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Supporting sleep video transcript

In this video, we’re going to be looking at some behavioral approaches to help your child develop good sleep habits, fall asleep quickly at night, and stay asleep for the duration.

Let’s start by thinking about how we sleep during the night.

When we’re asleep, we are moving through different sleep cycles, through different stages of sleep. Each cycle takes approximately 1 to 1 and a half hours or slightly less for a child, approximately 45 minutes to an hour. Each cycle takes us from being momentarily awake, falling into a lighter REM sleep and then into our deepest sleep from which it’s hard to wake up from.

It’s important that we have elements of all of the different stages of sleep during REM sleep. We are dreaming and processing our thoughts, whereas in the deepest sleeps, our bodies are healing, recovering and growing. If we think about our children during the night, it’s perfectly normal for children to have periods of very light sleep or to wake frequently as they move through the different sleep cycles. It’s very important, therefore, that children are able to settle themselves back to sleep from these periods of wakening. That’s how I think about daytime naps for very young children.

Daytime naps are very important. Children who are sleep deprived will find it much harder to settle, to sleep at night and will actually sleep for less time during the nights as well, try to get your child to nap in their cots or their bed so that they become used to associating sleep with a particular place and safe space. Try time out between their naps, if they are having a morning and an afternoon, that makes sure there is a good period of time between the tune-ups for children. As we’ve just discussed a sleep cycle lasts for around 45 minutes. So for your child to get the full benefit of a nap, they should be encouraged to sleep for at least one full sleep cycle.

There are some foods which are thought to help children produce the melatonin needed to fall asleep quickly and to stay asleep at night, the research is limited in this area, but some of them are things. Almonds may be worth the try as they’re said to contain magnesium, which may aid muscle relaxation and help children to feel calm at night. Again, bananas contain magnesium. They also contain potassium. Both of which can aid muscle relaxation. Dairy products, including cheese, milk and yogurt are also thought to help children settle asleep quicker at night. Porridge and oats can help to keep tummies full and stop children waking for food during the night. And some recent evidence says that these help to naturally boost the body’s supply of melatonin. Now cherries are quite expensive and not all children like them. Cherry juice would be a good alternative.

There are also some food products, which are worth avoiding. Anything that contains caffeine, chocolate, sugar, fizzy drinks, or cordials, particularly black current, as they can have an effect of stopping your child falling to sleep quickly before considering a behavioral approach to sleep with your child.

It’s worth running through a checklist and making sure that there is nothing obvious that is stopping our child from either falling asleep or staying asleep for the duration of the night, check that they’re not hungry or thirsty check that they’re not ill or in pain. This may include teething or growing pains, check that your child is not wet or soiled during the night. Consider whether or not they’re too tired to settle themselves to sleep or whether or not they are having adequate naps. You will also want to consider whether or not your child can fall asleep on their own or whether or not during those periods of waking in the nights, they are looking for reassurance and support to get back to sleep in the bedroom.

Check that the temperature is not too hot or too cold for your child and that your child feels comfortable. This may include thinking about the material of their pajamas or the weight of the cover that’s on top of them, particularly for children with sensory processing difficulties, who might find some clothing and blankets itchy or uncomfortable. Make sure the room is dark and it possibly has blackout blinds, quiet and free from distractions for some children. This may mean taking their toys out of the room at bedtime so that they are not distracted by them.

Okay. So thinking about a behavioral approach to sleep is really important to encourage your child, to be able to self settle themselves. In order to do this, they need to be put into that cot while they are still awake. They may be drowsy and on the verge of falling asleep, but they need to still be awake so that they are able to develop that skill of settling themselves, say good night, and then leave the room. Withdraw eye-contact once you’ve said good night and consider using a set phrase, such as it’s nighttime, go to sleep, or, good night, go to sleep and use this in response toany requests or attempts to talk to you or ask for a drink or a snack. This way, the child will know that it is bedtime and that it is time to fall asleep.

Stick to a good bedtime routine so that your child knows what’s coming. We’ll have a think about bedtime routines in a moment. Avoid any stimulating activities before bed like computer games. It’s also important to avoid exercise in the run up to bedtime. Although activities like jumping on a trampoline, going for a walk or rough and tumble in the front room may seem to tire your child out. They can actually have the opposite effect and can be over stimulating and stop children being ready to settle to sleep.

If you’re already in the habit of staying with your child until they fall asleep, don’t worry. It is still possible to encourage self settling. You could try gradually withdrawing from their room. Perhaps start a meter away from them for a few nights, until they are able to settle, then move further away for the next few nights, until they are able to settle there. Repeat this process until you are outside of their room and they’re self settling without you there.

So many children, even though children who are able to settle themselves at the beginning of the night, have trouble with getting back to sleep. When they wake in the night as a family, you need to decide what is an acceptable time for starting your day. Any time your child wakes prior to this should then be treated as a night wakening. If your child does wake at night would send them to their cot or their bed. Try not to give them contact or engage in conversation, keep the light’s dim so that they know it’s still nighttime. You could you repeat your set phrase from bedtime? It’s nighttime, go to sleep. If your child is waking for feeds, they seem ill or uncomfortable. I would seek medical advice from your health professional or GP.

Let’s have a think now about sleep associations. Sleep associations, refer to any conditions that your child learns to need in order to fall asleep at bedtime, these same sleep associations are then needed in order to fall back to sleep. During the night when your child wakes in the night, they might find it difficult to get back to sleep without this association. And you need to consider this when establishing a bedtime routine. For example, if your child goes to sleep with a piece of music playing or a mobile to watch, and they wake up in the night naturally during their sleep cycles and the music or the mobile is not there, they may not be able to self-settle themselves without it. Examples of sleep associations include mobiles like projectors and lullabies. It may also include physical touch rocking, paddling, or patting and cuddling your child until they fall asleep. It could also include dummies, pacifiers or bottles of milk.

Okay. Let’s think about establishing a good bedtime routine. Bedtime routine should start approximately an hour before you want your child to be in bed. So decide on a bedtime and work backwards from that. A good bedtime routine might include quiet activities, such as listening to some calm music, sharing stories, having a massage, a bath, or engaging in some quiet activities, such as jigsaws or coloring in. Try to be consistent with the length of time spent on the activities and the order in which the activities take place. If your child knows what to expect and knows that this will be leading up to bedtime once your child is in their room or upstairs, for example, for a story, they shouldn’t go back to the living room downstairs. It’s worth considering a bedtime routine in light of your own child’s needs. For example, for some children, a bath could be too stimulating and not an adequate thing to put in a bedtime routine.

In this video, we’ve just touched on some of the behavioral approaches to sleep. And I hope it’s given you a few ideas to try at home. If you need any further support the Leeds Mencap family support team would be more than happy to help talk things through with you. The Sleep Charity have some great resources and a helpline. If you want more information or some support for your family, Scope run a course called sleep right, which you can self-refer to and they also have lots of resources on their website. If you’re really struggling with your, your child’s sleep, speak to your GP, health visitor, or the health professionals involved in your care as well. Thank you for listening.

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