Successfully getting a child to bed in a smooth and efficient manner can often feel like cause for celebration. As most parents know, children are prone to delay, whine, and protest at bedtime, ‘But mum, I don’t want to go to bed!’ they say. So, if you are one of those parents who struggles to get your child off to bed without counts to ten, two trips to the bathroom, five extra hugs, and three glasses of water, it is time to re-evaluate your overall bedtime strategy.
An ideal place to start is to take a fresh look at your child’s sleep environment. The physical space and the emotional environment you create for your child strongly influence their readiness to settle their body and mind for the night.
De-Clutter to Sleep Better
First and foremost, your child’s room should be clean and free of clutter. Experts agree that signs of mess and disorganisation not only distracts you with reminders of to-dos (“I didn’t put away my toys!”). It also triggers more excitatory sensory input, slowing the body’s transition to relaxation and sleep. A clean space has a decidedly calming effect, helping your child ease into sleepiness.
If your children engage in play during the day or early evening hours, it is good practice to encourage your children to pick up after themselves, not only because it instils responsible habits around taking care of their things and establishing some order, but it prepares your child for sleep in a clutter-free space.
Finding the Right Temperature
I know many parents of young children who fret over the exact formula for dressing their child and setting the thermostat at night to get the best night’s sleep. There is reason to invest energy in this area, as studies have shown that room temperature has a significant impact on an individual’s ability to get a good night’s rest. Experts suggest that a cool room, around 65 degrees, is the ideal temperature. Studies have shown that an individual’s internal body temperature fluctuates slightly throughout the day, dipping slightly lower at night. If it is too warm or cool in the room, it interferes with the body’s natural sleep cycle, causing early morning waking or restlessness.
Dark is Best
Most children like to have some light in their bedroom at night. Many children will settle for a nightlight, but some children will demand overhead, hall, or bedside lights be left on. Although it may be tempting to allow them the extra light to allay their concerns and fears of the dark, too much light is counterproductive to natural body rhythms that trigger sleep. As darkness descends, the pineal gland in our brain releases the hormone melatonin, which regulates sleepiness. This function is an important reason why children should not be exposed to electronic devices or televisions in the hour before bed. Not only is the content stimulating, but the light from the screen, blue light, is especially disruptive to this process, inhibiting the release of melatonin.
Practice Calm and Relaxation
Going to bed should be a calm and peaceful experience for children. Strive to develop positive associations with bedtime, their bedrooms, and sleep. Many parents are tempted to use bedtime as a punishment for bad choices and misbehaviour, but this consequence may turn children off going to bed in the future. Who wants to go and relax in a place that reminds them of the last time they got in trouble?!
Build in calming and relaxing activities into your child’s bedtime routine. For example, one family I worked with would read and listen to CDs from Lori Lite’s Stress Free Kids series every night; Thus, they made relaxation and creating a calm environment a priority and central feature of the bedtime routine. Similarly, you can read and take your child through relaxation exercises during bedtime, as well. Inner Health Studio has some wonderful (and free!) relaxation scripts that you can print and read to your child.
Focusing on a clean, cool, dark and calm bedtime environment, along with a consistent bedtime routine will allow your child time to settle, relax and ease into sleep.
Do you have any tips for creating a sleep-inducing bedroom environment for your children? If so, let us know in the comments below.