March marks a year in lockdown.
All the adjustments this has entailed has put enormous strain on parents trying to juggle childcare, homeschool and work pressures while running low on reserves. Particularly those who are doing this while sleep-deprived and running on empty! Child sleep and your sleep is so important in these times. We spoke with Jess Barry, Gentle Sleep Coach and Founder of Mamaboo Sleep Solutions, about how to help the whole family get more sleep and not be affected by the clocks changing on 28th March.
Lockdown has been hugely disruptive to us and our children; new ways of working, less routine, fewer activities, less physical activity, less motivation, more screen time, more pressure, greater anxiety and stress. Child sleep is harder than ever.
It all has a huge impact on our well-being.
If your child isn’t sleeping well then the chances are – nor are you – and that’s a struggle. Every parent knows how physically, mentally and emotionally draining it is when sleep is fragmented.
We are more conscious than ever when it comes to sustainability and increasingly make buying decisions that reduce the impact on our environment. But what about ‘sustainability’ within the family environment?
Whether we’re surprising ourselves or whether we’re struggling, this way of life is simply not sustainable.
Better sleep is one ‘simple’ thing that significantly improves mood and reduces depression and anxiety. Yet getting our children to sleep better or longer (so we can too) may seem overwhelming.
Exactly ‘how’ we get our babies and children to sleep is often contentious among parents. But it’s a simple fact that sleep is absolutely vital for physical health, our mental and emotional state and even our immune system. The same for our children.
Luckily, there’s another glimmer of hope on the horizon for tired mums and dads.
It’s not long until the clocks spring forward.
If you’re exhausted from early morning exuberance then this is good news. No need for controversial sleep training. We may lose an hour’s overall on the 28th but if we play it right then it can buy us a lie-in.
Ok, not the kind of lie-in you enjoyed pre-children but sleep is sleep!
Simple changes in unison with your little one’s biological clock can turn an early wake-up into a more civilised one, without a struggle.
But there’s also potential for disaster.
Lighter evenings can mean bedtime resistance for children used to going to bed when it’s dark outside. It can also confuse babies who are naturally sensitive to change.
If there was ever a time to invest in black-out blinds or curtain liners or ideally both, this is it because bright mornings can lead to even earlier wake ups.
I cannot stress this enough, the quickest and easiest way to dramatically improve sleep is a very dark sleep environment for naps and bedtime. I’m talking ‘can’t see your hand in front of your face’ darkness!
Circadian rhythms are the cycles of hormones that coordinate all our mental and physical processes over the course of 24 hours. Most significantly the sleep/wake cycle.
Children and babies can have difficulty with a sudden, abrupt changes to Circadian rhythms.
Sleep pressure works alongside circadian rhythm to meet our sleep needs and tiredness increases up the longer we stay awake. Tiredness is caused by levels of the hormone Adenosine. This builds up until we find it hard to keep our eyes open. It’s the reason our eyelids become heavy while reading stories aloud in the afternoon and little ones need naps. It’s also why we nod off on the sofa halfway through a tv show in the evening!
Cortisol, the hormone we associate with stress also has a huge influence on sleep. It works on a complex feedback loop. If we don’t get enough sleep it triggers a ‘stress response’ which is bad for our health; mood swings, poor memory and even depression and anxiety.
Light has the greatest influence on sleep.
Darkness and light set our Circadian rhythms and trigger a hormonal imperative to sleep and to stay asleep.
Melatonin is the sleepy hormone, it’s secreted in response to darkness. It peaks around 7pm for little ones – prompting the body to prepare for sleep.
It is hard to fall asleep in a bright bedroom. Your child isn’t being difficult if they can’t sleep, there’s a good chance that light is inhibiting melatonin production.
Special cells in our eyes tell the brain if it’s dark (night) or light (day) even through closed eyelids. So it’s very important that their sleep environment is sending the right message.
If your child is tired by dinner time then has a burst of wild energy around bath time, they may already be overtired.
Overtired children don’t SEEM tired and may have boundless energy!
Missing their optimal ‘sleep window’ leads to a burst of stimulating cortisol and adrenaline. This gives them a ‘second wind’ and children may remain wide awake for hours until sleep pressure finally wins out and they succumb to sleep.
When the sun comes up, it triggers a surge of cortisol to kick start the day – a natural alarm clock!
Even a teeny chink of sunlight at 5am can disturb light sleep. Early morning light exposure triggers a surge of cortisol to wake them up which makes it hard to get back to sleep. Especially as they’ve had 8+ hours sleep by then.
Within days this can reset your child’s body clock to a much earlier wake-up time.
By making some tweaks now you can ensure light evenings and bright sunrises don’t make sleep worse in the coming months. Shift an early-riser to a more acceptable wake-up time.
Keep out morning and evening light with tightly fitted black-out blinds – double-sided Velcro is your new best friend!
Top Tips For Better Bedtimes – every day of the year!
- A very dark room helps to fall asleep and prevents early wakes.
- Get outdoors in the morning/ early afternoon for fresh air and exercise
- No screens for 2 hours before bed, the glare reduces melatonin levels by 88% – taking an hour to begin rising again after screen time
- If your child watches CBeebies Bedtime Hour – record and watch at 5.30pm instead of 7pm
- Draw curtains and dim lights from 6pm – set the stage for the journey to sleep
- Tightly fit blackout blinds (even foil or bin liners!) to window frames so the bedroom environment as dark as possible
- Calm activities – not too much energetic play before bed
- A cosy and inviting bedroom – a space to play quietly in, not too stimulating
- A simple routine every night to pave the way to bed, 40 minutes max
- Bathtime; a drop in body temp after a bath prepares the body for sleep
- A pre-bed snack can encourage sleepiness; milk, oat biscuits, healthy flapjacks, porridge, nut butters on toast, bananas and cherries are all laden with tryptophan which makes us drowsy
- Set firm but loving boundaries – children feel secure when rules and responses are predictable
- Be consistent – stick as closely as possible to the same timings each day
- If your child must have a nightlight, dim red light is the least disruptive, blue light is the worst
Early riser? Take this approach
Early-rising is tricky as it’s hard to adjust a natural wake-time. But losing an hour overnight provides a relatively easy way to shift to a later morning wake-up.
If your little one sleeps 11 hours overnight but their wake-up time is earlier than you’d like,
by doing nothing and letting them wake up naturally, the dreaded early wake automatically becomes a more civilised time.
Say they usually sleep 7pm – 6am, when we ‘lose’ an hour overnight they still get 11 hours sleep. But according to the newly adjusted clock, it’s as if they slept from 7pm to 7am.
Now we can set 7am as the new wake-up time.
But bedtime must be temporarily pushed an hour later to accommodate this; 7pm bedtime becomes 8pm.
- Adjust the entire routine to an hour later.
- As far your child’s biological clock is concerned they are still on their usual schedule, it’s just YOUR clock that is different!
- Set their body clock to 7am – open the curtains to let bright morning light in and greet them enthusiastically!
- Get outside for fresh air and light after breakfast to ‘lock-in’ the adjustment.
If the later bedtime doesn’t suit your family, spend a few days cementing the later wake up time;
Once the later wake-up time is firmly set…
- Bring bedtime 10/15 minutes earlier every third night until they are going to sleep closer to 7pm. But still maintain a 7am wake-up.
- If the morning wake time starts to creep earlier, stop adjusting and set that as the new bedtime
- Be mindful there’s a maximum number of hours a child can sleep in a single stretch overnight. So set your expectations of the new bedtime accordingly.
Saturday night: In bed at their normal bedtime (say 7pm). We ‘lose’ an hour overnight
Sunday morning: The old 6am wake is now 7am without you doing a thing! Push every aspect of their routine an hour later; meals, feed and naps
Sunday night: Bedtime is pushed an hour later – the old 7pm bedtime is 8pm
Monday: 7am wake-up and another 8pm bedtime
Tuesday: 7am wake up and a 7.45pm bedtime
Wednesday: 7am wake up and a 7.45pm bedtime
Thursday: 7am wake up and 7.30pm bedtime
Friday: 7am wake up and 7.30pm bedtime
Saturday: 7am wake up and 7.15pm bedtime
To keep your current sleep and wake times:
Make slight adjustments every couple of days over the week before and the clock change won’t throw your child’s sleep schedule into disarray.
Monday 22nd: Wake them 15 mins earlier – move all feeds, meals, naps and bedtime 15 mins earlier (i.e. 6.45am – 6.45pm)
Wednesday 24th: Wake them another 15 mins earlier – move all feeds, meals, naps and bedtime 15 mins earlier (i.e. 6.30am – 6.30pm)
Friday 26th: Wake them another 15 mins earlier – move all feeds, meals, naps and bedtime 15 mins earlier (i.e. 6.15am – 6.15pm)
Sunday 28th: Now the clocks have changed they’ll wake at 7am and go to bed for 7pm.
For over the age of about three who are less sensitive to change, you can ‘split the difference’ over the weekend. Just make sure you have plenty of active time outdoors in the day and a dark bedroom in the evening. This means they can get to sleep earlier.
Saturday: change all elements of their daily routine (waking, feeding and nap) 30 minutes earlier in preparation.
Sunday: the entire day shifts earlier again by another 30 mins, which they should adjust to with ease.
Monday: your timings are back to normal!
If an extra hour in bed in the morning doesn’t even begin to repay your sleep debt then do get in touch for a chat or some further sleep support.
There’s a 15% discount on sleep support if you mention Y’earn!
If you enjoyed that, check out our 5 ways to improve your children’s mental health. Or you can read our guide on how to make the internet more safe your kid.
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