The five best ways to help children fall asleep: From setting strict bedtimes to avoiding sugary foods

Encouraging a child to go to sleep at a sensible hour is far easier said than done.

In October 2018, it was reported that an increasing number of youngsters were suffering from sleep problems as a result of going on social media just before bedtime.

While it may be difficult to enforce a curfew on digital devices, there are a number of methods that parents and carers can utilise to try and help children drift off soundly at night.

From setting strict bedtimes to avoiding sugary foods, here are five top tips for helping children to go to sleep at night, according to the experts:

1. Say no to electronic devices

The number of youngsters under the age of 16 being diagnosed with sleep disorders has risen drastically over the past few years, as outlined by data collated by NHS Digital and analysed by The Guardian.

One way that adults can help to rectify this issue is by ensuring that children don’t use electronic devices just before they hit the hay.

“Although it may be tempting to let them have some downtime in front of the TV or an iPad, the blue light emitted from the screens of these devices can have a negative impact on your child’s sleep, as it impacts on levels of melatonin, the sleep-inducing hormone,” Neil Robinson, sleep expert for Sealy UK, tells The Independent.

“By creating a technology-free environment 30 minutes before their bedtime, you can help to create a sleep-friendly zone.”

The lighting in a child’s bedroom can also impact their quality of sleep.

According to Sarah Ockwell-Smith, sleep coach and author of The Gentle Sleep Book, it would be wise to buy a night light that’s been scientifically engineered to help children drift off to sleep.

Keeping other lights on in a child’s bedroom at night may inhibit the release of melatonin and so prevent a child from falling asleep easily.

2. Set a strict bedtime

Children may struggle to sleep soundly if they’re going to bed at different times every night.

That’s why it’s important to set a nighttime and morning routine that they can follow, explains Joy Richards, sleep specialist at Happy Beds.

“I always say that routine is the most important part of a child’s lifestyle to get them to sleep,” she says.

“By giving your child a set bedtime every night and making them aware of the time they need to be asleep by, it will eventually become a habit.”

According to Ockwell-Smith, some parents put their children to bed earlier than they need to.

“At each age, there is a range of acceptability when it comes to the amount of sleep needed,” she says.

Ockwell-Smith recommends between nine to 16 hours sleep in a 24-hour period for toddlers, eight to 14 hours sleep for preschoolers, seven to 13 hours sleep for five to 11-year-olds and six to 12 hours sleep for teenagers.

“The best thing parents can do is try to understand the true biological sleep needs at each age and make sure they are not trying to get their child to sleep for too long,” she says.

3. Create a peaceful environment

One way that you can create a peaceful environment for your child is by encouraging them to use their imagination before bed.

This may in turn help them drift off into a serene, dreamy sleep, as Dani Binnington, family wellbeing expert and creator of Healthy Whole Me, outlines.

“Ask your child about their favourite holiday or favourite place once he or she is settled and comfortable in bed, the lights are off and you are about to leave the room,” she says.

“This will bring back happy memories and positive feelings.”

Another way that you can do this is by having your child do calming activities before bed, such as having a relaxing bath.

“In particular a bath before bed can promote sleep as the drop in body temperature after the bath mimics the body’s natural decrease in temperature as it prepares itself for sleep,” Robinson says.

4. Be wary of what they eat

It’s not advisable for children to eat sugary snacks just before bedtime, as this can lead to a sudden spike in their energy levels.

However, sugary foods aren’t the only kinds that are best avoided before bed.

According to Richards, there is some truth to the myth that eating cheese just before bed can lead to unpleasant dreams.

“Eating cheese so close to bedtime increases the chance of having a general dream, therefore increasing the odds of having a nightmare,” she says.

“If your child has had a nightmare recently, they may want to avoid bedtime for as long as possible.”

Robinson recommends allowing children to eat snacks such as wholegrain toast, an apple or crackers around 45 minutes before bed so that they don’t go to bed hungry or overly energetic.

5. A comfortable bed is key

If your child is having frequent issues with falling asleep at night, then their bed may be to blame.

The type of mattress that a child needs in order to achieve a restful night’s sleep may differ from the one needed by an adult, as Phil Lawlor, sleep expert at Dormeo, explains.

“Many adults enjoy a mattress with a soft or medium-soft comfort grade. However, kids generally need a firmer mattress,” he says.

“This is because their growing bodies need extra support as they develop.”

In addition to a comfortable mattress, it’s also important to take note of the thickness of the child’s duvet, as they may feel uncomfortably hot if the duvet is too thick.

“Children have smaller frames, and this means that more air is trapped between their body and the bedclothes at night, which helps to keep them warm even with a lower tog rating,” Lawlor explains.

“The ideal duvet for a toddler is around 3.4.5 tog, and you can gradually increase this as they grow.”

Lawlor also suggests buying pillows and duvets that are hypoallergenic if your child has allergies that may disrupt their sleep.

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