Children sleeping well is one of the holy grails of parenting, and many mums and dads swear by the bedtime routine of bath, book, bed to help little ones have a good night’s sleep.
But it’s not just immediately before bed that steps can be taken to encourage an unbroken night for both children and parents – there are plenty of things that can be done during the day too.
"A positive bedtime structure is about ensuring daytime and night-time routines are a continual process, and not seen as two separate things," explains psychologist and sleep expert Chireal Shallow, who runs the Baby Sleep Clinic in the UK.
"It’s really important that children are stimulated. This can take the form of education at school, or post-school activities such as games, hobbies, reading or seeing friends. School is one of the better opportunities for children to develop good sleep hygiene, due to the rigid structure of the day – they know when to expect break times for example, and the routine is structured and secure.
"Their home life routine needs to match up in the same way, so it’s more of a fluid process."
Here Shallow, in partnership with natural family skincare experts Bloom and Blossom, shares her tips on what parents can do during the day to help children settle well at night.
1. Hide and seek in the bedroom
Playing hide and seek helps to create a familiarity with the bedroom, allowing children to take ownership of the space, and create a feeling of purpose and love. The more time spent in their bedroom during the day, the better association they have with it at night time.
2. Eating cottage cheese with raspberries
Feeding children snacks such as cottage cheese before bed may sound absurd, but it’s full of the amino acid tryptophan, which can increase serotonin levels. Top the cheese with raspberries to appeal to a child’s sweet tooth, as these are rich sources of melatonin, the sleep hormone.
3. A foot massage an hour before bed
A foot massage every night an hour before bedtime can help anxious children feel calm and settled.
4. Fresh air and stimulation
It’s important to make sure children are getting enough fresh air and stimulation during the day. For older children, the main barrier to sleep is anxiety and feeling overtired or hyperactive. Fresh air during the day can do them a world of good as being outdoors and surrounded by nature helps with sleep and relaxation. There’s a stark contrast to how we feel indoors in comparison to outdoors, and it’s about ensuring the balance is right and encouraging children to come out of their internal world.
5. Choose activity time wisely
Where possible, it’s better to get most of your weekend activity done first thing on a Saturday or Sunday. This doesn’t have to be set in stone hour-by-hour, but it could work to cut your day into segments. This will help you to settle children later on as, otherwise, you may struggle to remove them from their friends and the fun.
Boisterous activity and active games are best done in the morning or early afternoon. Activities that relate to quiet time and winding down, such as chatting with family, reading books and doing puzzles require mental engagement rather than physical and are better placed towards the end of the day. These are more conducive for sleep, and are preparing the body for winding down and rest.
6. Cater to your child’s needs
Cater to your child’s individual needs and make sure what you do during the day suits them and their unique personalities. If they’re afraid of scary films, ensure they spend plenty of time outdoors and not in front of the TV or iPad. If your child is highly stimulated, then it’s a good idea to give them more sedentary activities, and if you have a calmer child give them more stimulation, so they gradually become worn out in the morning and tired in the afternoon/early or evening.
7. Communicate with their teachers
Children spend a lot of time at school, and this is the best place for structure and routine. Make sure you’re constantly in contact with their teachers and know what’s going on day to day. Find out what’s happening towards the latter end of the day where possible, so you can then build this into your home life routine. Planning and preparation is key – if a birthday is being celebrated at school, and there are lots of sweets, it’s advisable that you know about this, as ultimately, this could impact how your child sleeps that night.
8. Lie down with children on their bedroom floor
Getting a feel for what a child experiences in their room can be vital to understanding their experiences. Ask yourself if it feels like a calm space, or if there are any objects which may look different at night. For example, your child may have a backpack hung up, which may look scary in the dark – invest in a personalised one, which they can take pride in and helps them to feel unafraid.
9. Create a bedtime box
Put inside the things that children need to feel safe and help them sleep at night. For example, books, favourite toys and pictures of family.
10. Hang up family photos
Place family photos around your child’s bedroom, so if they wake during the night, they’re immediately comforted.