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Oregon Family Magazine

Help for Sleep Challenges

06/01/2023 ● By Ayushi Singh
Sleep is an essential part of a child's physical, emotional, and cognitive development. Yet, for many parents, getting their child to sleep soundly can be a daily struggle. Whether it's difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking up too early, sleep problems can impact the whole family's well-being. As a parent, it's important to take action to address your child's sleep issues to ensure they are getting the rest they need to grow and thrive.

Establish a Consistent Bedtime Routine:

“The most common causes of sleep problems in children are a result of an inadequate bedtime routine, improper bed and wake time leading to insufficient hours of total sleep, and finally, negative sleep associations,” says Dr. Nilong Vyas, MD, board-certified pediatrician, sleep coach, and founder of Sleepless in NOLA.

One of the most important things parents can do to help their child sleep better is to establish a consistent bedtime routine. This means creating a set of activities that your child associates with bedtime and repeating them every night. “When a child yawns, a parent can point out that a yawn signals sleepiness, and when the body feels sleepy, it's time to lie down and try to sleep. A child that often falls asleep in the car or in the stroller outside of nap time indicates a potential sleep deprivation state pointing to a deficiency that needs further evaluation,” Dr. Nilong said.

Create a Comfortable Sleep Environment

In addition to establishing a consistent bedtime routine, it's also essential to create a comfortable sleep environment for your child. This means ensuring that their bedroom is cool, dark, and quiet. Consider investing in blackout curtains or a white noise machine to help your child fall asleep and stay asleep. It's also important to ensure that your child's bed is comfortable and that they have the right pillow and blankets for their needs.

Put Screens and Phones Away

One of the main culprits of disrupted sleep in children is exposure to screens and electronic devices before bedtime. The blue light emitted by screens can suppress the production of melatonin, the hormone that regulates sleep-wake cycles, and makes it harder for children to fall asleep. In addition, electronic devices can be stimulating and distracting, making it difficult for children to wind down and relax before bedtime.

To help your child sleep better, it's important to establish a "screen-free" period before bedtime. According to The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, “For children 2-5, limit non-educational screen time to about 1 hour per weekday and 3 hours on the weekend days.

For ages 6 and older, encourage healthy habits and limit activities that include screens.” Encourage your child to engage in quiet, relaxing activities instead, such as reading a book, taking a warm bath, or listening to soothing music. Removing screens from the bedroom altogether can also be helpful in creating a peaceful sleep environment.

Remove Distractions

The environment in which children sleep plays a significant role in their sleep quality. One major factor that can interfere with a child's sleep is the presence of screens, toys, and games in their bedroom. These distractions can keep children up late into the night and make it difficult for them to fall asleep.

In addition to limiting screen time, organizing toys and games in the bedroom can also help prevent over-stimulation before bedtime. It's important to avoid having too many toys or games in the bedroom, as this can make it difficult for children to wind down and fall asleep. Parents can also encourage their children to pick out a few calming activities before bedtime, such as reading a book or doing a puzzle.

By establishing a calming environment before bedtime, parents can help their children fall asleep more easily and sleep more soundly throughout the night.

Teach Deep Breathing

Deep breathing exercises can be a helpful tool for promoting relaxation and calming the mind before bedtime. Research has shown that deep breathing can reduce stress and anxiety, which are common causes of sleep disturbances in children.

“Children can use deep breathing to help them throughout the day, whether they're feeling overwhelmed or anxious, need to relax or go to sleep, to calm their body after exercising, or even just to pause and reset when they are high energy,” according to Children's Health.

Parents can teach their children to take slow, deep breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth. This can help to slow down the heart rate and relax the body, making it easier for children to fall asleep.

Maintain Consistent Sleep Schedules

While it may be tempting to let your child stay up late or sleep in on weekends and vacations, this can disrupt their sleep patterns and make it harder for them to get back into a regular sleep routine during the week. To help maintain a consistent sleep schedule, it's important to keep the same bedtime and wake-up time every day, even on weekends and during vacations.

Parents can also help their children to adjust to time changes when traveling by gradually shifting their sleep schedule a few days before the trip. For example, if you're traveling to a different time zone, you can start adjusting your child's bedtime and wake-up time by 15-30 minutes each day in the week leading up to the trip.

It's also important to stick to a regular bedtime routine, even when away from home. This can help signal to your child that it's time to wind down and prepare for sleep. You can bring along items from home, such as a favorite blanket or stuffed animal, to help create a sense of familiarity and comfort in a new environment.

During the early years of a child's life, parents must establish healthy sleeping habits that will benefit their child for years to come. This involves guiding them back to bed when they wake up at the wrong time and providing comfort after nightmares or anxiety.

If you're unsure of how to help your child sleep, you can talk to your pediatrician or a sleep specialist for advice. Even if it's not a major problem, getting an expert's opinion can help determine why your child is not getting proper sleep.