There are a number of reasons as to why a child may struggle with sleep especially during current times where routines have all changed. These can include things such as an inability to self-settle, waking during the night, behavioural issues or sensory issues to name just a few. If you are worried about your child’s sleep, keeping a sleep diary will help you get an accurate picture of your child’s sleep patterns.
This can be helpful in identifying possible reasons to why your child is having difficulties sleeping.
Some possible reasons for troubled sleep:
An over-stimulating room – Does your child get out of bed to play with their toys? Distractions in a child’s room can delay them from settling. Try to make your child’s room calm and relaxing.
Noise – Are there any noises inside or outside the home that may be disturbing your child? Some children with sensory issues are particularly sensitive to noise, therefore what may seem like a quiet sound to us may appear rather loud to the child and affect their ability to settle and fall asleep. Masking sounds in your home with something like a white noise app can help if noise is an issue for your child.
Light – Is the room dark enough?
Melatonin (our sleep hormone) is produced when it is dark. Blackout blinds can be purchased to help keep the room dark at bedtime.
Bedding – Is your child kicking the bedding off during the night and getting cold?
If so, you could consider a sleep suit for your child or tucking a double duvet under a single mattress to stop it coming off during the night. You can also purchase calming weighted blankets.
Strategies to support sleep:
Many children with attachment difficulties struggle to settle themselves to sleep. If you stay with your child until they go to sleep you may need to gradually distance yourself to enable them to settle alone. For example if you currently lie in bed with them until they fall sleep, try sitting next to the bed for a few nights then gradually move your chair further away each night until they no longer need you in the room. By doing this, you are still letting them know you are there with them and keeping them safe. It may take you a while to get to this point depending on your child’s experiences and how long they have been living with you.
Once you have turned the lights out and said goodnight try not to engage in conversation with your child. Try using a ‘broken record’ phrase such as “mommy or daddy is here, it’s bedtime now, go to sleep” By engaging in conversation with your child after bedtime has been said that they are being rewarded for remaining awake. Reinforce to them that they are safe and it is ok for them to go to sleep.
Routine is very important at bedtime. Many people tend to thrive on routines and children with attachment needs especially respond positively to having structure at bedtime. Once a routine has been established, it is important to remain consistent throughout the week, even if your child is staying elsewhere for the night. When constructing a routine it is helpful to decide what time you would like your child to be in bed and work back from this. If bath-time is incorporated into this routine ideally, it should occur at least half an hour before your child goes to sleep so their body temperature has time to regulate temperature and lead to difficulty sleeping. The child should have quiet time up to an hour before bedtime so the house becomes a quiet sleepy place. This time can incorporate doing a relaxing activity such as reading a book or having a gentle foot/hand massage. Avoid watching the TV or using tablets in this time as the light can stop the body from releasing melatonin.
A visual timetable is a way of demonstrating to a child what they can expect to happen in the lead up to bedtime using pictures and symbols. It may be useful to display the routine that you will be using at bedtime to help them to become familiar with the order of events.
Rewarding your child:
It is important to remain positive with your child about bedtime to help reduce any anxiety associated with it. Give your child praise at bedtime for what they are doing well and give consistent rewards until the behaviour is firmly established.
DO NOT FORGET YOUR OWN SLEEP ROUTINE TOO!
How to get to sleep
A sleep hygiene guide for anxious times
During times of prolonged worry, it is very normal for people to experience sleep deprivation.
These six suggestions might help you get a better night’s sleep.
1. A good night’s sleep starts in the day
There is a lot you can do in the day during the day to help your nighttime sleep – making your bed in the morning, doing daytime physical exercise and getting some sunlight can also help. Avoid alcohol, caffeine and rich foods in the evenings.
2. Protect your sleep space
Try to make your sleep space as calm and as decluttered as you can. It also helps if your bedroom is dark and cool. Your bed should be used for sleep and relaxation, try to avoid working from your bed if working from home.
3. Switch it off
Looking at mobile phones and other electronic devices at night disrupts sleep, particularly through times of high anxiety. Try to stay off your phone for at least one hour before bed and use functions such as ‘do not disturb’ and ‘aeroplane mode’ to minimise nighttime disruption.
4. Get into a bedtime routine
Try to establish a regular bedtime routine. This could include having a warm bath or shower, doing some gentle stretches, reading a book or doing some mindfulness exercise. Try to avoid upsetting conversations or news during your relaxation time.
5. Write down your worries
If you are finding that particular worries are keeping you up at night, it can be helpful to make a worry diary. Write down your worries in a notebook and agree that you will think about them in the morning.
6. Relax your mind
Holding on to frustration and tension will not help you sleep. Try practicing deep breathing and mindfulness exercises to help your mind switch off.