In play centres and coffee shops, mum and toddler groups and pre-school pick-ups, anxious parents are bemoaning a similar problem – their children are misbehaving, their concentration has gone AWOL and tantrums and tears are becoming the norm. And even though every child acts up now and then, many of these issues are down to something very basic: our little ones are simply not getting enough sleep.
According to the National Sleep Foundation of America, a toddler should get an average of 12 to 14 hours of sleep over a 24-hour period, with a preschooler needing around 11 to 12 hours. Yet many of our children do not experience these sleep levels, and this can affect their health and wellbeing, plus that of their parents.
“In my experience, the evidence shows that bedtimes are getting later and sleep times are becoming shorter,” says children’s sleep consultant, Julie Mallon, of infant and maternity sleep experts, Nurture to Sleep. “Both have poor outcomes – for example, hospital attendance figures from the UK indicate that hospital admissions for children under 14 with sleeping disorders have tripled over the past decade.”
She believes that there are a number of reasons for this, including an increasing dependence on technology, a more child-centred style of parenting, poor diet and the example set by an older generation, who work longer hours, come home later and constantly check their phones.
Although older children may have adjusted by now, toddlers and preschoolers are still settling into their new routines, which is why issues with sleep can be even more pronounced. Mallon tells us that changes including early mornings, longer days at nursery, new experiences and learning can all make them overtired – producing cortisol (the stress hormone), which makes it harder to settle at bedtime.
“Children can be overstimulated and therefore need a longer wind-down period,” says Mallon. “The ideal wind-down period is between 15 and 20 minutes, where a parent is totally focused on their child.”
So what can be done to get better sleep for our little ones? Mallon outlines some approaches to ensuring a good sleep routine is in place for the whole family.
1. When you are putting children to bed it is equally important that you also feel relaxed and confident.
2. Being emotionally present at bedtime is very beneficial to a child’s sleep quality. This time in the evening is generally quite chaotic for all families but parents being emotionally available at bedtime may be as important – if not more important – than bedtime practises in predicting sleep quality, so it’s crucial for both parents to discuss how they approach the bedtime routine.
3. Implement a consistent routine with the same sequence of events and have bath-time and storytime as part of it.
4. Ensure a comfortable sleep environment including a calm bedroom, good room temperature, the absence of electronic devices and white noise.
5. Processes such as the ‘gradual withdrawal technique’ which helps the child to develop the ability to self-soothe, can be hugely beneficial.
Another area many parents struggle to tackle with growing, willful toddlers is the dreaded daytime sleep. Some hate the cot and others will only sleep in a moving pushchair, leaving exhausted parents who know their child – who is furiously rubbing their eyes amidst a major meltdown – still needs a daytime nap. One nursery here in Dubai has discovered great success with an Award-winning British invention called the Sleep Coracle, a wooden, oval-shaped bed that sits at floor level, allowing children to climb in and out of it themselves when they’re tired, thereby aiding independent sleep habits.
Managing Director and Co-Founder of Creative Nest nursery, Zeena Assam, explains: “The genius of the Dream Coracle is in its simplicity. Its clean, modest design provides a safe and comfortable space for the children to sleep, and even play in. It acts as a cocoon of sorts, where they can snuggle up, doze off and easily climb out, whenever they want. Since it is at floor level, it is more inviting than the traditional cot which may seem huge and intimidating to young children.”
Assam reveals that the comfortable, floor-level position also enables Creative Nest’s staff to sing, stroke and pat the children to sleep if need be, once they’ve made the decision to hop into their ‘bed’. “After their nap, the children are allowed to take their time waking up, helping themselves out of the Coracle as and when they are ready.”
For more info, visit www.nurturetosleep.com and www.creativenest.ae.