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Sleep – it’s not always as easy as counting sheep.

May 26, 2022 | Children, Sleep

When we sleep our eyes are closed, our muscles are relaxed and our awareness to the outside world is diminished.  

Although our body is still, when we sleep our brains are quite active, working hard to get rid of harmful toxins and preparing for the next day. 

From around 6 months of age, our sleep cycle has two main phases: 

      –  Rapid eye movement sleep (REM). This is known as our “dream sleep”.

      – Non rapid eye movement sleep (Non-Rem). This is a mixture of both deep and lighter sleep phases. 

The length of each sleep cycle varies between younger children and adults from 60-90 minutes. 

Sleep is essential. It allows our body to rest, recover, and restore. For children, sleep is even more important as it is essential for growth and wellbeing. 

When our sleep is jeopardised, the sleep duration and quality is shortened. Stunting the muscle repair and memory consolidation. 

Prolonged lack of sleep or interrupted sleep may risk a child’s ability to participate and engage in everyday activities. Sleep deprivation can also significantly influence a child’s behaviour and emotional inconsistency/reactivity. 

 In fact, sleep deprivation is a form of torture – needless to say it is essential for both children and adults to get a good night’s sleep. 

 Difficulties with sleep can occur for many different reasons. Some individuals find it difficult to fall asleep while others wake frequently throughout the night.

Here are some of the factors influencing sleep: 

· Often children with neurodevelopmental differences will have sleep disturbances (eg Autism, ADHD, epilepsy). 

· Diet and GUT health plays a significant part in preparing our body for sleep. 

· The amount of physical and cognitive exercise throughout the day influences sleep. 

 · Reflux, ear, nose and throat issues and sleep apnea can also influence sleep. A key sign to look out for is restlessness in sleep, complaining of stomach or throat pain and mouth breathing. 

· Lack of routine – not having consistency each night and set timeframes. 

· Thermoregulation difficulties – too hot or too cold. 

· Stalling tactics are often employed by children as a method to avoid going to bed. 

Click here to visit the Sleep Foundation website for information about how many hours are recommended based on individual age.

Some helpful tips:

Be as consistent with your child’s bedtime routine as possible. 

Avoid screen time throughout the day but especially before bed. 

Engage in calm and relaxing activities with your child before bed such as reading books or playing quietly. For children who appear to be wired or exhibit “hyper” behaviour before bed, use rhythm and slow movement activities. 

Speak to your GP and consider if melatonin may be a helpful option. 

Speak to an Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) specialist to assess whether reflux or breathing difficulties can be causing your child’s sleep disturbance. 

Consider whether there may be dietary or other intolerances influencing your child’s ability to sleep. An integrative GP or Naturopath can support you to have the appropriate testing completed. 

If your child is having difficulties falling asleep and/or staying asleep consider: 

· How much physical exercise have they had today? 

· How much screen time have they had today? 

· Do I hear them breathing loudly during the night? 

· Do they seem restless or move around excessively during their sleep? 

· What is their diet like? 

· How often do they have a bowel motion? 

· Are there other environmental factors that may be influencing their sleep – Lighting? Temperature? Noise? Recent change in environment? 

Author: Kimberly Elter – Occupational Therapist