Sleep Problems

May 4, 2008 – 7:39 pm

In an ideal world, all children would climb happily into bed at the appointed hour, sleep through the night and wake up refreshed and ready to face the day in the morning. However, things don’t always work out that way and all too often children are still running around the house at ten thirty at night or spend more time in their parents’ bed than in their own. Lack of sleep leads to bad-tempered, badly behaved children who find it hard to concentrate the next day.

Regular routine helps

Having a regular routine before bedtime is an essential part of establishing a healthy pattern of sleep in children. Avoid any activity that is too stimulating for at least half and hour before bed (this includes watching anything on TV that is likely to excite or scare). Instead, reading a story that is familiar, doing a gentle visualisation exercise or having a cuddle is a way of winding down so that sleep comes naturally.

Decide on a regular time for bed and stick to it. This can be stretched at weekends or holidays but on a normal school day it is important for children to go to bed at the same time each night.

Physical and environmental factors

Youngsters find it difficult to sleep if they are too hot or cold so check that the temperature is OK. They may also be disturbed if they are hungry or thirsty so make ensure this is not the case half an hour before bed. Avoid giving children caffeine in the evenings (this includes coke and other fizzy drinks) and if your child is always a poor sleeper consider moving the TV and computer out of the bedroom for good.

Help for nightmares

Other factors might be fear of the dark (keep a soft light on) or the dread of having a nightmare. Nightmares are one of the favourite reasons for children abandoning their own bed and climbing in with parents. The following night they may be afraid of going to sleep alone in case they have another bad dream. We always find that hanging a dream catcher over the bed works well from a psychological point of view and a dilution of a few drops of the essential oils frankincense or lavender in water sprinkled on the pillow is very soothing.

Make a “worry-box”

Just like adults, children may find that at night all their worries come to the surface and prevent sleep. If this is a regular occurrence it is a good idea to make a worry-box where worries are identified and then shut away in the box before settling down to sleep. This can be very therapeutic as worries are shared and dealt with. It also gives you an opportunity to expose any genuine worries that might need adult intervention.

How much sleep do they need?

The amount of sleep each child needs is individual to them, but as a general guideline:

Babies need 14 – 15 hours sleep a day

Pre-school children need 11 – 13 hours sleep a day

5 – 10 year olds need 10 – 11 hours a night.

Teenagers need 9 – 10 hours a night.

Don’t be swayed by cries of ‘I’m not even tired.’ Children rarely recognise (or admit) that they are ready for sleep.

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