Getting a Good Night’s Sleep for You and Your Child

a good night's sleep

Photo Credit: Silvia Vinas

“People who say they sleep like a baby usually don’t have one.” ~ Leo J. Burke

I love this quote!  It’s so true that until you experience having a baby you don’t realize how difficult it can be to get a child to sleep soundly.  The idea of “sleeping through the night” creates unrealistic expectations.  How many adults actually sleep through the night without one moment of awake-time?  Many adults also  wonder how to get themselves to sleep more soundly vs. walking around in a sleep-deprived state on a regular basis.  For many adults, they need to go to bed earlier and perhaps Dr. Christine Horner  ‘s excellent information about the importance of sleeping from 10pm-6am in order for the body to experience optimal health, and be pro-active about not developing cancer, will be an incentive.

Teaching your child to self-regulate vs. “cry it out”, and teaching yourself to down-regulate

Dr. Stuart Shanker, whom I’ve written about before, a Canadian expert and researcher on the topic of Self-Regulation, recently gave an evening presentation called “Honouring Our Children’s Spirit – The Importance of Self-Regulation”.  Most of the evening, he discussed strategies for down-regulating children in order that they are ready for sleep.  Being a personal fan of Mary Sheedy Kurcinka’s books that discuss temperament, I just finished her excellent book Sleepless in America.  Interestingly, she and Stuart Shanker share very similar perspectives.  Neither is a proponent of letting your child “cry it out”, otherwise known as “Ferberizing” (after Dr. Richard Ferber).  They both shared strategies that are useful whether you are an adult with sleep problems or a parent with a child having sleep difficulties.

A Good Night’s Sleep…

Sleep Strategies:

  • Our bodies are on a 25 hour clock, therefore, it is important to keep a consistent wake-up time
  • Our bodies are attuned to nature, and therefore need light and exercise in the morning to realize that this is “awake” time
  • Our bodies need to eat meals at predictable times, in order that they can synchronize their natural body rhythms
  • We are all born with different temperaments; some individuals will be able to quickly adjust and adapt to an irregular schedule but for those who are more intense, sensitive, energetic, regular, and/or slower to adapt, they need more structure for successful sleep
  • Observe the non-verbal signs which indicate the prime time “windows of opportunity” for transitioning from awake to asleep states, and don’t push yourself or your child past them, or you will create a state of being over-tired and then it will take much longer for sleep to occur
  • Avoid light and stimulating visualization from computers, movies, television, cell phone text messages etc. a couple of hours before bed.  Some parents have found that by completely eliminating electronic screens from their children’s daily routine that it made a huge difference on their child’s ability to sleep well
  • Avoid caffeine – a piece of chocolate or a drink of soda pop at lunch can disrupt a child’s system all the way through to the evening.  (Alcohol is another system-disrupter for adults).
  • Exercise or rough-play before bed gets the body hyper-aroused and makes the switch to sleep very difficult (some parents have the false impression that “running” their child right before bed will tire them out, but in truth, it gets them “wired”)
  • Create a predictable “going to bed” routine, and don’t try to rush it!  As Stuart Shanker said, as your child ages, he/she is not always going to want you to read stories and cuddle with him/her so treasure this time now and let go of your own”to-do” list. As an adult, create a bed-time routine for yourself that avoids screen time.
  • Plan 45 mins. – 1 hour for the bed-time routine, in order that it’s enjoyable and provides enough time for calm and connection.  If you or your child have had a very stimulating day, or upsetting day, one needs time to get “filled-up” with down-time and connection.  We tend to be very busy in our daily lives and only at bed-time do we settle enough to let our thoughts and emotions come to the surface.  For this reason, at bed-time many children start to open up about the events of the day.  They may be drained from the day and need “filling-up” with parental attention and connection.
  • Have a predictable, little “ditty” that you say at the end of your routine to cue that it’s now time for sleep, such as “Good night, Sleep tight, Love you, See you in the morning” or write “I Love You” on your child’s back with your finger
  • Avoid having baths right before bed as it changes the body temperature and this does not help with the transition to sleep

To down-regulate and “fill-up” a child with calming hormones vs. arousal hormones…

  • use massage
  • stroke
  • cuddle
  • dim lights
  • play soft music
  • talk in a soft voice
  • read a story (Stuart Shanker says this is one of the best ways to relax a child), for teenagers, read magazines together
  • sing a lullaby
* Have both parents involved in the bed-down routine and then the child gets doubly “filled-up” (perhaps alternate with each child)
* A child learns how to self-regulate from the parent regulating the child and the child’s environment

 Preparing the “switch” from awake to sleep

When my children were babies and toddlers, the books I read, advised against sleep-aids.  In hind-sight, I realize this created guilt if I did use a sleep-aid such as rocking my child to sleep, or lying down with my child to help him/her sleep.  Knowing what I know now, I would rock my baby guilt-free, play soft music or white noise if that’s what he/she needed and although our children sleep well now, they are welcomed into our bed in middle of the night if they are having a nightmare or feeling sick.  We have a very predictable routine, involving both my husband and me, and we all look forward to reading stories, having cuddles and the connection shared at bed-time.

Create a routine that works for you and your family and start earlier on in the evening, rather than later, remembering these averages for sleep:  Infants (0-12 mos.) 14-18 hrs. Toddlers (13-16 mos.) 13 hrs. including nap. Preschoolers (37-60 months) 12hrs. including nap – Mary Sheedy Kurcinka highly recommends keeping the nap.  School-age (6-12 yrs) 10-11 hrs. Adolescent (13-19 yrs.) 9.25 hrs.  Adult (20 yrs. +) 8.25 hrs.  I highly recommend reading Sleepless in America if you would like more information on assisting your child to sleeping independently, knowing the time-line for growth spurts which can completely disrupt your child’s routine for a couple of weeks and recognizing the connection between misbehaviour and sleep deprivation.

Here’s to a well-rested week for everyone,



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