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Is your child struggling to sleep more than usual at the moment?

Posted 28th July 2020

Although things are starting to move on in terms of “getting back to normal”, many of the things in your child’s life will still not be back to how they usually are.  Your child may barely have been in school at all, and if they have then routines are likely to have been very different to usual; many other activities are still “on hold”.  When children’s schedules are disrupted and where the coronavirus topic might be hard to digest, optimising sleep can be especially challenging.

Child awake

The predictability of routine can give children a sense of control and safety, allowing them to thrive. Without a structure, children can feel unsettled and the risk for them to become anxious or worry can increase. Without their usual coping strategies in place, the impact of anxiety cannot only affect a sense of well-being during the daytime, but may also increase sleep problems at night time.

We all know that without enough sleep, functioning is impaired. As parents, insufficient sleep can lead us to have low energy – whilst for our children, lack of sleep may often have the opposite effect, leading our children to become more hyperactive. It can affect their attention and concentration making it hard to complete tasks & activities. Sleep deprived children may become more irritable, frustrated and argumentative and severely test the patience of their parents / carers. So, a good night’s sleep is crucial in helping to improve a child’s mood, behaviour and focus.

Tips for helping children settle and sleep better:

  • Establish a regular bedtime routine, even on weekends.
  • Turn off electronic devices at least one hour before bedtime. Exposure to light on computers such as playing games can contribute to making falling asleep difficult and upset the routine.
  • Create a soothing bedtime environment that is also cool and dark or dimly lit.
  • Set a consistent wake up time for the family on weekdays and weekends.
  • Consider using audio books or guided meditations to help your child start to feel more sleepy

The transition to sleep can be a delicate time for young children as it involves separation from parents. It is natural for worries to surface especially during such unnatural circumstances. Children will be aware of what is going on and may also be picking up on extra stress’s parents may be experiencing. A child might come into your bedroom at these times, to seek comfort. Allowing this for a few nights can help to re-regulate them. But beyond this, it could be habit-forming and may undermine their growing independence. Try to make time during the day to listen to what might be on their minds or to give them reassurance. Acknowledge your own fears too. A child seeing a parent controlling themselves in a measured way can be helpful and an important part of their growing development.

Further tips for helping children rest their bodies and minds, particularly during such stressful times:

  • Look for signs of stress in your children during the daytime and take time to listen to what might be on their minds
  • Before you start the bedtime routine, notice your own stress levels & try to find a way to “park” your own stresses in order to focus on your child, making sure you come back to these later & seek out help for yourself
  • Be careful not to let your children watch or listen to unsettling news; but if they do hear something on the news or from other children, take time to talk this through & help them to manage their anxieties
  • Include together-time in your bedtime routine. For most children, cuddling & being close feels comforting
  • Take care of yourself. Your own state of mind is going to have a huge impact on your children, so taking care of yourself is one of the most helpful things you can do for your children as well.  Can you build in some time each day to do some of the things that help you to relax?

If you are wanting more support & help with your children’s anxieties & sleep difficulties, do seek out further help.  This might be from your GP, practice nurse or via your child’s school – The Bridge Foundation has counsellors & therapists in many schools in Bristol, or there may be someone else within the school who can help or offer advice.  The Bridge Foundation also has a fee-paying service that is available throughout the school holidays & all year round – give us a call on 0117 9424510 if you’d like to arrange either a consultation for you as parents / carers, or if you’d like to find out about counselling or therapy for your child.

Child asleep