Silent Nights: Tips for ensuring children get a good night’s sleep

Getting children to go to bed, when it’s their bedtime, can be one of a parent’s hardest tasks. On top of any bedtime problems you may face, it’s worth remembering that getting a good night’s sleep is crucial to children’s mental and physical development. Well-rested children perform better in school and get more out of social and sporting activities.

The amount of sleep a child needs obviously varies significantly depending on age: at 1-4 weeks old, babies will sleep for up to 16 hours a day. As they grow, this amount drops rapidly – levelling out at 8 or 9 hours from 12 upwards. Age often doesn’t matter once children are old enough to want to argue about staying up past their bedtime – if you’re having trouble convincing your little ones to go to – and stay in – bed, check out our list of tips for avoiding bedroom battles.

Routine: establishing a regular time for children to head to bed is not only effective but will actually be seen as quite a fair move from the perspective of the child. A regularly-enforced bedtime lets children know what they are supposed to do – homework, bath, brush teeth – and when they need to do it. Parents who let their children ‘agree’ to a routine bedtime, will also be able to introduce extensions for good behaviour – and early curfews for bad.

As an extra tip – make getting up as much of a routine as going to bed. Letting children sleep late makes them less tired later on. Get them up early, for a full day of activities, to make them more prepared for bed in the evening.

Warnings: whatever the agreed bedtime, give your children ample warning each night, before sending them to bed. Offering a 30 minute warning – or gentle ‘reminder’ – is another way of ‘playing fair’ with kids – meaning there’s less chance of a disagreement once bedtime comes – and a chance to finish any pre-bedtime activities, like games or tidying up.

Reading: bedtime stories are great way to reward children for getting into bed – and encouraging them to lie quietly and calmly. Establish a limit of one or two chapters (depending on length) so that you don’t keep children up too long. Reading a story is also a great way to spend some quality personal time with your child each night.

Mattress and bedding: once your child is in bed, making sure they’re comfortable is the key to helping them stay asleep. If children are complaining of waking during the night, or showing signs of tiredness despite going to bed without incident, it’s worth looking at the quality of mattress or bedding they’re sleeping on.

Children grow very quickly – and if they’re too big or too heavy for their mattress, the effects on their sleep can be significant. If space is a concern, why not think about bunk beds? Bunks offer ample space per bed – and can be separated if you decide to put your kids in rooms of their own. In terms of bedding, look for material that ‘breathes’ – adjusting to temperature changes and keeping children comfortable throughout the year.

There’s always going to be some friction when it comes to getting children to go to bed – but it’s ultimately in everyone’s interests to try to solve problems as quickly and as early as possible. Taking steps, as your children grow, to enforce and maintain a sensible bedtime is not only going to prevent future issues – but help your children’s health and lifestyle.

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