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 (Sleep Foundation, 2020). 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 onward 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 (Kocevska, Muetzel, Luik, Luijk, Jaddoe, Verhulst, White, Tiemeiern (2016).
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:
- A child with that doesn’t want to go to bed and prolongs his nighttime rituals, such as taking a bath and changing into pajamas
- When you finally get your child to bed, he keeps getting up to take endless trips to take a drink of water or use the restroom
- Your child finally falls asleep, but she tends to wake up at night and crawl into your bed
- Your child has bad dreams and nightmares, cries, yells, and moves excessively in her sleep
- Your child wakes up too early in the morning
- Your child sleeps very lightly and wakes up tired in the morning
1. Physical Issues – a bedroom that is too overheated, causing the child to be too warm, pajamas that are too tight or itchy, uncomfortable pillow or bed
2. Psychological Issues – some children are afraid of darkness or being alone in their bedroom. Other children are afraid of waking up in the morning and finding their parents gone or having to have to go to school. If a child experiences too many emotional events during his day, he may have a difficulty processing his thoughts and feelings and cannot fall asleep. Inability to fall asleep could also be caused by the child’s excitement about some fun event coming up the next day. In addition, a child’s sleep is frequently affected by a conflict or marital tension between her parents.
3. Other Mental Health Issues: Research shows that ADHD and depression are linked with a variety of sleep problems (Golan, Shahar, Ravid, Pillar, 2004). Specifically, children with ADHD have higher rates of daytime sleepiness than children without ADHD. Studies also show that 50% of children with ADHD have signs of sleep disordered breathing, compared to only 22% of children without ADHD (Cortese, Konofal, Yateman, Mouren, Lecendreux, 2006).
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 and tell your child 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 5 pm. The room should be cool, quiet, and darkened. Below are simple relaxation games you can play with your child before bedtime.
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 shepherd 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 (Golan, Shahar, Ravid, Pillar, 2004).
If the above tips and relaxation technique don’t help, I would also suggest talking to your doctor about using a natural substance, Melatonin. Research show that parents who used Melatonin with their children perceived it to be 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 (Waldron, Spark, Dennis, 2016).
Sources Used for This Article:
- Kocevska D, Muetzel R, Luik AI, Luijk MP, Jaddoe VW, Verhulst FC, White T, Tiemeier H. The developmental course of sleep disturbances across childhood relates to brain morphology at age seven. The Generation R Study. Sleep. 2016 Sep 26. pii: sp-00324-16 PMID: 27692056
- Cortese S, Konofal E, Yateman N, Mouren MC, Lecendreux M. Sleep and alertness in children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder: a systematic review of the literature. Sleep. 2006 Apr;29(4):504-11. PMID: 16676784
- Golan N, Shahar E, Ravid S, Pillar G. Sleep disorders and daytime sleepiness in children with attention-deficit/hyperactive disorder. Sleep 2004 Mar 15;27(2):261-6 PMID: 15124720
- Waldron AY, Spark MJ, Dennis CM. The Use of Melatonin by Children: Parents’ Perspectives. J Clin Sleep Med. 2016 Oct 15;12(10):1395-1401. PMID: 27568907