As a poor sleeper myself, I have a particular interest in making sure that I develop healthy sleep habits with my children. I suffered from extreme insomnia in high school and only in the last two years have I taught myself how to be a good sleeper.
My husband Kris on the other hand is an excellent sleeper, and I have learned what a gift this is.
As an adult, lack of sleep and lying awake at night feels awful. It makes the evenings leading up to bedtime stressful and daily interactions unclear and confusing.
This is exacerbated in children because in addition to being tired, they do not yet know how to process emotions and events. When they are tired, they must go through the day completely confused and totally frustrated.
And, they can’t even drink coffee!
What is exciting to me is that as parents, we have the resources and capabilities to teach our children how to be good sleepers.
Again, I will tout the wonders of the book “The Science of Parenting” by Margot Sunderland. I encourage you to read it. It is well organized and a very easy read. I will probably include several more entries here because the information is so pertinent, and just plain interesting!
We have all heard about the importance of a routine with young children to get them ready for sleep. According to Sunderland, there is so much more! What foods they eat (not just the obvious things like sugar), your own emotional state, and whether or not he is scared, all greatly impact your child’s ability to fall asleep.
Sunderland also talks about the fact that babies are awful sleepers and that if we accept this, rather than thinking our child’s inability to sleep is our failure, bedtime will be easier.
I remember reading somewhere else that it is a survival mechanism that babies are such awful sleepers. It allows them to wake, make sure all of their systems are functioning properly, and then (hopefully!) return to sleep.
Here are a few excerpts from the book that I am finding particularly useful:
From “The Science of Parenting” by Margot Sunderland
“Getting your child to Sleep”
“Whatever you do stay calm.
If Stress chemical are being strongly activated in your own brain, you can’t expect to bring your child down from an aroused state… your stress and anger can activate the alarm systems in your child’s brain, making him feel to unsafe to go to sleep.”
Sunderland goes on to recommend getting yourself into a truly calm state before attempting to help your child fall asleep.
“Do not give food that will keep him awake.”
Sunderland suggests avoiding protein foods like meat or fish in the two hours before bedtime (who knew?!). This activates dopamine, which is a brain stimulant. If your child is hungry before bed, Sunderland suggests offering a banana, which activates serotonin in the brain.
“Avoid activating the FEAR system in your child’s lower brain.
Take his fears and anxieties seriously and reassure him. If you don’t, his brain may keep triggering high levels of glutamate, norepinephrine, and CRG (corticotropin-releasing factor), moving his body into a state of hyper-arousal. When this happens, no human being will be able to fall asleep.”
“If your child is too anxious to let you go, it is worth asking him why.”
Sunderland discusses your child’s “ploy” of asking for another glass of water, a pacifier, to use the bathroom again, etc., etc. She shares that your child is not trying to manipulate you by asking for these things. Rather, he is trying to tell you that he is afraid. Sunderland suggests asking what he is afraid of or what he thinks might happen when you leave the room.
From other books that I have read, this is not only good for helping to get things out in the open so that they can be discussed, but it helps your child problem solve, identify feelings and even creates beneficial pathways in the brain by going through this process.
I hope that this information is helpful for you. At least, I hope that you found in interesting!