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A good night’s sleep is vital to your child’s mood and brain function. Studies show that not getting enough rest can worsen behaviour, memory, emotional control and immune function.
So how can we help our children sleep through the night?
Eat, Drink, and Exercise Right for a Good Night’s Sleep
Avoid eating or snacking one to two hours before bedtime. Digestion, especially of foods containing caffeine or sugar, can keep your child up. If s/he insists on snacking, offer a protein based food like nuts or eggs to stabilise blood sugar levels while your child sleeps and keep little tummies full.
Your child should drink enough water during the day to prevent his asking for a glass of water at bedtime — and possible subsequent bathroom breaks later.
Have your child exercise — jog, jump rope, ride a bike, walk — in the morning or during the day. Physical activity helps our bodies make the transition between the phases of sleep. Also, since exercise places physical stress on the body, the brain increases the time a child spends in deep sleep.
Reduce Nighttime Distractions
For a child who is sensitive to light or any stimulation, even a sliver of illumination from a clock radio can bring wakefulness. Try the following:
Choose a clock with a face that lights up only when a button is pressed — even small lights can be disruptive.
Turn a child’s bed away from the bedroom door, so he isn’t disturbed by light seeping through it.
Reduce light from windows by putting up blackout curtains.
Use relaxing music or a sound machine to muffle harsh noise, whether it be TV chatter, a ringing phone, or a barking dog.
Create and Stick to Healthy Bedtime Rituals
Evening rituals signal the brain and body to slow down. They also provide a comfortable closeness with caregivers that allows fearful children to sink into the arms of sleep. Children thrive from routine and rhythm, so regular sleep hours and routines help settle a child and provide them with appropriate wind-down time from the activity and stimulation of the day.
Tell or read a bedtime story to a younger child. Allow older children to read in bed.
Be sure your child has her favorite blanket or stuffed animal. Older kids may prefer to cuddle with a squishy, soft pillow.
Dress for Sleep Comfort
Clothe cold feet. Chilly feet keep some children awake; wearing socks may send them into dreamland.
Remove any scratchy tags from pajamas.
Keep kids cool. Air conditioning or a small fan will cool down the room — and the whirring sound of the fan blades may calm a child’s mind.
Pre-Bedtime Relaxation Routines
A foot rub relaxes a restless child. Have your child lie on her back — if the room is chilly, cover her — and gently hold her foot with one hand. Make a fist with your other hand and lightly move it up and down her instep.
Have your child focus on her breathing while visualising her breath going deep into the lower part of her belly.
Create affirming phrases that she repeats to herself as she awaits sleep, such as “I am loved and safe.”
What to do if your child suffers nightmares?
Night terrors can be caused by poor quality sleep, extreme stress, a fever, medication or even an immature central nervous system. Nightmares often have similar causes – stress, traumatic events, some medications and various illnesses when accompanied by a fever.
8 home remedies to prevent both night terrors and nightmares
1. Take your child on guided meditation at bedtime for its calming effect – where they pack up any worries or concerns into a garbage bag (imaginary or real), tie it up and take it to a place of their choice (either in the imagination or a real place). Once they reach their place of choice, they give the bag to someone they meet on their way and it is gone before retracing their steps back to bed.
2. Some children enjoy and find comfort from having a dream catcher hanging above their bed.
3. Add a drop or two of lavender essential oil on your child’s pillow at night.
4. Bach Flower remedies is one method to help prevent night terrors and nightmares. Homeopathic remedies will also help. You can talk to one of our health practitioners about which is best for your child.
5. Try keeping a fan going in the bedroom for white noise or play soft classical music.
6. In the cold weather, heavy blankets can provide a comforting hug sensation for children. In warmer months, sew heavier squares of fabric to the corners of a lighter blanket for the same sensation without your child becoming too hot.
7. TV could well be a problem as many children can end up with nightmares from watching something even if it appears innocent enough to you. Instead, read calming children’s books at bedtime.
8. Diet is very important. Especially avoid all processed foods. Some children can be affected by gluten (or even casein – from dairy). Night terrors may well be caused by a lack of niacin. Try eliminating all sugars (apart from honey and fruit). Many children have been found to be allergic to artificial coloring – with bad night time experiences as a result.