For many children the mere mention of 'bedtime' is enough to provoke a meltdown of epic proportions, followed by hours of protestations as their exhausted parents try to coax them to lie down and close their eyes. These nightly battles can take their toll on parents and children alike.
"We’ve found that 82% of parents with preschool-aged children say that they would change something about their child’s sleeping habits, and that just 30 minutes of additional sleep each night can improve most children’s behavior and mood," say sleep therapists Heather Turgeon and Julie Wright.
According to Professor Russell Foster, chair of Circadian Neuroscience and head of the Sleep and Circadian Neuroscience Institute at the University of Oxford: "Sleep is the single most important health behaviour we have.
"It affects everything from our day-to-day functioning to our long-term physical and mental health," he told Huff Post UK Lifestyle.
It’s clear that we all need to sleep a little more. But how?
Heather and Julie are all too aware of how much a lack of sleep can affect not just babies and children but also their parents and carers, so we asked them to share their top five tips for getting children to sleep without a fuss:
1. Wind it down
If your child’s bedtime is 7:30pm, then the whole house should shift into wind-down mode at 6:30pm. Put on jazz music, turn down the overhead lighting - the idea is to signal to your child that sleep is coming down the road.
Adults need wind-down time too and we suggest maintaining that calm, relaxed atmosphere after your children have gone to bed so your body knows it’s time to sleep soon as well.
2. Allow some free time
Stress is one of the main factors which causes loss of sleep in children and in adults.
Overscheduling has become a major part of our lives, with many parents and children feeling run-ragged with after-school clubs and homework. Paring down these activities and introducing free, unstructured time helps eliminate stress and encourages children to develop skills to entertain themselves. Doing this before bedtime will help children become regulated and calm—and give parents a bit of a breather!
3. Know how much sleep each family member needs
Lots of people have no idea how much sleep they or their children are supposed to get in each 24-hour period. Use this handy chart as a guide if you are concerned at all:
Newborns (0-2 months): 12-18 hours
Infants (3-11 months): 14-15 hours
Toddlers (1-3 years): 12-14 hours
Preschoolers (3-5 years): 11-13 hours
Primary school children (5-10 years): 10-11 hours
Teens (10-17 years): 8.5-9.25 hours
Adults: 7-9 hours
4. Turn off the screens
We recommend that children stay away from the TV or iPad for at least an hour before bedtime, as it disrupts their natural circadian rhythms and suppresses the release of melatonin making it harder to fall asleep.
This goes for parents as well. We know how tempting it is to get that final piece of work done or check your emails or Twitter feed once the kids are in bed, but stick to the one hour rule and you might be surprised at the difference it makes!
5. Take it in turns
A lot of parents (especially mums) tell us that they feel very sensitive to noise at night and ready to jump at all times. This, unfortunately, is a natural part of parenthood for some of us. We’re constantly living with the knowledge that our kids might need us (even long after they’ve started sleeping well), and it makes our brains more activated.
We recommend taking it in turns to be responsible for night-wakings. The parent who is not ‘on duty’ can wear earplugs to minimize the chance of them waking up.
For more advice check out The Happy Sleeper: the science-backed guide to helping your baby get a good night’s sleep — newborn to school age by Heather Turgeon and Julie Wright (Scribe, £12.99).