Why is sleep so important?
Children and Healthy Sleep: The Importance of a Good Sleep Routine
Better sleep holds a lot more power than we may think. The short-term effects are obvious, like the fact that we feel energetic and positive rather than lethargic and irritable the next day. The longer-term effects may be less obvious, and can be quite alarming. Because sleep deprivation is linked to a lot of serious physical and mental illnesses – from obesity to heart disease, insomnia to depression. It can also weaken our immune system, leaving us more vulnerable to whatever other sicknesses a healthy, well-rested body could fight off.
So it goes without saying – at least, it should – that getting enough, good-quality sleep is essential for our health and wellbeing. This applies to everyone, adults and children alike.
As parents, we should be making sure that our children are getting as much sleep as is recommended for their age group. (Note: this is a good bit more than us adults need!)
And if your child has a mental of physical disability of some kind, well then, sleep should be treated with even more respect. Because, as one Contact a Family survey found, disabled children are more than twice as likely to suffer from sleep disorders as other kids.
How could a lack of sleep affect my child?
Unfortunately, the results of insufficient sleep are even more damaging for children with disabilities than the effects mentioned above. Sleep deprivation can impact your child’s learning, behaviour, mood and health…and in fact, the health of the entire family, as a result.
Your child might find it much harder to bounce back from the harmful effects of sleep deprivation; without specialist support, the problems could stick around for years.
That’s why it’s so important to face whatever sleep disorder they have early on, to reduce the amount of stress on your child and your family.
What can I do to help my child sleep better?
It does depend on the child but the majority of sleep disorders are behavioural; which means that luckily, there is actually a lot you can do!
The most important, and in many ways the simplest, thing you can do is to create an evening routine. By doing the same pre-bedtime activities every night, at the same time, your child’s body and mind will unconsciously tell them that sleep isn’t far away. Think about it – when we need to unwind, what do we do? Normally something relaxing like taking a bath, or reading a book, or meditating. Doing these again and again every night would definitely help us to sleep better; so a routine can work wonders for your kids, too!
This is something that the whole family can get involved in. After all, kids can help each other in so many ways! Once their siblings go along with the following activities, your child will often follow suit.
So check out these pointers to help you establish an evening routine…and help your child get the great sleep they deserve:
- Start with a suitable bedroom environment: This can be a major factor in a child’s inability to sleep, so try to get it right. The ideal temperature should be between 16 and 18°C, the colours should be calm and restful rather than bright and over-stimulating and toys should be kept out of view, if possible. You want to make their bedroom a place of peace, rather than one of play.
- Power down early: If you’re letting your child play video games or watch TV right up until bedtime, you aren’t doing their sleep any favours! These devices emit blue light which disrupt the body’s circadian rhythms and their screens block the production of melatonin, which we rely on to feel calm and rested. By making sure your child is away from these devices an hour before bedtime, every night, their sleep patterns are bound to improve.
- Keep them indoors: Some people believe in the method of letting their kids blow off all that excess energy outdoors; when in fact, it’s only getting them more excited and over-stimulated! So after your dinner, playtime outside is over. Stick to gentle indoor activities like painting and colouring, making scrapbooks, playing house or helping you to bake treats. This approach means they’ll soon become sleepy, rather than over-tired from all the excitement.
- Try the 3 Bs: Once you’ve taken these steps, it’s time for Bath, Book and Bed! Give your child a bath every night and make it a lovely, relaxing, bonding activity between the two of you. Once they’re all cosy in their pajamas, read them a bedtime story. And finally, it’s time for bed – now that they’ve been bathed and read to, soon they’ll understand that sleep is next on the list.
This is by no means an exhaustive list. Every child is different, and every child will have their own, special way of overcoming their sleep problems. You just have to stick with it…and if you need any more sleep-related tips, Sarah Cummings of The Sleep Advisor should be able to help.
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