American sleep expert kin west shares her tips for ensuring the little ones get a full night's rest
It's that time of year when trying to get the little ones off to bed is a near impossible task. Excitement levels are at their maximum thanks to seeing relatives, opening gifts, devouring sugary treats and generally having fun. Yet sleep they must – and soundly too – if their young brains are to develop properly.
“Sleep is the foundation of our health, like exercise and nutrition. Three important things happen in growing children while they are asleep: they produce and secrete the growth hormone, build their immune system, and work on memories, which are the foundation of learning,” says American sleep coach Kim West, aka the Sleep Lady.
West, who is the author of several books including “Good Night, Sleep Tight: The Sleep Lady’s Gentle Guide to Helping Your Child Go to Sleep, Stay Asleep and Wake Up Happy” and “52 Sleep Secrets for Babies”, was in Bangkok earlier this year and shared her insights and guidelines for good sleep in Thailand with S-Momclub.com.
The lack of or too little sleep not only affects children’s health, growth rate, and brain development but also parents’ ability to rest well. Common sleep problems among children include going to bed late, either because parents get home late or want to spend time with them, and waking up often during the night. Another problem is that all too often, they are not able to put themselves to bed and to save time, parents keep the kids awake until they too are ready to go to bed.
“Putting oneself to bed is a learned skill. Adults take a bath, listen to music or read to relax. Kids too need to calm down before sleeping and as parents, it’s our job to teach them how to do that. Of course, you can rock them or cuddle them but when they wake up at night between sleep cycles, they need you to do all that again. A lot of time, parents tell me, bedtime is easy but the nights are nightmare. That’s usually because they do not know how to put themselves to sleep at bedtime. And that lays the foundation for a sleep problem – frequently waking up during the night and not being able to get back to sleep,” West explains.
“We all have an internal clock that tells when to be awake or sleep and also a natural bedtime window that looks for cues like darkness or quiet. If we miss it, the hormones kick in and we experience a second surge of energy. Young kids are the same. If they miss their bedtime window, it will take them longer to go to sleep, and they will wake up more during the night as well as extra early in the morning. That means they will want a morning nap, which further exacerbates the situation. Parents should try to get their toddlers to nap in the early afternoon and get them to bed early, as soon as they start to feel drowsy.”
Parents of older children can help them sleep soundly by establishing a routine of dimming the lighting, turning off external triggers like TV and computers and moving to the sleeping area.
“These social cues trigger the notion of sleeping,” she says. “If the kids are still not sleeping soundly then you need to check that there is no underlying medical condition. Some of the most common symptoms are blocked airways or inflammation in the airways. “Snoring, mouth breathing, sweating during sleep not because of the temperature, and restless sleeping can all signal a medical problem so do consult a doctor.”
Children’s sleeping behaviours impact everyone in the family and have effects on their long term physical health, emotions, learning, and temperament. West’s techniques are gentle and do not force the children to do anything against their will but instead allow them to transform step by step and have a quality sleep while parents can also have a full night rest.
She suggest waiting until the child is three years old before putting him or her in another room, by which time the child should have been taught to how to go to sleep by themselves.
“Whatever you do, be consistent. If a child cries, sit next to him/her for two or three nights then move to sit a little further away/ Within two weeks they should be sleeping through the night,” she says.
West’s simple guideline can be found on her official website and in the Thai language on www.S-MomClub.com/thepowerofsleeping.