Katrina Mallon

Relationship driven parenting consultant

Four Tips to Get Children to Sleep

We all agree sleep is important to everyone, especially to the little ones, but why?

Good sleep is essential for so many reasons. Sleep supports growth because the majority of a child's growth hormones are released during sleep. Heart health is also dependent on good sleep because it protects from damage from stress hormones and cholesterol build up. Children who wake several times a night tend to have higher cortisol levels making it hard to fall asleep, which has been linked to higher weight, diabetes and heart disease. As mentioned before, sleep affects a child’s weight. Much like adults, when a child is tired, their body craves higher fat or carbohydrate foods and they're just as guilty of looking for comfort foods when they are upset. It’s not their fault; all their life they have been trained that food fixes things, ie “oh you hurt yourself--will a lollipop make it feel better?” Good sleep helps a child deal emotionally with what the world throws at them better. Still to this day my mom always says when I am upset, “Hun, go to bed, get a good night's sleep and everything will look better in the morning” and she is usually right. Sleep also plays a vital role in your child’s immune system, by producing proteins that fight infection, illness, stress and help us feel sleepy before bed. Sleep deprivation and ADHD share many of the same characteristics such as increased impulsiveness and increased distractibility which can lead to injuries.

Tips to a faster, deeper, sounder sleep for your child

Create a good sleep environment

Make sure your child’s room is for sleeping. Ideally we want homework, screen time, play to happen in a play room or somewhere other than the bed room. This creates a connection of relaxation, sleep, and calmness to the room. If you can’t keep the whole room “play free”, try just their bed. Make sure their room is dark; this may mean black out blinds in the summer.

Create a routine

Have a bed time routine which may start right after dinner with no screens or only an hour depending on the age of your child. The light from the screens affects your child’s body to produce melatonin, which is a hormone that helps your child sleep. Your routine is up to you but most families have one that includes a reading stories together, a healthy snack (so your child doesn’t wake up hungry) and brushing teeth. The other important thing is to try and keep the routine happening at the same time regardless of whether there is school in the morning or not. It allows your child’s body to get into a regular sleep rhythm.

Outside/ Active play

The more energy your child expends during the day the better they will sleep; it is as simple as that. It can be hard sometimes when children are drawn to TV and tablets, but creative parents have gotten around it. I know one mom who makes her children earn TV minutes: for every hour outside they play they earn 15 minutes of TV time.

Make it a family activity to go for a walk, play at the park or go for a swim at the pool on the weekends. Sports are a great way to keep your children active and build social skills and sportsmanship. I would caution you to not have your children too scheduled. Valuable things happen when your child is bored, but that is a conversation for another day.

Control Liquid intake

Watch what and how much your child is drinking and when. Beware of drinks full of caffeine or tons of sugar, and just watch how much they consume before bed. Waking up for the washroom can be a huge disruption in a child’s sleep.