So it’s National Sleep Awareness week. Telling me not to drink coffee after lunchtime and have no screens before bed simply does not work for me. My husband and I do not survive well with little sleep, but yet we lead chaotic, what feel slightly out of control lives sometimes. He works long hours, I run a small business, the kids are busy, we eat late and therefore go to bed late. I, for one seem to work best (as many of my friends know) with my laptop and a glass of wine post 9pm. That is when I seem to have the time and space in my head to just get on with things. The house is regularly in a mess and we are forever washing shirts at 10 pm for the kids when we realise we have nothing ready for the morning -again!! So now my confessions are out, you may be wondering how us sleep lovers have survived with children over the years?! The answer is, as we all know. because we have to! However, throughout the years of ups and downs, we have tried to keep some basics in place and learnt others which I think may have helped us along the way.
The 7 am aim!
This is not about those early months when they’re babies and they need you to rise for food. This is about that age when they are just not in sync with your way of doing things just yet! We always had what looking back we would have called the 7 am rule and it has still stuck now so we must have been doing something right.
For us, the strike of 7am marked the bare minimum of what we would call the turn from nighttime to daytime. Before then we would “strongly advise you get some more sleep”. Of course it doesn’t always work like that as we all know, but we still insisted that before that time they were to stay in their bedrooms. They learnt to play or read in their rooms if they awoke early and we knew they were safe. They had toys and books out and learnt how to spend some time quietly. At 7am it was time to start the day officially. We are up earlier for school travel these days, but when we’re not, especially on holidays nobody rises before 7am.
Getting them to bed in the first place !
Over the years it has dawned on me that from a selfish sleep perspective, let alone our children’s physical and mental health, the sooner we can get the kids to settle, the sooner our evening can begin, which ultimately means the more relaxed we are (even if I’m only working, the noise has gone!) Thus it follows for me, the better I am likely to sleep and sometimes, although not always, the sooner we are able to go to bed. The pre-bed reading routine has stuck with us for many, many years. My youngest is now 11 and it is only in the last year or so that he has rejected us reading to him. He has never been the easiest to get to bed at a good time, but we have always tried to have a bedtime and still do. Reading to him played a big part of this, with or without the animals, but often our cat would come to listen too.
If he wasn’t ready for bed at the right time, he was at risk of missing his story. He became so obsessed that good sleep was attached to having had an exciting or rewarding story read to him, that he would literally beg for it. This had the double benefit of nurturing his interest in character and plot lines. Sadly it hasn’t carried over into his own reading. He doesn’t want us to read to him any longer, but finds it hard to get into his own books now. We are still working on this, but it certainly benefitted us (and the kids) for many years and hopefully we will return to a time when he seeks enjoyment and relaxation from books, but that is another story!
At one stage of their childhood, I would as a matter of course play a game with my son before bed, this may have been a board game or a role play with some of his toy characters. I found this gave him some wind down time, some “mum and me” time and it helped as an encouragement to get him to settle as he didn’t want to lose this special time.
There has always been a place for rewards in my house and in relation to sleeping patterns, charts were high on our list. Before going off to sleep I would give my son an opportunity to check something with me ( but not get up) but after that he would start to lose a Golden Ticket which he collected each night towards an end of period reward. I recall for a while introducing daily awards. He collected Star Wars characters (which I would order off Ebay) and good sleeping habits earnt him small new ones or he could save them up for a small vehicle. The reward was regular, but it really helped us as he saw the direct results of his efforts. We also now have a major collection of Star Wars, vintage and modern in case anyone is interested!!
The sleep disturbed nights
Again the focus here is not on babies, but youngsters through to tweens. This was the most difficult time for me as I expected to be up in the night with a baby, but not as they grew older. You are back in a routine again, you may be back at work, there is school and homework to contend with, your children’s relationships and emotions. If your night is disturbed, you are far less likely to have time to catch up on your rest. Other than hide in a corner and cry which we sometimes did too, we addressed each issue in turn. The impact on our sleeping patterns with our first felt pretty shocking, but relatively she was a good sleeper. Then the next came along and brought with him some new issues.
On and off he disliked his bed or his room – he had a bunk later, but that started to frighten him. We bought one of those musical teddies that lights up the ceiling and is on a timer and that worked well for a while. It certainly helped with going off to sleep. Story and meditation tapes also helped to relax him, although sometimes they worked the other way and kept him awake! This became known as the “Dilemma of the story tape” for a while and we didn’t always know whether it was going to work, but I would definitely say it is worth a try.
Then we went through a phase of not being dry at night and as this is not a medical blog I will not seek to offer advice other than to say do try not to get too hung about it. We tried alarms, saw a paediatrician, had meds, used super duper bed mats and weren’t afraid of pull ups for a long time. I wanted to help my child feel in some control and give them enough sleep whilst they went through busy times in their lives. Do what you need to do to get through this period. It won’t last forever.
Something I encourage now more than ever is to talk about worries prior to the bedtime routine. I introduced a rule years ago that talk time with regards to things that were bothering them about the next day was to happen before bedtime – my youngest is very good, too good at putting concerns in a box only to lift the lid on this just before he is about to go to sleep. Writing this has reminded me that I need to reinforce this rule again as it sends anxiety through the roof and stops him from sleeping.
And they all lived happily ever after…
Well we are still chasing our sleep, but I hope that some of my tips will help some of you. Every age is tricky. As we get over one hurdle with our children on the sleeping front another arrives. My daughter now has to wear a retainer after her brace was removed and suddenly she is the one who is “Sleepless in Seattle”. At least as they get older they learn how sleep or lack of it impacts on their bodies, their skin and their moods. They positively choose to light a candle and have a nice warm bath. So on that note I will leave you. Keep up the date nights or the meets with friends, if you are able, shut the door and sleep where you can, be it Saturday afternoon. Model how nice it is to wind down by putting your own PJ’s on early and tell them how ready you are for bed, even if it is only 7 pm!! Keep smiling lovely people 🙂
Nic is an award winning portrait photographer in the South East, covering Surrey, Kent and Sussex. She specialises in beautiful images of families and children and of course dogs 🙂