Bedtime Tweaks for Better Sleep
Most parents know the pain of sleep deprivation. (If your child started sleeping through the night at 3 weeks and continued for the next 4 years, you can stop reading.)
For the rest of us, even if your little one is traditionally a good sleeper, most kids hit rough patches where bedtime is suddenly a battle. Or sleeping through the night seems like a distant memory. Sometimes, we can quickly zero in on teething, a change in routine, illness, the need to move up a diaper size or a brain development burst. Other times, we have no clue. Here are a few tweaks to consider when you’re not quite sure what’s got your baby off-kilter at night.
Research has been done testing saliva and melatonin rates in toddlers and finding that peak production occurs on average at 7:40pm. Most people are tired about 30 minutes after that high point is reached. Since kids don’t choose their bedtimes, we need to check that the one we choose lines up with their internal clocks and rhythms, i.e. their personal melatonin peak. A half-hour of singing in bed is one thing. Two hours of screaming and escape techniques is another.
We can’t test our little one’s saliva but we can watch for signs and cues that bedtime may need to be shifted earlier or later. Sometimes, a shift of even 10 minutes in either direction can make a big difference. Realizing that your little one would do really well going down at 6:30 when you get home at 5:20 or that your child drifts off faster at 8 than 7:30 may not be ideal for “real life”. But awareness can at least allow us to tweak in the right direction.
Kids sometimes get iPad time after homework or we let the little ones watch an episode while we fix supper. Although this can make prepping easier and we may feel better when it’s educational or ‘kid-friendly’ episodes, studies show that children watching shows or playing video games have trouble falling asleep. TV time can also cause nightmares and make for kids who don’t feel rested when they wake up. “Sometimes parents will look at their child zoned out in front of the TV and think they are really relaxed. But often when kids get that glazed over, zoned out look they are actually over stimulated and not relaxed,” a Seattle Children’s Institute study concluded. Good to know when we think about giving them down time.
Pitch black would be the perfect environment for a restful night. But whether it be dream feeds or fear of the dark (which can suddenly surface as a common toddler fear), sometimes we need a little light to see by. The key here is to pick a night light with a red spectrum bulb. While we think of blue light as being calming, red light wavelengths allow melatonin production to continue uninhibited.
Check the thermostat! The sweet spot for a good night’s sleep is between 15-18 Celcius (60-65F). Let the room get too warm and you inhibit melatonin production, as well as increasing the risk of SIDS. Dr. Eus van Someren of the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience notes that “keeping your skin temperature ‘perfectly comfortable’ is important when it comes to maintaining deep, restful slumber”. Look to bedding and pyjamas for that perfect comfort, instead of cranking up the room heat. If you can’t control the temp, use a fan to cool the room and put them down in as little as a diaper.
“Sleep is just as important in terms of growth and development as nutrition. Kids need adequate sleep to grow emotionally, physically and mentally.”- Dr. Roya Samuels