The lives and routines have changed dramatically for everyone in these unprecedented times, with anxiety rising significantly – especially for children. These anxieties present themselves in many different ways including difficulties around bedtime and getting to sleep.
We have put together some helpful tips and ideas to help bedtime to become easier and calmer for all.
Keeping a consistent bedtime
Children are creatures of routine. If they don’t know when bedtime may be from day to day, their anxiety can naturally build. This may display itself as bedtime refusal, erraticness, tearryness or aggression.
Routine is especially important at this time. Keeping a loose structure to each day will help keep things organised and lead up to a set pattern and time for bedtime.
Avoid sugary treats
Avoiding sugary treats at least 2 hours before bed is ideal, as sugar and processed sweet foods will cause an initial burst in energy followed by a slump in both energy and mood. This may make it harder to go to bed if they are feeling low.
A warm bath is a great pre-bedtime routine. The use of essential oils and Epsom salts can help relax muscles and calm the body. Try not to make bath time too exciting with lots of play. Instead make it a calming environment for the body and mind.
At some point during the day – perhaps after dinner – the whole family can reflect on their day, discussing both what went well and what could have been better for each person. Remember we all have things that could have gone better. It’s important that our children see where our challenges are too, it will help model resilience and regulation tools.
Often anxious children feel like they need to know the exact plan of the day before they can relax. Write the plan down with them so they can see it and process it and understand how each day will be organised.
The child’s bedroom
A child’s bedroom needs to be a relaxing environment at bedtime, with toys put away wherever possible so they are not becoming overstimulated. Limiting light in the room will help encourage sleep. If your child is happy in the dark, avoid any lights at all. If they do need a light to feel safe, try to keep it to a small night light or hall light. There are many projectors that are calming, such as star constellations and rainbows – they provide light and something relaxing to look at. Our bodies need darkness to send us to sleep. If the child is an early riser, a black out blind on their bedroom window might help them stay asleep for a little longer. Monitor the temperature of their room/the house. Feeling too hot or too cold can cause restlessness and an inability to switch off.
Avoid screens at bedtime
The blue light behind all tablets, TVs and laptop screens tricks our brain into thinking it’s daylight and can actually keep us awake. Avoid scary TV shows, including the news or videos, or stories that may add to your child’s fears. Try instead getting your child to do some quiet reading or listen to a story or audiobook. BorrowBox the free library app, has 100s of audiobooks to choose from. If stories are not an option, listening to calm quiet music with no lyrics may help them drift off. There are many apps that have sounds you can have your child listen to as background noise to help them drift off to sleep including nature sounds and soothing music. Others have sleep scripts as part of the app as well. Try out a few and see what works best for your child.
Many adults and children that suffer with anxiety benefit from deep pressure therapy. There are many ways you can offer this to your child at bedtime to help relieve anxiety and relax their body. Your pet dog could lie on them for a few minutes or you could tuck them in tight, almost swaddling them like a baby. You may already have a weighted blanket, these are blankets specially weighted with glass beads that provide exactly the right amount of pressure to relieve anxiety.
Being physically active during the day can help children go to sleep so they feel naturally tired by bedtime.
If your child wakes up during the night and can’t go back to sleep because they are worried, go and reassure them that they are safe . If they leave their room and come into yours, take them back to their room and put them back into bed. Tell them again that they are safe.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
PMR is a systematic way of going through all your muscle groups to tense and relax the muscles. Get your child to lie down with their eyes closed and then ask them to tighten and relax all of the muscles of their body, one after the other, starting at the top of their body and going all the way down to their feet. Some children find it helps to do these muscle exercises whilst thinking about their favourite relaxing place.
If your child struggles to separate from you, try a transitional object such as a teddy or an item of your clothing. This is a special item that helps your child feel comforted. It helps them feel like a part of you is still present even when you’re not there.
Certain yoga poses are helpful for calming your body down and getting ready for rest at night. Try getting your child to lay down on their back with their legs perpendicular up against a wall. Have them put their arms out to their sides. Encourage them to do some deep breathing as they lay like this. If it’s possible, have them do this pose in their bed, so it’s easier to transition them to laying in bed for sleep. Bedtimes can be incredibly challenging for parents when our children are not settling, it is important to remember to try to stay outwardly calm ourselves as challenging as that may be throughout the routines. Children mirror our behaviour, if we are calm it helps them to be calm and relaxed and have a peaceful night’s sleep.