In recent weeks I have received lots of calls and messages about the struggle older children are having in getting a good night’s sleep. It is common that children from 8 to 13 start struggling with their sleep pattern and with the additional anxieties of the last year even more are finding it hard to get into bed and go to sleep. Anxiety, fear of being alone, worry about school, friendships, relatives, and illness can all seem far worse at night (as we find as adults as well).
We all need a good night sleep to help strengthen our cognitive ability, memory, alertness, and overall mood and behaviour and with so many constant changes now it’s even more important that sleep is the one constant in our lives!
Apart from the current obvious reasons there are lots of other reasons why children struggle with Insomnia.
The average age of puberty for girls is between 10 and 12 years of age and boys 12-16 years of age, and it’s at these ages that you will see the biggest changes in their natural sleep rhythms. But of course, lots of children are coming to puberty much earlier too. Melatonin – our sleep hormone – is secreted later at night. This hormone is what signals to the body that it is time to go to sleep. While this may not happen as early as 8 years of age, when the shift does take place it can be biologically impossible for our tweens and teens to fall asleep at an earlier bedtime even if we want them to. It’s important that they have enough sleep but try to be understanding if they say they simply aren’t tired, allow them to rest quietly in bed reading and away from phones, laptops etc, they are at least resting their bodies and they will gradually feel sleepy.
Lack of Routine
Monday to Friday can be full on for all of us and mealtimes and bedtimes can be erratic when trying to fit everything in. This can cause over tiredness and a difficulty in getting to sleep, try and stick to regular mealtimes and bedtimes, even at weekends. Your body clock likes to be regulated and will naturally begin to feel sleepy at a time when you regularly go to bed.
Anxiety and Bedtime Fears
This is one of the most common reasons that children struggle with sleep. Particularly now they are being subjected to so much information, hearing conversations that you would probably have without them around, because we are all at home more, they are trying to cope with online schoolwork and don’t have the regular reassurance that they are doing okay which they might have if they were in school regularly and they are seeing parents and relatives worrying about money, illness, and jobs. Fears are becoming much more realistic and as parents we are finding it harder to brush those fears aside.
So, what CAN you do to help them (and you) get a better, healthier night’s sleep?
Set a bedtime and stick to it, ideally at this age it should be about 8.30pm – 9.30pm, have a regular waking time, however tempting it is to leave them to lie in until lunchtime at the weekend, getting them up at a similar time regulates their body clock. Ban any devices, televisions etc from the bedroom and preferably for an hour before bedtime. Keep things quiet and calm, bath, snack, reading in preparation for sleep. It’s tempting to go out for a walk later now because we can, and we may have been cooped up in the house all day but try to keep exercise to a minimum in the run up to bedtime. Although I encourage you to stay away from tech, audio stories can work well for this age group and your child may enjoy listening to one before he goes to sleep.
If you do have a child that likes a pre bedtime snack make sure it doesn’t contain sugar and avoid caffeine. Bananas are a good snack as they are known to help release serotonin, which can be sleep-inducing.
Keeping their rooms dark and peaceful is a good way of helping your child’s brain understand that it is time to sleep. If your child is anxious try some relaxation techniques. It can be a vicious cycle of stress at bedtime, your child plays up because they know they won’t be able to go to sleep, you are stressed and tired and just want them to get into bed and the conflict starts. Calmness and understanding are needed, explain why they need their sleep, reassure them that you are only in the next room and that everything will seem better after a good night’s sleep. Setting out clear and agreed expectations for a bedtime routine can be helpful, so that you child understands what is expected and what they can and can’t do throughout the night.
We are all different and whilst many of us find reading relaxing and sleep-inducing others find that it stimulates their brain, and they are far from ready to go to sleep. Lots of children find colouring a calming activity and it is often a great time to sit and have a chat with your child while they are some what distracted and find out about their day and any worries they may have.
With older children, keeping a journal is always helpful. They can write down any worries they are having and particularly those children who struggle to verbalise their concerns this can be a great way of communication for the two of you. Sometimes it’s difficult for our children to admit their fears out loud but they want to share them with us. This shared journal can act as that bridge for communication between the two of you.
Sometimes things have gone to far and bedtime can seem like just one more battle in an already overstressed and busy day. It’s sometime easier for our own peace just to let them get on with it and be inclined to think that they will fall asleep eventually when they are tired, but it is more likely that they will just sleep less and less at night, maybe taking naps in the day to help them. We are here to help you get some structure and routine back into bedtime however old you child is, please do get in touch and let us help you if you are struggling.