Expert Opinion

The importance of sleep and routine with Lisa Dinnie

  1. Since starting school this year, my child seems to be getting sick more often. Whats the link between sleeping and sickness – should I be making them sleep more? Should I be bringing bedtime earlier?

For your child, starting school is bound to mean more bugs and sicknesses being shared around. As an adult, you would know that when sick, you tire much more easily and need to sleep more – and your sleep may be disrupted.

When children get sick, I always tell families to put routine and structure aside and focus on letting your child sleep when they need to sleep. It helps them to recover, gets their strength back more quickly, and assists immensely in the healing process.

You may find that a child that dropped their nap ages ago, will take that daytime nap and that’s ok.  It will get to that point where you will know when it is time to get back on track with sleep patterns. It may mean an earlier bedtime for a short while if they had gotten into the habit of taking the day nap, but sleep is never a bad thing when unwell.

  1. My child is constantly begging for a later bedtime and hates going to bed. How can I portray sleep as a positive thing to them?

When considering what is the right bedtime for your child, you have to factor in their overall sleep need is. Some children have high sleep needs, others have low sleep needs. Depending on their sleep need, and depending on what time they wake to start the day, will depend on what the optimal bedtime for your child is.

You don’t want to have a later bedtime to find that your child is still waking at the same time in the morning, or even earlier, and then isn’t coping with less sleep.

As children get older, they understand more cognitively: explain to them why they have the bedtime they have, and explain the benefits of sleep for a little person.

If they keep fighting it, perhaps consider compromising by allowing them a later bedtime on the weekend, when they don’t have school the next day to see how they cope – whether the later bedtime impacts on their mood or temperament. They won’t always have an early bedtime and that is what you can explain to them.

  1. Why is sleep so crucial to child development? Can you explain this in laymans terms?

Sleep is crucial for development because when we sleep, our body is still working hard on producing hormones that help us grow and develop, and fight sickness and ailments.

When children sleep, they are also consolidating information and the skills learned throughout the day. When children don’t get enough sleep, they have difficulty with concentration, emotional regulation, day-to-day tasks, and even thought processes. It can mean their body is often riddled with cortisol – the stress hormone – which is produced when sleep deprived. This can appear in behaviours such as irritability, hyperactivity, and general restlessness.

  1. This Easter, sleeping routines are likely to be interrupted. Do you have any tips on minimizing this disruption?

Easter celebrations are for just a few days, and I encourage parents to consider the 80/20 rule. 80% of what we do forms a habit – when it comes to sleep – 20% is living your life, getting out and about, later nights, outings etc.

So, each day over Easter, consider that 80/20 rule – can you ensure your child has great day sleeps if you are going out at night? Can you sacrifice a nap to go out but implement an early bedtime?

The key thing with sleep for babies and toddlers is associations – keep your key bedtime elements in place: white noise, dark room, sleeping bag and bedtime story – these associations are what allow your baby to know that it is sleep time. Also remember whilst the chocolate is super yummy – and we all eat way too much of it over Easter for sure, it can interrupt sleep for our little ones so be mindful of their intake.

  1. My child sleeps the recommended amount but is still so tired. What could some of the reasons be?

There are lots of medical conditions that can cause lethargy in our children even when we think they are getting a good night’s sleep.

Whilst I am not a medical practitioner, the ones that I come across and are reasonably common would be sleep apnea, enlarged tonsils/adenoids, and even oral ties.

These three medical conditions prohibit your child from getting adequate oxygen through their system overnight and they tend to be mouth breathers.

We are meant to be nose breathers as breathing through our nose when sleeping means that we are boosting oxygen consumption, which increases air flow to arteries veins, and nerves.

Also, for consideration, would be ruling out any vitamin deficiencies – particularly iron deficiency, where lethargy/fatigue is one of the main symptoms.

  1. Now that my child is growing up, they are always asking for sleepovers with friends, but I am worried this will impact their sleep schedule and, therefore, their health. Are sleepovers okay? How often should I allow them?

I think sleepovers are very much a personal choice for families. When considering sleepovers, it’s important to understand that routines and schedules get thrown out the window, particularly when it comes to sleepovers with friends.

I always tell my children that “friend” sleepovers aren’t good for sleeping routines or habits – often, the excitement of a sleepover prevents them from sleeping well and this can disrupt their routine.

Staying with family for sleepovers is a totally different story – I do think that families perhaps tend to stick to routine, particularly with young toddlers and babies, when staying with relatives.

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 Arina Krasnikova