According to National Sleep Foundation (NSF), sleep deprivation is a problem among children in America. According to NSF’s 2004 Sleep in America poll, more than two-thirds of children experience one or more sleep problems at least a few nights a week. (1) At this time, little is known about the impact of sleep disturbances on the structural properties of the developing brain. However, according to recent research, sleep disturbances from age 2 years onwards are associated with smaller grey matter volumes. Thinner prefrontal cortex in children with adverse sleep disturbances trajectories may reflect effects of sleep disturbance on brain maturation. (2)
If your child fits into one of the categories below, then it is time for you to discover some simple sleep strategies that you can start using with your child immediately:
The moments you share with your child right before bedtime should be calm, peaceful, and loving. Even if you are upset with your child over his misbehavior, this is the time to make peace with him and tell him how much you love him. Spend some time talking to your child about her day and her expectation for the next day, read her a story, hold her hand, hug her, and kiss her goodnight. Teach your child how to relax with their body loose and their head full of happy and pleasant thoughts.
Don’t allow your child use any electronics within an hour of her bedtime or consume any caffeine after 5pm. The room should be cool, quiet, and darkened.
Simple Relaxation Games:
Our daily journey: Sit down or lay down comfortably with your child. Both of you close your eyes and imagine the trip you take daily to your school or work. Then one of you start describing the journey step by step to the other one. The listener does not interrupt but imagines the journey in their mind. Take turns.
Guess my story: Start telling your young child a story that he already knows. When he guesses the name of the story, switch. For an older child, describe the story, rather than tell it. Such as, “I am thinking of a story in which there are two children…..” When the child guesses the name of the game, switch.
The Silent Game: Set a timer for two minutes, close your eyes and be completely calm and quiet. Listen very carefully to all sounds coming from near and far. Count the different sounds and remember them. When the timer goes off, share your sounds with your child. Whoever has more sounds and can describes them, wins the game.
Back Art: Draw pictures of a house, tree, boat, and other objects with your pointer finger on your child’s back. The child then needs to guess your drawing. Take turns.
The Cook and the Dough: Pretend that one of you is the cook and the other is the dough. The cook will massage the dough by rubbing the dough’s back, neck, and shoulders. A short, sweet massage is often the best mean to let go off tension. A touch from a favorite grown-up often helps the child feel loved and secure.
Little bear: Have your child lay down and tell him a relaxation story about a little bear. The little bear was very cold one snowy day and he looked and searched everywhere for a place to hide and rest. Finally, after a long search, the bear found a small, warm cave. There was a small pile of hay in the corner of the cave. The bear burrowed himself into the sweet smelling hay and breathed a deep sigh of relief. He relaxed one of his paws, then another, and another, and another (show the child how to let their hands and legs go limp). Then, he closed his eyes and though happy thoughts. All of a sudden, he started to feel nice and warm inside his belly, as if he just finished a cup of warm milk with honey. He thought of 50 sheep crossing a bridge, while their sheppard dosed off in the grass. The first sheep crossed, then the second……..
Lullaby: Yes! Good old fashioned lullaby are one of the most effective ways to help your child relax and go to sleep. And you don’t even need to know how to sing. Your child will love the true connection and forgiving any mishaps. Just memorize few simple lullabies and you are good to go. If you really cannot sing at all, relax next to your child while listening to some peaceful classical or orchestral music. After about 10 to 15 min., turn the music down low, but stay with your child with your eye closed for a few more moments. When the music ends, you can discuss your thoughts and feelings – even shapes and colors you saw or imagine during music. (4)
If the above tips and relaxation technique don’t help, I would also suggest talking to your doctor about using a natural substance, Melatonin. Based on research, parents who used Melatonin with their children perceived melatonin as effective in alleviating their child‘s sleep disturbance, and in restoring family functioning after many years of hardship and stress. The perceived “naturalness” of melatonin was valued by participants, who tended to favor it over other medications prescribed for sleep. The cost of melatonin was also commented on by every participant; however, all perceived the benefits of melatonin for the child and the family to outweigh the cost burden. When discussing the future, some parents were unsure of whether their child would still be using melatonin; however, others were happy for their child to continue melatonin indefinitely. In addition, many parents expressed a desire for prescribers to have greater knowledge about melatonin, and to acknowledge the positive impact melatonin had had on their lives. (5)
As always, feel free to send comments and questions! If you need further help in finding other helpful sleep strategies, please CONTACT me.
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