark room can be scary for some children. Your child will sleep better in a room that is cool but not cold, so 16-20 degrees is idea. Blackout curtains or a blind can be very helpful, both for light summer evenings and for mornings when the sun comes up early.

Happy place:

Avoid using your child’s bedroom for time out or other punishment. You want your child to think of the bedroom as a good place, not a bad one.

Bedtime snack.

Your child should not go to bed hungry. A light snack (such as milk and cookies) before bed is a good idea. Heavy meals within an hour or two of bedtime, however, may interfere with sleep. If your child hasn’t eaten a decent dinner, you may need an extra snack at bedtime (aim for something boring such as a sandwich so they aren’t being rewarded with a treat after not eating dinner!).

Caffeine.

We recommend avoiding all caffeine with children, in particular do not give children caffeinated drinks. However pay special attention to this for at least 3 to 4 hours before bedtime, as caffeine can be hiding in products such as fizzy drink,iced tea, and chocolate.

Evening activities.

The hour before bed should be a quiet time. Your child should not get involved in high-energy activities, such as rough play or playing outside, or stimulating activities, such as computer games.

Limit screen time & monitor device use:

Keep the television set out of your child’s bedroom. Children can easily develop the bad habit of “needing” the television to fall asleep. It is also much more difficult to control your child’s television viewing if the set is in the bedroom. The also applies to hand-held devices such as ipads, ipods, mobile phones and laptops. These devices emit blue light which stops your child feeling sleepy, and also you cannot see what they are doing online. This can lead to bullying or inappropriate use. We recommend having a family ‘charging station’, where all devices are plugged in and charged overnight in a common family area.

Exercise.

Your child should spend time outside every day and get daily exercise. Fresh air, sunlight and running around all help to make your children healthy and also tired enough to sleep well at the end of the day. We recommend having a time when the TV or devices are allowed on, for example in our family, no devices or TV are allowed until 3pm in the weekend.

Relaxation CDs:

If your child struggles to relax at bedtime, using a child specific relaxation CD can be a huge help. It will help them to lie quietly in bed, relaxing their body. It will encourage them to listen and focus on the relaxing message. These can be used from approx 3 years old. Other relaxation or nature sounds can also be helpful, and can be left on repeat all night to help with resettling and covering outside noises which may contribute to early waking.

The fuzzy line between comforting and sleep training.

I should have known something was not 100% with my little Noa last week when she started to cry when I turned the lights off at bed time, she use to  love going to bed and would bring me her woolbabe as a sign of “take me to bed now”.

She woke at night with a fever which hung around for 2 days, then the teething started. Her first 3 molars came up relatively quickly but the 4th molar…. it came through as if it was a wisdom tooth.

Our son can sleep through anything, me and my husband on the other hand, we were kept awake for 3 nights. 3 nights of crying, fussing, fevers and me nursing and rocking her back to sleep.
Finally her molar cut through her gum and she started to brighten up a bit but her sleep at night was all out of sorts and she was still waking several times a night crying.

I felt so confused, was this still an effect from her sickness? did she need me to comfort her as I did when she was sick? or was this a bad habit that needed to be addressed with sleep training?
As a sleep coach I thought I should know the answer, I answer sleep questions all the time but when it came to my own child I felt l had no clue.

We finally decided that her waking was due to habit, and we needed to do some sleep training to get her back into loving her bed again.
We decided we were going to use verbal reassurance to help her self settle, and sure enough at 2am she woke up, sat up, and cried… and cried…. and cried. After 15 minutes of her crying I went into her room and firmly said “shhhh Noa its bed time” and laid her back down, then left the room. 10 minutes later she started up again… I waited 5 minutes then went back in and repeated the process several times. 2 hours later…. she’s still crying on and off and I said to my husband, “if she starts up again I’m just going to give up and feed her”, she slept till 7am.

Second night of VR and she woke at 3am, cried for 10 minutes until I went in and laid her back down again and said my line “shhhh Noa its bed time” and returned to my bed… she fell back to sleep and slept till 6:30.
Third night of VR, Noa went to bed at 7pm, and slept through without a peep till 6:30!

I was so uncertain at the start, I couldn’t figure out where the line was between her being sick and needing comfort and her thinking “this is great! all I have to do is cry and I get fed and cuddled back to sleep again!”

It did take 2 nights of VR but on the third night it paid off and she slept right through again.

Long may it continue…. (until the next time she is sick I guess 😉 )

Tracey x

Noa has a lot of sleep to catch up on
Noa has a lot of sleep to catch up on

Gentle sleep ‘encouraging’ success story

We often hear that parents are exhausted by lack of sleep and are worried about their toddlers not get enough sleep, but they don’t like the idea of ‘sleep training’. They might have tried a technique before that didn’t work for them, or aren’t comfortable with crying….

Also toddlers can be soooo determined and stubborn, a gentle and gradual approach to bedtime is always our preference.

Think of changing your bedtime battles as gently encouraging your child to sleep better, of gently moving them towards learning to fall asleep without needing your help and without tears or tantrums.

I thought you may enjoy reading this success story that we received a little while back:

Our son moved into a big bed at 19 months and with a few things going on in our lives we fell into the habit of staying with him until he went to sleep.  It initially started with a nice 15 minute ‘bed time’ and slowly grew to a solid hour with both mum and dad having to be with him.  We had the delay tactics from needing story after story, a different toy to sleep with him each night or simply wanting me to sing him to sleep (that’s a lot of singing!).

After 2.5 months we wanted to break the habit and we opted for the ‘Gradual withdrawing out the door’ technique after visiting The Sleep Store website.  To be honest I was super nervous as our boy is extremely determined so we had to prepare ourselves for some long nights.

We decided to tighten up his bed time routine of two books (that he gets to choose) for me to read, then its lights out, a kiss and the lullaby music is put on.  On day one we did exactly this and I told him dad was off to the gym but mummy is here tonight.  (We felt if we could get him to sleep with just one of us, we were winning!)  I lay down and stayed with him until he was asleep.

Day two, same routine but I sat beside his bed.  Day three and on, it was the same routine however I moved slightly further down towards the end of the bed each day. By day six, he was going to sleep within 15 minutes and I was sitting against the wall by the door! He was more than content.

On day seven, we continued the same routine however I said that mummy would be just outside the door if he needed me.  Yes, I sat just outside the door for the next couple of nights until he was asleep, in case he came to check that I was there.  I didn’t want to get caught out!

We are now proud to say that our son now goes to sleep by himself.  What I love most is that we managed to break this habit without a single tear.  Now bed time only takes 10 minutes, stories, cuddles and a kiss good night…and off to sleep he goes. Our angel sleeper is back thanks to The Sleep Store and this fabulous pain free, tear free and stress free technique!”

3 year old needing a bedtime snack – sound familiar?

Here’s a question I’ve just been answering for a column I write & thought it might be of interest to readers here too:

Hi Louise,

Recently miss three has found that she is hungry after we put her to bed. She’ll only be in bed for about ten minutes before she decides to come out and request a snack. I think we initially made the mistake of giving her a snack of banana and peanut butter and now she thinks that it’s part of her evening routine. What would be your suggestions to break her out of this habit – is she really hungry?

Thanks,

Annie.

 

Hi Annie,

Oh, the joys of toddlers! They can find so many ways of delaying bedtime and spending more time with mum and dad!

There are a few ways you can tackle this. If you think the snack is a useful part of her settling down and helps top her up, then I would make it part of your routine. Have a small, healthy snack in bed while you read her bedtime stories. I find this works well with all my children, as it’s an incentive to get into bed! Then it’s off for teeth cleaning and settle down to sleep with no more excuses!

However if you think it’s just a delaying tactic and she’s had plenty to eat, then decide on another approach to settling than offering the snack.

Let your daughter choose 3 stories for bedtime. Hop it bed and enjoy the story time together, cuddle and don’t let it feel rushed. Parents of toddlers are often ready for them to be asleep and to have some down-time but toddlers pick up on this in a flash and bedtime takes even longer!

Make sure her bedroom is a restful and relaxing place to sleep. Does she have something to cuddle all night? A nightlight is always a good idea for that age, particularly a cool one like a colour changing unicorn or something else she would love lying in bed watching. The Aloka ones are awesome as they come with a remote control to select the child’s favourite colour or change through the rainbow. I also recommend some white noise, a story CD or the most effective is a Dinosnores relaxation CD. The Kitten one is just lovely, with loud purring!

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Then decide on a technique for keeping her in bed that you are comfortable with and can be super consistent with. I don’t like the super nanny approach of constantly taking a child back to bed, as this turns into a game and can take up your whole evening! My preference is for our gentle and gradual approach, where you agree to sit or lie with her as she falls asleep. The aim is to break the habit of getting out of bed or finding excuses to come out to you. Often toddlers just want a bit more quiet time with mum or dad, and by agreeing to this they stop all the bedtime battling.

Do this for a few nights, as she settles down and gets used to watching her nightlight, listening to the CD and falling asleep. Then you start the gradual process of removing yourself! Start with a couple of nights of sitting on the end of the bed, again staying until she is asleep. If you find she is quickly getting settling, you can also add in some pop-outs, where you pop out for a short time, saying something like ‘mum just needs to pop out & get a drink of water’ and return within about 30 seconds. You can gradually increase the length of the pop-outs.

Then over a few nights, move to sitting on a chair away from the bed or increasing the length of your pop-outs, so she has the opportunity to fall asleep without you there. You may also like to add in some little rewards from the ‘bedtime fairy’, who comes for 3 nights to rewards children who fall asleep in bed without coming out! Little treats like a sheet of stickers, a little car or little pot of glitter (fairy dust!). Bedtime fairies only stay for 3 nights though, as there are lots more children who need a visit!

I hope those ideas help you regain your evening and help your little one settle down at bedtime.

You can also read more toddler sleep articles on our website: