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Sleepless Children- What Can Parents Do?

First off- let’s check if your child is getting enough sleep based on the age recommendations below:

Infants 4 months to 1 year – 12 to 16hours

Ages 1 to 2 – 11 to 14hours

Ages 3 to 5 – 10 to 13hours

Ages 6 to 12 – 9 to 12hours

Adolescents – 8 to 10hours

If your child isn’t getting enough hours per night; or regularly curtain calls- by this I mean you’ve put your child to bed and they just keep coming out for just one last hurrah (20 times over); or struggles staying asleep, continue reading…

In younger children sleep is key for memory consolidation, mood regulation, and is critical in developing healthy cognitive, behavioral, and physical functioning. In adults we hear the dreaded “oh, you look tired” because we may be yawning, wanting to sleep, and dragging through the day. However, with children you will see more irritability, grouchiness, and emotional dysregulation.

The American Psychological Society states, “Insufficient sleep can severely impair a child’s functioning, causing daytime fatigue, poor health, and weaker immune function. Sleep-deprived children can also suffer from mood disturbances and problems with emotion regulation.”

hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). These kids often struggle to settle down, concentrate and listen to directions. Like children with ADHD, those who are consistently sleep deprived may show cognitive deficits such as poor memory and problem-solving abilities, as well as lowered academic performance.”

“Some researchers have also suggested that chronic sleep deprivation during childhood can increase a person’s risk of developing anxiety and depressive disorders later in life.”

In addition to this, it effects the entire family- you and your partner are tired and grouchy, you both have a shorter fuse- this can lead to martial conflict, work issues, and strained parent-child interactions.

Lucky for you and your little one, psychologists have a number of evidence-based interventions that can help.

We will begin off by looking into environmental factors of things that may be affecting sleep: Is the neighbour’s dog barking randomly at 1am? How is the bedroom set out? Was there a recent change to the bedroom set up? What is the temperature like? Are they sharing a room? What’s the bedtime routine? Are there devices or audiobooks being used? There are so many questions we can ask to try and work out the sleeping environment. Everything from light exposure to mealtimes can influence circadian rhythms and the release of hormones such as melatonin, and ultimately affect sleep.

Generally, we will ask children or parents to complete a sleep diary, logging what time the child goes to bed, falls asleep and wakes up in the morning, as well as any night awakenings or naps. We will also ask about next day energy levels and how they performed in school. Sleep diaries allow us to see the big picture and work out any patterns in sleep that parents may not be aware of.

Our bodies like routine when it comes to sleep- you may notice yourself when you sleep in a hotel or stay at friends or families’ houses, that you never quite get the same quality of sleep than you do at home. This will probably take a few nights to settle. This is because our brain is in caveman mode. You brain is trying to make sure you are safe because in an evolutionary context, sleep environment changes can lead to bad outcomes (is that a sabretooth tiger?). So, your child’s routine should start at the same time each night and should flow in one direction—for example, from the kitchen to the bathroom to the bedroom—and that the activities should occur in the same order each night.

Another approach, known as the bedtime pass program, is highly effective for reducing curtain calls. A child receives one to three laminated passes permitting them to get out of bed for pre-approved activities such as a hug from a parent or a drink of water. When the passes are gone, the child is no longer permitted to leave the bedroom. The child is then rewarded in the morning for any unused passes. This provides you with a firm boundary of when to put you foot down and the child will know what to expect. This can reduce bedtime anxiety as they know they’re not going to get in trouble for getting up.

We may use cognitive strategies, such as teaching kids brave self-talk, and coping statements to address such worries. We can also teach you creative games to play before bed, such as a flashlight treasure hunt, to help break a child’s negative associations with a dark bedroom.

There are many ways that we can work together to intervene and help your little one. If you feel that your child would benefit from seeing a professional, call Innate Therapies on 0414 480 934 or at adminteam@innatetherapies.com

Written by Jacqui Garrigan

References:

APS Website, 2022 < https://www.apa.org/monitor/2020/07/ce-corner-sleep>

Moore, B.A., et al., Journal of Pediatric Psychology, Vol. 32, No. 3, 2007

Palmer, C.A., & Alfano, C.A., Sleep Medicine Reviews, Vol. 31, 2017

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