Prioritising sleep is a must at any childhood age. Sarah Challinor explores how to make sure your little ones get plenty of nap time.
Middle East residents enjoy an abundance of holidays compared to many other parts of the world. Whenever kids have time off it’s easy for them to get out of a regular routine, even before adding travelling and time differences to the equation. From sleeping to eating habits to bath routines, all of them can get out of sync and wreak chaos with your life. Instinctively from birth, we are aware of the importance of establishing good sleeping routines for our babies and this should be ongoing, even into the teenage years.
Every parent knows that when their child does not get enough sleep, they quickly become out of control, prone to mood swings and hyperactivity that leads, at best, to stressed-out mums and dads, and at worst to judgmental looks from strangers and injured kids. When they get enough sleep, calmness and sanity prevail.
How can you tell?
It is fairly easy to recognise the tell-tell signs of tiredness as they really don’t change much from birth to adulthood and range from rubbing eyes, dark circles under the eyes, yawning, stretching, feeling emotional (such as crying and whining at the slightest provocation), forgetfulness and staring blankly into space, all of which I am sure sound familiar! So now we know the signs of tiredness, how do you create a good sleeping environment and a good sleeping routine?
Tips for top sleep
Usually by the time infants are three months old we have taught them to sleep through the night. As parents, we need to maintain scheduled sleeping hours and incorporate key sleep triggers into this schedule such as making rooms dark, playing soft music and reading out loud before bedtime. As your child moves into the school years, you should find that they are already exhausted from their daily activities, and may even require a nap after school. Around about this time new foods will be on offer, some of them unhealthy or, at least, inappropriate for bedtime. Stay clear of sugar prior to bedtime. Also, instead of reading to your kids, encourage them to now read to you. And the most important rule in the digital age… keep those laptops, iPads, phones and tablets far away from the bedroom! Have a specific time at night when you regularly turn off your devices and gently escort them to their bedrooms. Disconnecting from the digital world and winding down is a must for a genuine good night’s sleep. This goes for parents as well.
As for teenagers, they are more independent and make their own choices about eating, sleeping, and how they spend their time. If their choices are unhealthy and affect you and others negatively, be clear about what the issues are. You may not be able to make a teenager eat with you or go to bed at a certain time, but you can say that it’s important that the only noise going on during meals is at the family table and that your home needs to be quiet and peaceful for those needing to sleep. Monitor your teen’s health and encourage good health habits, such as eating right, having down time, and exercising. Although many teens throw out good health habits, keep modelling good habits yourself. Eventually your teen will grow up – remember your example and come back to good habits. Invite your teenager to try new foods (or eat more fruits and vegetables). Encourage your teenager to join you for a family walk (or workout). Talk about why regular sleep helps them to be at their best.
Food for thought
Just as a newborn is unable to sleep if hungry, make it a priority to have your family well-nourished before they hit the pillow and they will certainly reach dreamland faster. Just make sure they are consuming the right sustenance, as explained by Lisa Medalie, PsyD, a behavioural sleep medicine specialist at the University of Chicago: ‘Going to bed hungry can keep you awake, so grab a small snack that’s part protein, part complex carbs with no added sugar, caffeine, or anything spicy, which can block sleep.’ Kids of all ages perform better when they get enough sleep, eat healthy foods at regular intervals, participate in physical activity, and have a regular routine. So let’s start the sleeping revolution.
Help in Doha and useful sites
If you’re experiencing sleep difficulties with your child, the following may assist – Sarah Rockwell-Smith, the psychologist behind the ToddlerCalm and BabyCalm books, has this website: gentlesleeptraining.co.uk/gentle-sleep-training-in-person/. Visit childsleepsupport.com for support for children and their families with sleep issues encountered from 12 months up to 18 years of age. The Pulmonary Clinic at Al Ahli Hospital will see children aged 15 and above, Ahmed Bin Ali Street, Bin Omran (4489 8540). Hamad Hospital is from 13 years of age, off Al Rayyan Road (4439 6666). Contact the paediatric departments at both hospitals for children aged under these years.
Get your sleep
The US National Sleep Foundation recommends the following hours for these different ages of kids:
Newborns up to 3 months: 14-17 hours daily
Infants (4-11 months): 12-15 hours
Toddlers (1-2 years): 11-14 hours
Preschoolers (3-5 years): 10-13 hours
School-age children (6-13 years): 9-11 hours
Teenagers (14-17 years): 8-10 hours
Younger adults (18-25 years): 7-9 hours