5 top tips for getting your kids to sleep better (that the grown-ups should follow too)
By Dr Nerina Ramlakhan
The thorny issue of sleep deprivation and parenthood! The truth is, some children (and adults) are naturally good sleepers while others are what I call sensitive sleepers, those who need a little extra encouragement to snooze well. Most kids fall somewhere between the two extremes. It’s really important to get them into healthy habits and good routines to lay the foundations for a good night’s rest. The same goes for us adults, too, so here are some tips that will help to improve sleep quality for you and your little ones.
1 Set a routine
Night time rituals really help us to let go of the day. For kids, the bath, story, cuddle is a time-honoured way to help them settle. Definitely have an electronic sundown for an hour or two before you begin their bedtime routine. The same goes for you! The most unhelpful evening rituals include checking your inbox and watching the news – they certainly don’t create a feeling of inner safety and calm! For parents, healthy rituals could include simply slowing down and taking your time as you clean your teeth or take your make up off. You also might like to do things like light a candle and write a gratitude journal, read an uplifting book or meditate. Children can try simple meditations, too. Teach your child this beautiful technique by saying it out loud to them and getting them to silently repeat it to themselves:
I love my right foot
I love my right big toe
I love my right little toe
I love all the toes of my right foot
I love the top of my right foot
I love the bottom of my right foot
I love my right ankle
I love my left foot
And so on…..
Tell them that they will start to fall asleep and lose the meditation and that as soon as this happens they have to go back to the starting point. It will probably make them giggle – but that’s not such a bad thing is it?
2 Read the Best Bedtime Stories
We sleep well when we feel safe and by this I mean an inner feeling of safety. When we feel inner safety our nervous system is settled and we feel confident and happy. For children to sleep well they especially need to feel safe and peaceful before they go to bed. A carefully crafted story which has just the right words, rhythm and sound can induce a powerful sense of inner safety for children. For adults, reading is also a lovely bedtime routine to help you wind down before sleep – make sure you select your reading wisely though, nothing too hard-hitting or disturbing, and definitely nothing work related.
3 Stop measuring
Contrary to popular belief, it’s completely normal to wake during the night. What isn’t normal is to obsess about it! So, try to not add up all the hours of sleep you and your little ones are or aren’t getting – it’ll only cause more stress, which will of course negatively impact on your sleep. Focus on resting instead.
4 Eat sleep-inducing foods
To get good ZZZs, we need a healthy balance of the naturally produced sleep-inducing hormones serotonin and melatonin in our systems. Adequate amounts of vitamin B6 and tryptophan are required to boost these hormone levels. Foods high in tryptophan include beans, lentils, soybeans, nuts (especially walnuts and cashews), spinach, whole grains, and poultry. Vitamin B6-rich foods include lean meat, fish, pistachios, apricots, raisins, spinach, spinach, broccoli, asparagus, and sweet potatoes. Also, high potassium and magnesium foods help relax muscles for better sleep. Whole grains, nuts and seeds, and dark green leafy vegetables all contain lots of magnesium. While potassium is found in bananas, oranges, potatoes, apricots, yogurt, and milk. It’s important to include adequate amounts of protein with carbs to stabilise blood-sugar levels. Also, make sure they and you drink plenty of water – we all need to be well hydrated for our sleep biochemistry to function well.
5 Focus on gratitude
This is one of my favourite techniques for helping little ones to get to sleep if they are upset – it works beautifully with adults too. Get them comfy in bed and then ask them to think of as many nice things that happened in their day as possible and how it made them feel. This last question is key – how did it make you feel? And where did it feel good in your body? They might need some initial prompting and will then often say – it felt good in my tummy or in my chest. Gently prompt them to recapture that feeling in their body maybe by placing their hand on their belly or chest and breathing into that spot.
Dr Nerina Ramlakhan has worked as a professional physiologist and sleep expert for 25 years. As a former insomniac, Nerina combines her professional experience with academic and personal insights, and believes sleep problems are not simply about sleep, but rather about how we deal with life and its inevitable challenges.
Nerina is author of Tired But Wired (Souvenir Press, 2010), Fast Asleep, Wide Awake (Thorsons, 2016), and The Little Book of Sleep: The Art of Natural Sleep (Gaia, 2018) and her work has been featured in The Times, Telegraph, Guardian, New Scientist, Psychologies, Red and Healthy Living magazines. She has also appeared on numerous national TV and radio programmes including This Morning, Jamie and Jimmy’s Friday Night Feast, Sky News and BBC Radio 2. Dr Nerina is also a Stylist editorial contributor and gives her expert opinion for the Stylist Sleep Diaries, an ongoing weekly feature where readers can record their routines and receive her expert advice on their lifestyle and bedtime routines.
Nerina enjoys yoga, meditation, running and cycling and has completed 7 marathons and several iron man triathlons. She has a sixteen-year-old daughter and lives in London.