Expert Opinion

The do’s and don’t’s of sleeping

  1. My child is having a hard time falling asleep. What is something I can do with them, right before bed, that might help them fall asleep more quickly?

There are so many reasons why your little one might be having trouble falling asleep at bedtime – here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Is it time to drop the nap or limit the nap?
  • Are they actually already overtired (children who are overtired tend to display a second wind…) which makes them alert and active ­­– that’s good old cortisol taking effect.
  • What has their activity been like during the day?
  • Is their little mind wired and overloaded with stimulation?

For the older child, (aged 2-5), some of my recommendations would be to go for a walk after dinner, as this may ensure they really are tired enough to sleep. Other top tips include a bath – possibly with some magnesium to help relax their nervous system and assist in winding down – and ensuring there are no refined sugars in their diet, particularly leading into bedtime.

I have a blanket rule with all of my families that I work with that there be no blue-white light exposure in the two hours before bedtime as this prohibits the production of melatonin which is our calming hormone.

I do highly recommend the use of relaxation music or audio meditations for them to listen to, to help wind down their little minds.

  1. My child moves around/twitches while sleeping – is this normal? Should I be worried?

There is a normal amount of movement that one makes when they are sleeping, however, if they really are all over their bed, very restless, and seemingly still tired when they wake in the day, it can possibly be a sign of a medical sleep issue but not always and with any concern, it is always best to seek a medical opinion.

  1. What are some things that I can do during the day to improve my childs sleep? For example, how active should they be?

Being active absolutely allows our children to be tired enough to sleep. If stagnant and have not done any activity all day, then yes, your child isn’t going to be tired enough for sleep as they haven’t expended any energy.

How much activity they should be doing is aged based/developmentally based. I recommend getting out into natural light, where toddlers are generally more stimulated and active.

Most professions in this field would suggest 2-3 hours of activity during the day, spread out across the day. There will be times when they are not as active, needing to stop take a nap, or eating, but activities include running jumping, climbing, and also mental stimulation is important too.

  1. My child always wakes up grumpy/in a bad mood – why is this happening? How do I fix it?

For a lot of children, this is temperament based, rather than anything that you can possibly fix.

It can also be a sign that perhaps they haven’t slept enough – for example, if your toddler is only getting a short nap of 30/40 minutes and they need 1.5/2 hours, then this will impact how they wake up and their temperament for the rest of the day, so you might want to help them get some more day sleep.

If you have to wake them up from naps, or in the morning, be aware of how you are doing that: you don’t want it to be abrupt – you want to do it nice and gently, slowly opening the curtains, lowering the come of the white noise, rubbing their back and talking gently to them.

If your child is one that is sensitive in general, you may find that waking grumpy ALL the time is more so about their personality, rather than how much sleep they are getting, and I would say lean into that, give them the cuddles that they need and let them slowly wake up and feel more at ease in their own time.

  1. I have noticed that my childs anxiety gets worse at bedtime – why is this happening and what should I do?

This is likely because your child is aware that they are about to come to a point in their day where there will be a long separation from their caregiver. Sometimes, making bedtime super fun can be the key to decreasing anxiety around bedtime – for both your little one and yourself.

It is also about marketing bedtime as a great thing and not making it a rushed experience which can often come across as a negative experience. Being calm as parents also helps our little ones lean into bedtime too. It goes against, the grain of “winding down” but I have seen a lot of success with introducing some rough house play after dinner, but before the bath, or before storytime.

This rough house play brings about a lot of laughter and laughter decreases anxiety. It also generally means that the entire family is having fun which is what our little ones will pick up on.

  1. Is it a good idea to reflect on the day with my child at bedtime?

I highly recommend having one on one time with your little one before they go off to sleep at night. One of the things that I love to recommend with older toddlers, who have great communication skills is to have a chat about their day.

I recommend these three questions:

  • What was something great about your day today, that made you smile or laugh?
  • Did anything happen in your day that made up upset or confused that I can help you with?
  • What are you looking forward to about tomorrow?

And, then, you as the parent can actually fill their little love tank – by including something that your child did that made you happy that day and something you are looking forward to doing with your child the following day.

That time before bedtime is a great opportunity to make those strong connections with your little one, like I said, filling their love tank, stocking up their emotional cup so they go into bed feeling the love, feeling listening too, and having offloaded any emotions that perhaps may have stayed with them through the day.

About the author

Lisa is the founder of Cherish Your Sleep, Co-Regional Director (Australia/Pacific) of The Association of Professional Sleep Consultants, an experienced certified baby/child sleep consultant and a mother to 3 young children.
She has always loved children and has worked in the industry for over 20 years as a qualified child care worker, working primarily with children aged 0 – 3yrs.
A successful outcome is not only good for the parents and children, but also giver Lisa a sense of satisfaction and happiness – there’s nothing better than hearing from a parent who finally got their first full night sleep since having a child.
Becoming a mum and meeting and seeing other mums struggle with their babies and children’s sleep made Lisa really want to reach out and help. She doesn’t see that there is a one size fits all to helping families – sleep is almost like a Puzzle – you need all the pieces in place to achieve the full picture and those pieces are what she shares with families.
Lisa uses a holistic approach to sleep, focusing on emotional wellbeing of families and ensuring the parent child connection in not only maintained, but enhanced. She knows how easy it is to become overwhelmed and frustrated, so it’s her passion to help find solutions that will work for you, your baby and the rest of your family.
Photo by cottonbro studio