Tips for Quality Sleep in Children
Whatever a child’s age and the quality of his sleep, there are more delicate periods with awakenings during the night, night terrors, nightmares, etc. This article explains the reasons for a child’s disturbed sleep and possible ways to prevent them.
Child Sleep: causes of disturbance
The child: a cyclical being
The life of the child and the life of adults seek their balance permanently because any life alternates:
– the cycle of birth and growth;
– the cycle of nature, seasons, day and night, moon;
– the female menstrual cycle;
– the cycle of rest and activity;
– sleep-wake cycle, etc.
At six months of life, the child’s sleep is organized. But variations occur even if the child is doing well and growing in a harmonious environment.
The child aged 6 months to 4 years
At this age, the child has difficulty going to bed and wakes up repeatedly during the second half of the night:
– They begin to fear separation because they are more aware of themselves and their surroundings. He may sometimes be afraid to go to sleep, a sign of possible nightmares or hypnagogic hallucinations (the term is explained in the next paragraph).
– The child is calm in his bed, his eyes are open, he plays quietly with his cuddly toy, and goes back to sleep: these night awakenings are part of the sleep of this age and are without problem, except if the child calls his parent and asks for a bottle, a story, a cuddle, therefore if he needs another person to go back to sleep.
– The acquisition of walking, potty training, and language during the second year are unheard-of physical and intellectual performances. The cerebral work is very intense and can cause momentary sleep difficulties (we adults do not always sleep well before an exam or before taking a plane!)
The child between 4 and 12 years old: a calm period
They fall asleep quickly in the evening, and their sleep is deep. Each of his sleep cycles has the same duration as that of an adult, and progressively, he no longer naps, which is compensated by the increase in the time of deep, slow-wave sleep at the beginning of the night, hence the possible appearance of:
– night terrors: in the first 3 hours of the night, the child is agitated, does not recognize his parent, has nausea and sweats, his heart rate is rapid, and he does not remember anything the next day. The child needs to be put back to sleep without being woken up;
– access to sleepwalking;
– enuresis: “nocturnal bladder control”.
These signs are not worrying in this period even if they can impress the parents. They are related to the importance of deep slow wave sleep which does not manage to lighten up, leading to “involuntary, unconscious motor racing”. The child does not keep any memory of it if his parents do not wake him up.
The child also lives :
– periods of imagination with monsters, thieves, war, etc. ;
– deep questioning: life, death, mourning, friendship, God… ;
– the school rhythm; the increasingly intense life with friends;
– the relationship with parents, etc.
Fear of the evening
Nightfall is a time of transition, and it is less easy to manage one’s worries and new and unknown emotions at night rather than during the day: loneliness, cold, fear of the dark, anger, jealousy, first days in the nursery, etc.
Hypnagogic hallucinations around 3 or 4 years of age
From the Greek agôgos, which leads, and hypnos: sleep, these normal illusions, precede or come just after sleep. They have a neurophysiological explanation and exist in everyone. The child is conscious and not very vigilant. He may startle, feel paralysis, or tickle (he thinks of an ant), the shadows in the room may become disturbing, and he may hear noises that he no longer recognizes (the wind, the dishwasher…). Psychically, he is afraid of a monster in the closet, etc. This “dissociation of the body and consciousness from sleep and wakefulness” is distressing.
Tips for quality sleep in children
Balance of the day
If a child has a sleep disorder, it is really important to think about organizing a quiet, calm, and regular rhythm of his days. The inconveniences will disappear after a few nights.
Peaceful bedtime and falling asleep
The quality of the evening ritual is the foundation of balance:
– The happiness of a simple and daily art of living filled with charm: snuggling and curling up in a soft and warm bed, finding the familiar scent of one’s comforter, finding a warm and silent atmosphere, a subdued light, favoring a slow and gradual decrease of ideas. The mind reviews the images experienced, sleep comes in a “cold sensation”, the breath slows down, the muscles relax, the body finds its favorite position.
– Lullaby, music loved and enjoyed, stories, cuddles, confidences/confidences, peace, warmth and affection anchor the quiet and trusting night sleep. A child who loves to sleep, sleeps well, is not afraid to go to bed, and wakes up calm in the morning.
– Offering your child a safe, comforting and intimate nest, where he can share with you a moment of privileged exchange in softness is a simple key to life.
– Identify the best time for your child to fall asleep, which is fairly regular and linked to thermal regulation (the most active intimate clock): his or her evening temperature drops, excitement and vigilance diminish (for some, it is around 6 p.m., but 8 p.m. for others). The child yawns, wants to suck his thumb, to snuggle. Or on the contrary, he is hyper-excited, but this is a sign of fatigue that he is fighting against.
– Swimming, biking, gardening, walking, at the end of the afternoon are precious before a moment of calm relationship with the parents. If your child is still too agitated, a warm bath or cool water on his face can be soothing.
– Do not threaten your child to go to bed, do not put him in his bed to “calm him down”: any blackmail is a power grab, and a sign of ignorance of his deep physiological rhythms. On the other hand, a quiet firmness calms the child and contains him, because for him, having no limits is very destabilizing.
– After a moment of sorrow or anger, it is better to try to understand together why, and to discover the emotions and desires that are hidden.
– Talking to your child in a real way reassures and soothes him: tell him if you have to go away for the evening. Explain to him his return to the nursery or to school.
– When faced with evening fears, reassurance is vital by explaining to the child what is happening and how to get through it: the child needs to be listened to, heard, and to feel understood.
Good to know: delaying sleep or prematurely depriving your child of a nap can lead to a difficult sleep or night terrors and complicate the next day. Therefore, inventing a simple rhythm for your child is really offering him the pleasure of sleeping.