From the moment you announce that you are expecting a baby, you can almost guarantee that following all the excitement and congratulations, the second topic of conversation will be warnings about the sleepless nights!
It’s a fact of life that newborn babies cannot sleep through the night – they need to feed regularly and have no initial concept of night and day. It’s when these sleepless nights extend through to the toddler years and beyond it becomes more of an issue, not just for your child but for you and other family members as well.
We all need sleep to function optimally, and for children especially it is so important for every aspect of their growth and development. Many parents regularly ask is why is their child not sleeping, and what can they do to help.
Therefore, here are some possible reasons why your child might be finding it hard to get to sleep or stay asleep through the night. As well as suggestions to try and improve things from here on.
Lack of routine
A bedtime routine acts as a signal to your child that it is nearly time for sleep. It should be a relaxing routine so that their young minds can wind down into a state of calm to prepare them for restful sleep. The routine also enables you to spend some quality time together and chat about the day. Sometimes the reason your child is not very tired at bedtime is that perhaps a parent has come home late and they are excited to see them, or they have been playing and are too over-stimulated to rest.
A bedtime routine can involve whatever you want it to, as long as it suits you and your family, and can be easily repeated at the same time each day. It could include a warm bath, a massage, some gentle music and a bedtime story, or some quiet music. You will notice there is no TV or screen-time involved in this suggested routine. This is because the light from a screen can act as a stimulant that sends the wrong messages to the brain, having the opposite effect to calm.
A relaxing routine can really help to set your child up for a solid night’s sleep. If you are away from home in new surroundings this can naturally disturb a child’s rhythm but try as much as possible to stick to your usual routine as it can help to limit the disturbance while you are away.
Feeling anxious or unsafe
Another reason that your child may be struggling to sleep is that they feel worried, nervous, or sad about something or a few things.
They might be worried about being alone, anxious about the dark room, or scared of monsters and ghosts in the house. Their anxieties could also be about friendships at school, homework, family relationships, or changes in routine, for example moving to a new house or schools. Divorce, separation, grief, and bullying are also huge life-affecting events that could be causing anxiety to your child for a prolonged period.
It’s important that your child feels like they can talk to you and communicate how they are feeling. Even though we are all constantly busy, you should offer time to talk to your child about how they are feeling, especially if you sense that something is not quite right.
If they find it hard to talk about how they feel, then diary writing as part of your child’s bedtime routine is a great way for them to get their feelings down on paper and cleared out of their minds for the night. It’s also a great thing for you to do together as journalling has many benefits for everybody’s mental health, regardless of age.
Worries about monsters or scary images could stem from something your child has watched on TV, in a film, or book. Their young minds are like sponges and a particularly scary scene or unusual character is likely to stay with them for a long time. You will know this yourself if you watch something disturbing that you too can’t get off your mind. Therefore, try to monitor what your children are watching on TV and ensure it is age-appropriate. You can set parental controls on mobile devices and on-demand services so that inappropriate content is never available or an option for your child.
The food and drink your child consumes throughout the day can have a big effect on their sleep, just as it can with adults too. The amount, type, and timing of their food intake are all important factors when it comes to a restful night’s sleep.
If your child eats a large meal close to bedtime this can leave them feeling uncomfortable and irritable as they lie down in bed and their food tries to digest. Similarly, if they have had sugary or high-calorie food or drink within a couple of hours of bedtime, they are sure to be too stimulated to sleep, or more likely to wake up after a couple of hours once the sugar has worn out of their systems, potentially leaving them dehydrated or needing the toilet.
Equally, it is important for a child to go to bed with a satisfied stomach so that they are not hungry during the night. Eating a healthy, balanced evening meal at the same time each day, a few hours before bedtime, is optimal. Then, if your child is hungry and it is close to bedtime, you can offer them a light, healthy snack such as some oat porridge, a rice cracker, chopped banana, or some nut butter.
Check that your child’s bedroom feels friendly and safe and try not to ever use it as a place to go as a punishment.
Ensure the temperature is not too hot or too cold, and the room is not too light or too dark. If your child is scared of the dark, you could add a nightlight to comfort them and if you live in a noisy area, it might be an idea to think about a white noise machine to keep a consistent sound throughout the night.
If your child has taken the lead on their décor and requested that a favourite cartoon character is plastered all over their wall – make sure it is a good bedtime visual and nothing that might feel frightening in the middle of the night
There really isn’t just one solution that works for all children to get them to sleep well. It is a case of having a toolbox of ideas and adopting a trial and error approach as to which works best for them as an individual.
One thing that is for sure is that a healthy diet, regular exercise, good communication with their family, and lots of love and affection offers their best chance of having a peaceful, rejuvenating night’s sleep.
If you are worried about your child who is having prolonged sleep issues, then feel free to get in touch with me for some help and advice. You can give me a call on 07787 831 275 for a free consultation or email me at email@example.com and I will email you back as soon as I can.