IN the last piece I spoke about how dietary changes can help your little one be less hyperactive. For this piece I would like to outline useful strategies for helping them fall asleep easier and more soundly. For my son Amari, we have struggled with his sleeping habits for a few years now; getting him to sleep can be challenging. Also, there are times he wakes up and will not go back to sleep. This results in him being sleepy and irritable at school. Since January I have set out to create better sleep strategies for Amari.
1. EVENING SCHEDULE
Creating and maintaining an evening schedule will go a far way in helping you get your child to bed. A routine in the evening means your child will eventually adapt to the patterns set, adjust to the schedule and eventually anticipate bed time. This means purposefully setting time limits for the different activities your child engages in the evenings and keeping to them. It is highly recommended that this be done on weekends as well. Start winding him down as the evening progresses by minimising the activities he may be engaged in. This includes not having him engage in overstimulating activities at least three hours before bedtime.
2. SCREEN TIME
In this tech age children, like adults, enjoy the access tablets provide, and I do know how easy it is to have them engaged on the tablet especially if the activity is an educational one or for the simple fact that it keeps them relatively still for the time they are on it. However, many studies show that excessive screen time can affect the level of hyperactivity a child displays. The light on the tablet, the graphics, and exposure to the constant feeding of information, can affect a child’s hyperactivity. This also includes TV screen time. As such, it is recommended that children have limited tablet time in the evenings with a set schedule. Engage them in other activities between tablet time and bedtime such as reading, colouring, or playing with toys that do not overstimulate.
3. ESSENTIAL OILS
Essential oils are also believed to help naturally calm and decrease your child’s hyperactivity. There are several such oils, the most common being lavender. Such oils can be used in combination with lotion, in their bath water, few dabs on their pillow, or in a diffuser as I have been doing. Adding drops of essential oils in a diffuser filled with water emits essential oils in the air and helps to lull your little one to sleep. I have only tried lavender but will be trying a combination of other essential oils soon. My research has shown that a diffuser is better than a humidifier at emitting essential oils. Diffusers are on Amazon between US$20-$40.
4. MUSIC AND WHITE NOISE
Studies show that white noise (which sounds similar to a tv or radio without signal, a fan going, or rushing waterfalls), can help make one sleep more soundly. White noise is the signal or frequency created when all the different frequencies of audible sound that the human ear and brain can perceive are put together at a similar level, between 20 and 20,000 HZ. This is believed to overload the ears with sound so you are not able to pick out the other sounds that would normally disturb you. White noise will therefore satisfy your brain’s need for stimulation and prevent it from getting overexcited when it hears sudden noise in the night, thereby helping you to sleep more soundly. Lullabies can also help even with an older child like mine. White noise solutions and lullabies can be found on YouTube or in your app stores.
Melatonin is a natural hormone made by your body’s pineal gland, located just above the middle of the brain. When the sun goes down and darkness occurs, the pineal is “turned on” and the body begins to actively produce melatonin, which is released into the blood. As a result, melatonin levels in the blood rise sharply and you begin to feel less alert and sleep becomes more inviting. Melatonin levels in the blood stay elevated through the night. Some people have very low melatonin levels at night which make it very difficult to fall or stay asleep and they may opt for melatonin supplements to assist. This may be an option for your child with insomnia challenges. We have recently started Amari, after discussions with his doctor. Melatonin can be bought over the counter but must be used under the supervision of a doctor.
6. CHAMOMILE TEA
This is a natural herb that is believed to soothe the nervous system and helps one to sleep better. I brew it, allow it to cool to a warm temperature, and give to Amari an hour before bed.
I have found that allowing my son to self-soothe has helped to keep him asleep. By self-soothing, I mean allowing him to put himself to bed without input from me. Amari has always slept in his crib, then bed; I thought this was enough to make him an independent sleeper. What I hadn’t realised was that although I would allow him to sleep by himself, I was too involved in him falling asleep with my own lullabies, cuddles and back rubs. This I am now realising does not make for a good sleep hygeine. An independent sleeper will more likely have a better sleep hygiene and it makes it easier for them to go back to sleep if they awaken in the middle of the night. I am now practising this with Amari.
We have used a combination of all the strategies outlined with some success. I’m not sure which has been more effective and we are still attempting to improve it further. I do hope this information has been useful. Please feel free to share via e-mail strategies you may have successfully benefited from.
Sara, mom to seven-year-old Amari, is an advocate for children with developmental delays. Amari was born three months early at one pound, and was hospitalised for three-and-a-half months after birth. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.