|How To Get Children to Sleep||| Print ||
|Written by Dr. Noel Swanson|
|Thursday, 27 May 2010 10:45|
In order for us to get restful sleep, we need to be relaxed. In order to relax, a number of things have to happen. First of all, we need to feel safe and secure. Obviously, if there is tension in the house - abuse, parents rowing, problems with finances or neighbors, or else problems at school or with friends, it will be much harder to relax and fall asleep.
It's also important to feel secure and safe in our own beds. There are children with sensory integration problems. This might manifest as touch sensitivity, proprioception, which means body positions sense, or gravitational insecurity might make lying on a high bed frightening. Sometimes covering the child with heavy blankest helps them to feel grounded.
When we get into bed it's time to forget about the day's business, shut out environmental distractions, and slow our heart rate and metabolism. As our bodies start to drift, so do our brains. During the day, brain waves might run at 14 Hertz (cycles per second) or more. When they start to slow down, they first go into an "alpha" rhythm (about 10 Hz), and then gradually go into the deep sleep rhythm, called "delta", about 4-7 Hz.
Setting up the environment in the right way can go a long way toward helping us relax. So will keeping to a regular routine. The body gets used to it and knows when it's time to slow down and get ready to sleep. Here are a few ideas:
A warm bath and hot milky drink. The warm bath relaxes the body, and allows the metabolism to slow down as it does not need to be so busy generating heat. Warmth also relaxes muscles. Warm milk contains an amino acid called Tryptophan which is a naturally occurring sedative. Obviously avoid drinks such as Coca Cola, tea or coffee, which all contain caffeine. Avoid also activities that are arousing or frustrating; just before bed is not the time for them to be getting upset about their homework or frustrated with their Gameboy.
Have your child take a nice warm bath and maybe drink some warm milk. His or her body will start to relax and the metabolism will slow. Warm water allows the body to stop the work of keeping itself warm. The bath will also ease tension in all of the muscle groups. Warm milk has Tryptophan in it. Tryptophan is an amino acid that is a natural sedative. Drinking the milk will also help your child to wind down. It goes without saying that they shouldn't be drinking anything with caffeine. This includes Coke or Pepsi, and other soft drinks, as well as coffee or tea. Also around bedtime they should be engaging in quiet activities, not worrying about homework or playing an active computer game.
Read your child a story at bedtime. Make sure that there isn't anything frightening in it. Besides having a calming effect, you are engaging in some special time together. Knowing that they are loved and cherished, tells children that their world is safe. When you're finished reading, turn on a recorded story that is peaceful and quiet. Turn off the lights and soon he'll be listening with closed eyes and drifting off.
Secondly, we can introduce sounds that help to shut out the wrong noises, and that also help us to relax. White noise, such as that produced by a fan or a humidifier does help to drown out the trucks and the barking dogs. So does a radio playing quietly in the background. Unfortunately, these sounds in themselves tend to be arousing and stressful rather than relaxing. This is to do with two factors: pitch and beat. High frequencies sounds are energizing, whilst low frequencies are relaxing. White noise is fairly high frequency, as is most music played on the radio - especially if played through a cheaper system with a poor bass response. Also, most popular music has a fast beat. Disco music is the most obvious example of this. No doubt at times you have found yourself tapping or nodding in time with the beat of some catchy music. This is called "entrainment," and describes the fact that our bodies like to align themselves with the rhythms around us. Our heart rates do the same - in general, as you listen to fast music or a fast beat (such as with rap music), your heart rate will speed up; when you listen to slow music, it slows down.
For sleep, we need to listen to low pitched sounds with a slow rhythm. We should try for a beat of 50 to 60 Hz, the rate or our resting hearts. Where do we find these sounds? Some classical music and some nature sounds qualify. I recommend recordings made specially for relaxation. Some of the best are made by Steven Halpern. The Sound Health Series CDs, called "Relax" and "De-Stress" are great. Play them quietly as background noise to drown out the dogs and to create a peaceful environment in the child's bedroom. If he wakes often during the night, consider playing continuous-play CD.
Color and Light. Not only are our bodies and minds sensitive to the frequencies and rhythms or sounds, we are also profoundly affected by light and color. This is well know by supermarkets and football teams! The supermarkets use green/blue tinged lights to make the vegetables look greener and fresher, but red tinged light on their meat counters. This is done very subtly, but very effectively. The colors on the product packaging are equally carefully chosen and designed to motivate you to buy. The stores are brightly lit, and may have "muzak" playing. All of this is done to make you feel up-beat and comfortable. The longer you stay, the more you will spend. Contrast that with some dingy shops that you know. In the same way, some football clubs will paint their changing rooms in different colors - red for the home team, as it is activating and arousing; and blue for the away team, as it is relaxing and calming.
Blue is for serenity, green for harmony and peace, pink instills warmth and cosiness. All of these, especially if in muted tints, are ideal of bedrooms, although blue and green may produce too cold an atmosphere. On the other hand bright and vibrant colors such as yellows and reds will rev us up and keep us awake. The effects are subtle and certainly not conscious, but even so are very real.
The lighting is also important. Not surprisingly, bright lights keep us awake. So too, does light with a "cold" or bluish tinge - such as from fluorescent lights. This is, after all, the lighting of the early morning sun. On the other hand, the twilight sun is full of warm shades of orange and red. So the light from a dim bulb or, better still, from a candle, oil lamp, or natural fire, will be much more relaxing. Combine these with pink furnishings, soft slow music, the sound of waves on the beach ....
Be sure to consider lighting when you design a bedroom. Bright, blue or cold lights tend to wake us up. An example of these are the fluorescents. That's because they imitate the early morning sun. At twilight the sky has the warm colors of orange and red. The most relaxing lights for nighttime come from low wattage bulbs, candles, oil lamps or a nice fire. If you add these lights to pink furniture, soft and slow music, the waves on the beach you get the picture.
How do we get around not putting a candle, oil light or open fire in a child's bedroom? One way is to use electric bulbs that flicker. There are also fiber optic lamps available that create a low level light, changing from one color to another. The slow, gentle changes are relaxing, assuming that they aren't too bright. Some children like to sleep in a completely dark room. This is when the thick curtains will come in handy to screen out late night and early morning summer sun.
Since it's pretty unlikely that a parent would wish to put candles or oil lamps in a child's room, there are other options to consider. You can find fiber optic lamps that are very relaxing, even if they don't flicker as low as 7 Hz. They do, however, change color slowly and the level of light is very low. The changing colors and soft light are so calming that they should be very helpful in getting your child off to sleep. Also available are lights that flicker so as to resemble a small flame. There are some children who prefer to sleep in a totally darkened room. If this is the case in your family, consider the heavy curtains that block twilight and early morning sun.
Humidity and fresh air. In the winters we tend to have the windows closed, and the heating on. The closed window cuts out the outside noises, but also cuts out the fresh air. Furthermore, the heating dries out the air, which in turn dries out our nasal passages. Stuffy air and uncomfortable noses are a common cause of poor sleep and wakening in the late parts of the night. Opening the window a crack may help.
There are three ways to improve humidity. Turn the heat down and use more blankets. Remember, this can also help a child feel grounded. Add some moisture to the air with a humidifier or drape a wet flannel over the radiator. The humidifier will create white noise as well. If you put a drop or two of essential oil in the water or on the flannel, you will also create a pleasing aroma.
Waking during the night. It is normal to wake or almost wake several times during the night. The trick is to get back to sleep again. All of the above will increase the chances of this. Along with this it is important not to reinforce a behavior pattern of waking up during the night by giving it a lot of attention. Infants and young children especially will often cry or make other noises when they wake. Do not immediately rush in to comfort them - this will only wake them up more, and reinforce the pattern of waking in the night. If you leave them alone, most will gradually settle and go back to sleep by themselves. Initially this may take some time, as they are used to getting your attention, but gradually, if you stay firm, this period of time will get shorter.
Most of us wake up during the night at least once and more likely two or three times. Even when we are not fully awake, too often we are unable to fall back to sleep. Some of the things mentioned above will help in that department, but there are other things to consider. Don't give your child a lot of extra attention when she wakes up in the middle of the night. This will only reinforce the behavior until it becomes a habit. The younger the child the more likely she is to cry or make some type of sound. Try to avoid running in to soothe her. For one thing it will cause her to come more fully awake and for another it will reinforce the waking pattern. Usually if you can just let children be, they will fall back to sleep. It probably won't happen right away because they will be waiting for you to come rushing in. If you can tough it out, they will start going back to sleep sooner. There are so many possibilities for helping children to sleep that you can probably come up with some other good ideas.
What about you, the exhausted parent? How many days a week do you long to make up some of those lost hours of sleep? How many times in a day do you focus on how totally worn out you are? Do you often wish you could get in a little nap before the kids get home? Those ways of thinking date back to the 19th century and are actually myths about sleep. Read more on this site and you will learn a lot more about sleep that can offer you some major changes in how you think about it. May you sleep peacefully and have lovely dreams.You can find many more of Dr. Noel Swanson's free parenting tips on his website. Make sure you also get his excellent book: http://www.good-child-guide.com
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|Last Updated on Thursday, 10 May 2012 11:17|