The benefits of regular and comfortable sleep for children and adults alike have been proven time and time again. From better performance academically, better emotional and social development and even a healthier weight; a healthy sleep pattern and a good night’s sleep sets us on the right track for a healthy and happy life. A lack of sleep can lead to tired and grumpy kids (or parents or nannies!) but at its worse can lower immunity or even lead to depression.
Changing routines and time zones for holiday time can adjust the internal body clock. The transition from random to routine can lead to trouble waking up for the whole family. It is difficult to readjust your body’s rhythm and habits to suit school life, and I’m sure we are all familiar with the feeling of ‘first day dread’. Anxiety over the first day back at school or work can lead to a sleepless night of tossing and turning.
As nannies we need to prepare ourselves and the children we care for, for this readjustment. So how do you convince children, after six exciting weeks of spontaneous late nights, late morning lie-ins and afternoon siestas, that getting an early night is the best thing for them?
Avoid changing routines if possible
If this isn’t possible, as often is the case in holiday times, get back into routine as soon as possible. If later nights have been allowed then discuss with the children that you would like to start to get ready for the early nights and early mornings that come with the start of school so that they don’t struggle when the time comes. If they are old enough, involve them in the decision making process of how to do this so they can start to take responsibility for their sleep choices. Try to guide the conversation so that they decide to go to bed a few minutes earlier each night until they get back to their regular bed time, and the same for waking a few minutes earlier each morning.
Regular meal times
Other factors can also interfere with the natural body clock. Regular meal times are important so that the body has time to digest and knows what to expect. If the body is used to having 3 hours after eating a meal before going to bed, then internal regulation may keep it awake for 3 hours after a meal even if it has been eaten later than usual and we are ready for bed sooner. Some are more sensitive to this than others.
The type of foods and drinks enjoyed can also impact sleep. Of course, caffeinated products should be avoided in the evening but salty foods such as cheese or butter can also negatively affect sleep. Brazil nuts are believed aid sleep due to the levels of potassium, and the acids found in milk are also linked to better sleep. Some research suggests that cherry juice can benefit a healthy night’s sleep due to melatonin, the sleep hormone, and tryptophan, linked to the happy hormone. Although, avoid giving children too much to drink right before bedtime to prevent toilet trips disturbing their sleep or worse….wet sheets!
Set the stage
Natural effects of light and darkness can have a large impact on how our body prepares to wake up or fall asleep. Curtains that block out light will stop the light summer nights keeping children awake longer than necessary. You can also prepare children for sleep by closing curtains and dimming lights an hour before bedtime, so that the body can slowly start to wind down. Light naturally wakes the body, so avoid any screen time for one hour before bed. This includes phones, laptops, gaming or televisions (this means you, too!)
Some natural light in the morning can help to wake the body so, if you are able, allow a little light into the bedroom one hour before it is time to get up, it will start to wake the children naturally then leave the body to gradually do the rest. They will waken feeling much fresher and more alert than had they been jolted from a deep sleep by an alarm clock. Going outside into the light and getting some fresh air can also help to wake the body, perhaps even a short walk. While this may not be possible during the morning rush before school, it could be implemented the week before in order to help to readjust the body clock.
Take time to talk
School aged children can start to experience sleep problems similar to those of adults, for example sleep can be disturbed by worries about school, family or friends. Making time to have a conversation with the children you care for could help to calm their nerves and ease some of their worries so that they don’t have to face them alone as soon as the lights go out. Making time during the day to overcome any other boundaries which may have arisen over the holiday period due to the changes is always a good idea, too. “I’m uncomfortable!”,”Where am I?”,”I’m scared!” are all common cries of the post summer bedtime routine.
Changes of beds and environments may make some younger children feel unfamiliar in their surroundings, even at home. Ensure the child spends some time either playing or relaxing in their bedroom beforehand and they familiarise themselves with the route to the bathroom they will use in the night. Making sure that all toys are put away by the children before bed also means the room will be free of clutter and more comfortable for them.
“I’m hungry!” or “I’m thirsty!” might be heard more regularly too, and it isn’t to be unexpected after long days of playing or dehydration from the heat. Giving light snacks (perhaps brazil nuts) before brushing teeth and leaving a bottle of water by the bed can combat this.
And finally, some nice relaxing bedtime one to one chat to cover what nice things the children have done that day and what they would like to dream about to set a calm and peaceful mood before sleep will hopefully stop any feelings of fear, uncertainty or anxiety.
Educate children about the importance of sleep
Most importantly it is important to educate children about the importance of sleep from as young as possible. Impress upon them the need for a good sleeping environment: a dark, quiet, comfortable and safe space. Help them to realise how they feel when they are overtired; grumpy, clingy and tearful. And point out how much better they are after a good night’s sleep.
The sooner children start to respect sleep and it’s benefits they will recognise their own need for sleep and make the right choices surrounding their bedtime routine leading to healthy sleep patterns. You may even start to hear “I’m ready for bed” instead of “I’m not tired!”
Written by Chontelle Bonfiglio