Sleep is important no matter how old you are, but for young children it is especially crucial – not just for their development but for general wellbeing too.
However, if you’re a parent – you’ll know just how difficult it can sometimes be to get your young ones into a proper routine.
There are a wide range of tips out there, and from monitoring bedroom temperatures, to even allowing newborns to resettle themselves after a cry, the list is growing by the day.
Well, if the struggles sound familiar to you, good news could be just around the corner.
Can this be the answer to a good night’s sleep for children?
A new ‘pioneering’ scheme, launched in Sheffield, has recently helped boost children’s sleep by an average of 2.4 hours a night, and also reduced the time taken to fall asleep from two hours to around 30 minutes, according to the NHS.
The scheme, introduced at Sheffield Children’s Hospital’s sleep clinic by Professor Heather Elphick, sleep medicine consultant at Sheffield Hallam University, was designed to improve children’s sleep patterns, with an initial focus on 40 families across the city.
However, it has now been extended across Sheffield, meaning it has the potential to help up to 800 children a year.
At the clinic, the process begins with a long, detailed medical history – going right back to birth – as well as a look at the child’s current sleeping environment.
Nurses then help families devise a bedroom routine specific to each patient.
This often involves a ‘calming down’ period for around 30 minutes, which is followed by a series of hand-eye coordination activities. Then, ‘sleep foods’ such as cheese, dairy, and cherry juice are provided, followed by a relaxing bath to help prepare patients for sleep.
How can a sleep clinic help family life?
The UK is ‘in the midst of a hidden public health crisis when it comes to sleep’, according to Professor Elphick.
She believes that there are more children who can’t sleep than we may realise, and it’s a topic that parents are not always particularly happy to discuss.
Although sleep problems can affect anyone, they can be a particular problem for children with disorders such as ADHD, those who have been adopted, and those that have experienced neglect or trauma.
Silentnight’s resident sleep therapist, Dr Nerina Ramlakhan, has years of research behind her, and knows exactly how important it is for children, and parents, to have a regular sleep routine.
She said: “It is so important for parents to recognise how essential good quality, restorative sleep is for children.
“Concentration and the ability to learn can be severely affected by lack of sleep, so by establishing a regular routine, children will sleep better, perform better at school, and be happier and healthier as a result.”
Sleep clinic success
Jacqui Wolstenholme, a mother of twins from Sheffield, whose young ones woke up a staggering 40 times a night at one stage, recently revealed how the clinic, and introducing a strict bedtime routine has helped ease the problem.
Jacqui told BBC Two’s Victoria Derbyshire programme that when her children were around three months old, they hardly slept.
Parents get help with sleep too
Children struggling to sleep can often spell disaster for parents, particularly of newborns – as Jacqui found out.
However, Dr Nerina, a mother herself, believes parents should try to relax their attitude if they find they are struggling.
She said: “We place too much emphasis on the amount of time we’re supposed to sleep but it’s more important that we focus on achieving quality, deep sleep, rather than a quota of hours.
“As a new mum, it’s important to make the most of any free time you have restfully and to take regular naps of no more than 15 minutes, when you can, in order to re-energise.”
Dr Nerina’s top three tips for new parents who need to get their sleep back on track are:
- Utilise power naps
- Declutter your sleep environment
- Get some exercise – even a 20-minute walk around the block can calm you down
Could you and your family benefit from a ‘sleep clinic’? Get in touch on our social media pages and let us know.