Does your child misbehave, have a poor attention span or struggle to control their moods? It might be because they’re not getting a good night of sleep.
It’s increasingly common for kids to not get enough sleep. They might be medicated for ADHD and hyperactive symptoms – but nobody thinks to check to see if they are just sleep deprived!
When kids are tired, they don’t lounge on the couch and binge on Netflix episodes like we do. Instead, they go a little wild! They become hyperactive as a way to stimulate themselves and stay awake throughout the day.
How much sleep should my child get?
Just like adults, each child is unique in their sleep needs. However, there are some guidelines around healthy amounts of sleep for each age group.
The Sleep Health Foundation recommends the following for children:
1-2 years – 11-14 hours
3-5 years – 10-13 hours
6-13 years – 9-11 hours
14-17 years – 8-10 hours
Your child might vary slightly from this range. But if they are more than about an hour off from the recommendations, they are likely not getting the right amount of rest.
It’s also important to combine these guidelines with their behaviour and how they act throughout the day. You might have a 5 year old who can’t handle less than 13 hours each night, but your 3 year old is happy and bubbly as long as they get 10 hours.
Sleep is not just about the hours they spend in bed!
Although getting enough sleep is important, it’s not the only factor to consider. If your child is waking up with nightmares, wetting the bed or having restless nights, they won’t get the rest they need.
Sleep quality is just as important as quantity. That’s why it’s crucial to address anything that might be causing them to wake up or not get a deep sleep.
What can influence my child’s sleep?
There are a few common issues that can affect your child’s sleep – both in terms of quality and quantity of sleep. They include:
- Diet – a diet high in refined sugars and carbohydrates can lead to blood sugar fluctuations. This can keep them from falling asleep, or it could lead to them waking in the night
- Food allergies and intolerances – allergies and intolerances can lead to digestive symptoms that keep your child awake. But they have even been linked to sleep issues such as insomnia and reflux.
- Overstimulation – sensitive children may be prone to feeling overstimulated after a big day or weekend. This can make it hard for them to wind down at the end of the day and get a good rest.
- Lack of routine – a consistent night routine is an important part of a good sleep. If your child doesn’t have a solid routine in the evening that sets them up for sleep or a regular bedtime, this could prevent a good night of sleep.
- Too much screen time and not enough outside time – kids are designed to be active throughout the day! But many children spend more time on screens that stimulate them and less time playing outside.
Unfortunately, I see poor sleep go untreated all the time. A doctor might check a child for sleep apnoea and other diagnosed sleep issues – but if nothing comes up, they put them onto melatonin.
And while melatonin can be warranted in some situations, it doesn’t address why your child is struggling to sleep in the first place. In some cases, they might not have low melatonin levels at all!
That’s why it’s important to understand how diet and lifestyle can influence sleep in kids – for better or for worse.
Simple sleep tips for children
Does your child need a bit of extra help to get a good night of sleep? There are some simple steps you can take to support a healthy sleep pattern.
Make dinner a sleep-friendly meal
Overhauling their diet completely might seem a bit intimidating, especially if your child tends to be a fussy or picky eater. So to boost their chance of a good night of sleep, start with dinner.
You want dinner to incorporate:
- Sources of protein and fibre to balance out blood sugars
- Little to no refined carbohydrates
This doesn’t mean you need to serve them meat and 3 veg every single night! You might start by adding in an extra serve of veg in their spaghetti sauce, or switching from wheat pasta to spelt or buckwheat pasta.
The same goes for dessert. If your child tends to want something sweet after dinner, opt for high fibre, low sugar options such as fresh berries.
Switch off screens before bed
Many kids watch TV or play games up until bedtime, which leaves them stimulated right up until they get into bed. If your kids love their screen time in the evening, set a rule that all screens are turned off at least 30 minutes before bed – ideally 60 minutes.
For the hour before bed, they could:
- Read a book
- Do some drawing or colouring
- Have a bath or shower
- Play a board game as a family
Set up a sleep routine
A good sleep routine can make the world of difference for kids! Having a set routine means that their brain and body knows when it’s time to wind down and rest.
Depending on your child’s age and needs, their bedtime routine might include:
- Bath or shower time
- Changing into pyjamas and brushing their teeth
- A time that screens go off (and what they can do once screens go away)
- Calming rituals such as having their hair brushed or reading a book together
- A time for bed and lights out
This routine can take as little as 30 minutes depending on what you include. But it can make a big difference to how well your child sleeps.
Keep an eye out for symptoms of intolerances
Allergies are usually easy to spot in your child. But because intolerances can cause symptoms hours or even days after they consume the food, they can be harder to identify.
Keep an eye out for signs associated with intolerances such as:
- Digestive symptoms such as constipation, diarrhoea, bloating and tummy pain
- Respiratory symptoms such as asthma, croup, blocked or runny nose and general congestion
- Skin issues such as eczema, rashes and dry skin
- Immune symptoms such as enlarged tonsils or adenoids, recurrent infections and ear infections
Working with an experienced practitioner can help you to uncover hidden signs and patterns of food intolerances.
Want some tailored support for your child’s sleep concerns? Organise a free 20 minute consultation with me and see what I can offer!