Healthy sleep is crucial for a child’s mental and physical development. If you’re a parent however, you’ll probably know that no matter how often you try and tell this to excitable offspring, they’ll remain convinced that a proper bedtime is whenever they feel like. It also doesn’t help that although sleep is clearly crucial, no-one really knows why, meaning that the endless stream of “why” questions end up being answered with “just because” a bit sooner than normal!
So how do you establish the right actions and routines to make sleep come easier? A mixture of practical advice and simple science has the answer!
First off removing screens, including mobile phones and tablets, in the bedroom is a good step. Light and mental stimulation wake the brain up just as it is preparing to shut down, making sleep come more slowly even when they’re finally put aside. What’s more screens emit primarily blue light, which is picked up by special cells in the eye and tell the body its morning time. When this happens the body naturally reduces its levels of melatonin, a sleep inducing hormone, “tricking” it into becoming more active and less inclined to sleep.
Melatonin is also found in many foods including cherries, pineapples and dark, leafy vegetables like kale and spinach. Several scientific studies have shown that melatonin intake is linked to more, deeper and less interrupted sleep; especially for children and insomniacs.
A glucose rich snack a few hours before bed induces the body to produce insulin. Insulin “clears out” several amino acids which compete with tryptophan (which in turn becomes melatonin), meaning more of the substance reaches your child’s brain and can help sleep come more easily.
A long term research project by Oxford University followed school age children who were asked to take daily supplements of Omega 3 fatty acid. Omega 3 is found in many cold water fish and has been widely linked with brain function. The researchers found that not only did children taking supplements perform better academically, parents also reported earlier bedtimes and fewer night time disturbances.
Aside from diet and removing disturbing gadgets, establishing a set bedtime routine will gradually “adjust” your child’s body clock to a set routine. Of course the routine you device will likely be unique to your own needs and experience, but there are some general pointers provided by the NHS.
First off it is a good idea to eat dinner several hours before bed, as the digestive system slows as we sleep which can lead to a bloated feeling. As bedtime approaches energetic games should be phased out for gentle pursuits like reading if possible. A warm, but not hot, bath helps the body reach a temperature where it is most inclined to rest. If your child still has difficulty with sleep, light yoga stretches, relaxation music or even low volume radio can all help relax the mind by clearing worries and anxieties.
Getting kids to bed on time always has the potential to be challenging, no matter how hard you work on establishing a good routine. However, with a few of these tips, you will hopefully find a balance which works for you and results in fewer sleepy heads in the morning!