Getting Children to Sleep

By: Dr. Noel Swanson


In order for us to get restful sleep, we need to be relaxed. In order to relax, a number of things have to happen. First of all, we need to feel safe and secure. Obviously, if there is tension in the house - abuse, parents rowing, problems with finances or neighbours, or else problems at school or with friends, it will be much harder to relax and fall asleep.

We also need to feel secure and safe in the bed. Some children with sensory integration difficulties, such as problems with touch sensitivity, body position sense (proprioception), or gravitational insecurity may find lying down on a high bed difficult. Such children may be helped by having heavy blankets that help them to feel more grounded.

People have a need to feel cozy and safe in their beds. Unfortunately, some children experience sensory integration trouble. This means they may have sensitivity to touch, proprioception, which is body position sense, or gravitational insecurity. That means if their beds are high, they will have trouble sleeping due to that sensitivity. Sometimes putting heavy blankets on them help them to feel more grounded.

All of this can be helped by setting up the environment well, and also by developing a regular routine so that the body learns the signals that tell it that it is time to slow down for some sleep. Here are some suggestions:

Some ways to help sleep come more easily, are keeping to a set routine and creating a comfortable environment. Following these suggestions help our bodies pick up signals letting it know that it's time to slow down and go to sleep. Here are some helpful ideas for getting there:

Have your child take a nice warm bath and maybe drink some warm milk. His or her body will start to relax and the metabolism will slow. Warm water allows the body to stop the work of keeping itself warm. The bath will also ease tension in all of the muscle groups. Warm milk has Tryptophan in it. Tryptophan is an amino acid that is a natural sedative. Drinking the milk will also help your child to wind down. It goes without saying that they shouldn't be drinking anything with caffeine. This includes Coke or Pepsi, and other soft drinks, as well as coffee or tea. Also around bedtime they should be engaging in quiet activities, not worrying about homework or playing an active computer game.

Relaxing music. Unlike the eyes, we cannot close our ears. The sounds and noises of our environment are constantly entering into our system. Most of them tend to wake us up and increase stress. This is particularly true of sudden and unexpected noises, such as a dog barking, a fox howling, of a heavy lorry passing by. While we cannot shut our ears, we can modify the sounds around us. First of all is to make the room as quiet as possible. Often there is not much that you can do about this, but certainly heavy curtains, double glazing, and closed doors can all help.

Secondly, we can introduce sounds that help to shut out the wrong noises, and that also help us to relax. White noise, such as that produced by a fan or a humidifier does help to drown out the lorries and the barking dogs. So does a radio playing quietly in the background. Unfortunately, these sounds in themselves tend to be arousing and stressful rather than relaxing. This is to do with two factors: pitch and beat. High frequencies sounds are energising, whilst low frequencies are relaxing. White noise is fairly high frequency, as is most music played on the radio - especially if played through a cheaper system with a poor bass response. Also, most popular music has a fast beat. Disco music is the most obvious example of this. No doubt at times you have found yourself tapping or nodding in time with the beat of some catchy music. This is called "entrainment", and describe the fact that our bodies like to align themselves with the rhythms around us. Our heart rates do the same - in general, as you listen to fast music or a fast beat (such as with rap music), your heart rate will speed up; when you listen to slow music, it slows down.

For sleep, we need to listen to low pitched sounds with a slow rhythm. We should try for a beat of 50 to 60 Hz, the rate or our resting hearts. Where do we find these sounds? Some classical music and some nature sounds qualify. I recommend recordings made specially for relaxation. Some of the best are made by Steven Halpern. The Sound Health Series CDs, called "Relax" and "De-Stress" are great. Play them quietly as background noise to drown out the dogs and to create a peaceful environment in the child's bedroom. If he wakes often during the night, consider playing continuous-play CD.

Our bodies are also greatly affected by light and colour. Supermarkets and football teams are well aware of this. The stores use blue/green tinted bulbs in their produce sections to make the vegetables appear greener and fresher. They use red tinged lights at the meat counters. They use these techniques subtly but effectively. They also are particular when designing product packaging, so that you will be stimulated to buy. They keep the lights bright and the "muzak" playing. They do this so you will feel happy and right at home, causing you to stay longer and spend more. Think about this in relation to some of the dingier shops, and you will understand their strategy. Sometimes football clubs will paint the home team changing rooms in red, to spur the players to action; and the visiting team's room blue, which is calming.

We've learned how sensitive we are to frequencies, rhythms and sounds. Our bodies also react to colour and light. Supermarkets use this to their advantage by lighting the vegetable sections with blue/ green tinged bulbs. The vegetables appear greener and fresher. Note the use of red tinted lights at the meat counter. It's a subtle but effective technique. Packaging is also carefully planned as to colour and design, with the motive of making it appealing enough to buy. The rest of the store is brightly lit and has music playing. Do you feel comfortable and happy? This is the goal, so if you feel these things they have been successful. The more time you spend in this environment, the more money you will spend. Think about some dark and dreary shops that you've seen. You didn't feel so enthusiastic did you? Using the same principles, football clubs paint the changing rooms in psychologically chosen colours. The home team changes in a red room to arouse them into action, while the away team has a blue room to relax and quiet them into lethargy.

Think about the colour spectrum. Blue is meant for us to feel serene, green harmonious and peaceful, while pink signals warmth and feeling cozy. These quiet colours are perfect for bedrooms. Be careful with the blues and greens however, as they can also feel cold. Using yellows, reds and other lively colours in a bedroom, isn't a good idea. Even though the effects are subtle, they may get our blood flowing and keep us from sleep. These effects are usually subconscious but that doesn't make them any less real.

Be sure to consider lighting when you design a bedroom. Bright, blue or cold lights tend to wake us up. An example of these are the fluorescents. That's because they imitate the early morning sun. At twilight the sky has the warm colours of orange and red. The most relaxing lights for nighttime come from low wattage bulbs, candles, oil lamps or a nice fire. If you add these lights to pink furniture, soft and slow music, the waves on the beach you get the picture.

Of course it may not be safe to have a candle, oil lamp or open fire in your child's bedroom! So how can we get around this? One option is to use the electrical bulbs that simulate a flickering flame. The other is to use speciality lamps such as fibre optic lamps that produce a low level of light, that gradually changes from one colour to another. They may not flicker at 7 Hz, but the slow and gentle changes are themselves relaxing, as are the colour changes, provided they are not too bright. Other children prefer to simply have a dark room with no lights on. Certainly it pays to have thick curtains that screen out the late night and early morning light of the summer sun.

Since it's pretty unlikely that a parent would wish to put candles or oil lamps in a child's room, there are other options to consider. You can find fiber optic lamps that are very relaxing, even if they don't flicker as low as 7 Hz. They do, however, change colour slowly and the level of light is very low. The changing colours and soft light are so calming that they should be very helpful in getting your child off to sleep. Also available are lights that flicker so as to resemble a small flame. There are some children who prefer to sleep in a totally darkened room. If this is the case in your family, consider the heavy curtains that block twilight and early morning sun.

Were you aware that our sense of smell is the most primitive of all our senses? It's true. You can most likely think of occasions when there was some scent in the air, even momentarily, that reminded you of something from your past. The experience can be quite emotional. Following that idea, it stands to reason that some aromas will enable us to fall asleep faster, and get a better rest during the night. There are several essential oils that serve that purpose specifically: mandarin, chamomile roman, lavender and palma rosa are among them. Others that are safe for children older than five are neroli, geranium and nutmeg. Combine these for your child with mandarin, chamomile and palma rosa. Mixtures including chamomile, geranium and nutmeg are considered to be the most effective. You may need to do some experimenting to find the best combination, but remember to be moderate with your mixtures. Ways to use them are in the bath water, rubbed on skin (add massage oil), or added to humidifier water. These subtle aromas can be most effective relaxation techniques.

Not having some fresh air to breathe at night can be interrupting to sleep. Think about opening a window, even if it's just a tiny bit. Too many people close all the windows and leave the heat running at night. Not only does it get close and too warm, lack of humidity dries out nasal passages. When we are uncomfortable, especially when it comes to breathing, we tend to sleep poorly and awaken often.

There are three possibilities for improving humidity in the bedroom. First, consider turning the heat down and covering your child with more blankets. This also serves the purpose of helping him to feel grounded. Second, you may want to use a humidifier. They can actually fulfill two purposes; creating both moisture and white noise. The third option is to lay a wet flannel or towel over the radiator. If you add a small amount of essential oils, the child also receives the benefit of a soothing aroma.

There must be millions of ways to help your child sleep. Experiment until you find what works best in your home. What about you, the parent? How often are you exhausted and long for sleep? Do you find yourself wishing for a nap before the kids come home? You might be stuck in a nineteenth century myth about sleep. Look at this website to find out some things about sleep that will amaze you, and change your life.

I wish you peaceful nights and happy dreams.

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Dr. Noel Swanson runs a fascinating website on parenting", so if you could do with some tips for dealing with your children it might be worth a visit.
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