Learning to sleep has lifelong benefits

It's important for all parents to realise that quality sleep is essential for their children's mental and physical growth and development ~ and that helping them acquire sound sleep habits from the earliest possible age will benefit their health, wellbeing and happiness for life.

Remember that achieving 'good sleep' in sufficient amounts is a skill that all children must learn ~ and not something they're actually born with. So it's necessary to be their teacher; and do your best to pass on all you know.

  • The first (and major one) is that it results in the release of the growth hormone that encourages normal development of their body.
  • It aids with their brain function and ability to concentrate. Making them better able to process and make sense of all that they are learning at school and experiencing daily.
  • Good sleep has 'de-toxifying' effects that help with brain development and promote emotional and mental health.

What can result from little or poor long term sleep?

With the stresses and pressures of modern day life contributing to a trend of decreased sleep time, parents need to be alert to the potential this has to lead to long-term harm. There is now growing evidence that points to the damage caused to children and young adults from not getting enough sleep ~ ranging from:

  • Weight gain
  • Depression
  • Diminished concentration
  • Lower levels of creative ability
  • Reduced immunity to combat illness and disease

Developing your knowledge of what helps to nurture good sleep habits is the best method of preventing 'lack of sleep' problems from becoming a nightmare. Here are some great ideas:

1. Create a regular bedtime pattern

We all know how 'cranky' overtired kids can become. But if you've established a regular bedtime routine they enjoy, getting them to settle is usually a lot less difficult.

For 'little ones', the order may be that they have tea, a quiet play and a bedtime story before 'hitting the sack'. But whatever pattern you put into place, try to ensure that it's around the same time each night ~ especially on school days. On weekends, you can afford to be a little more flexible ~ particularly with older children who have well established sleep patterns.

Once in bed, it's okay to allow your children play or read for a short while until they're ready to nod off. As adults, we don't go to sleep the moment we climb between the sheets ~ so really, we shouldn't expect it of our kids either.


2. A good quality mattress is a must

One of the biggest mistakes a parent can make is to think they can 'hand down' a well-worn, old mattress from child to child. Investing in a new bed with a supportive 'back care' mattress is a must that is worth every cent; and simply more conducive to the quality of sleep that kids need.

Recent research shows that toddlers can grow by as much as 1.5cm overnight; and even in their late teens, most children are still sprouting up. So it's just as important for a six year old as it is a 16 year old to have a quality sleep surface that's the right size with the right body support.


3. Removing stimulants enhances rest

Like a Teddy Bear itself, creating a restful and relaxing kids' bedroom environment helps young children to sleep better. But allowing electronic stimulants into bedrooms only serves to keep them awake. So wherever possible, avoid the trap of making TVs, computers and other gadgetry a part of your kids' bedroom furniture. If your children have a mobile phone, this temptation should also be removed from their sleeping quarters each night ~ so it's out of sight and out of mind.


4. Asthmatics should never sleep with the enemy

If you have a child who suffers from asthma, you may find that their coughing or wheezing worsens at night ~ and often gives them trouble sleeping. An all too common reason is that that they're sleeping on a mattress covered with the enemy ~ the droppings of dust mites. So you should make every effort to eradicate this potential problem.

Here, proper care and replacement of beds and bedding is critical: and using special protective, washable bed and pillow covers and regularly changing bed linen may also assist ~ as will regular airing and vacuuming.

Should sleep problems persist, it's also worth checking with your GP as to the correct use of your child's inhaler overnight.

NB: A mattress and bedding with hypo-allergenic fillings (ie. without known irritants like feathers or hair) may be necessary to provide the best and most effective relief from asthma, eczema or rhinitis.


Making the move from cot to bed

The exact age a child is ready to move out of a cot and into a bed varies ~ but usually it's somewhere between 18 months and 3 years.

Most often, these toddlers won't be ready to cope with the overwhelming expanse of an adult-sized bed. So as an interim measure, it's usually wise to bridge the gap with a cot bed or smaller-scale starter bed that still allows them to feel snug and cosy.

(NB: A 'cot bed' is essentially just a large cot with sides you can remove later to convert it into a bed).

The importance of buying a quality mattress that provides 'littlies' with the correct support for their growing bones and muscles cannot be overstated. It needs to be designed to hold their tiny spines in correct orthopaedic alignment; and have just the right comfort layers to cradle every curve of their body.

NB: Suitable mattress types include foam or sprung. But mattresses made with 'memory foam' are normally not recommended for very young children.


5. Important Tips for Taking care of your child's bed

  • As a rule of thumb, all sprung mattresses (except those described as non-turn) should be flipped over each week for the first month of use; and after this, turned every three months (or according the manufacturers' instructions).
  • Make a point of putting freshly washed protective covers on the mattress and the pillows every few months ~ and regularly vacuum the mattress and base to remove dust and fluff.
  • Try to avoid sitting on the edge of your child's bed. This will weaken the perimeter of the mattress and base by concentrating weight in the same small area.
  • It is generally recommended that parents should change their child's bed and/or mattress at significant growth periods. Depending on the child, this may require several bed changes as they move from youngster to teenager.
  • Don't be afraid to keep asking your children if their bed is still comfortable ~ and if it does need replacing, involve them in choosing a new one. It will help to educate them about bed selection; and with some expert help from a Forty Winks consultant, it will ensure they can test out for themselves the mattress that suits their body best.