As a certified sleep consultant I work with a lot of tired families. Although each family is unique, there are often elements that are common between them. One prevailing issue with parents is the misunderstanding of how being overtired effects their child. An overtired child leads to “sleep debt” and can cause a multitude of sleep disturbances and behavioral issues. Below are five tips to avoid “sleep debt” in children and all the unwelcoming issues that happen as a result. But first…what is “sleep debt”?
When a child is overtired, they enter into a state of sleep deprivation and although that may sound extreme, it really is the truth. Children will often react in two different ways-cranky, clingy and lots of crying or just the opposite; they’re overactive and hyper because their bodies are running on adrenaline. In the latter instance a child will often resist sleep, which misleads the parent into believing that the child isn’t tired.
We live in a society where our culture praises people who survive on little sleep so it’s challenging for parents to appreciate the side effects that chronic sleep deprivation can have on babies and children.
Overtiredness causes the following disturbances in children:
- frequent night wakings
- early wake ups
- short or broken naps
- resisting naps (excessive crying or extreme giddiness)
- night terrors
- bedtime battles
Also, it causes behavioural issues such as:
- clingy and/or unable to play independently
- temper tantrums
- refusal to eat
In addition to not understanding the effects of sleep deprivation, most parents also have a very tough time understanding how long it takes to undo those effects.
When a child has been missing his or her required amount of sleep for several days, weeks or months, this missing sleep takes its toll on their body and produces a ‘sleep debt’. This is similar to what we experience when we are financially in debt. A healthy bank account is similar to a healthy body-you want to have a surplus.
When a child is sleep deprived, imagine that their body is like us being $10,000 in debt. You need to work at depositing at least $10,000 back into the account just to break even. Once you break even, you need to be vigilant with the deposits to get to a surplus. This doesn’t happen overnight, so this is why getting a child on a healthy sleep routine, takes so long and why people often give up. The good news is, is that if you are consistent, then you will start to see some changes quickly.
Here are five tips to help your child get healthy sleep and avoid being overtired:
1. Know how much sleep your child should be getting in a 24 hour period. Track your child’s sleep periods for 3 days to see if they are getting the required amount.
2. Ensure that your child is taking the right amount of naps in the daytime. Adequate night and day sleep are both equally important for optimal health.
3. Maintain a regular routine. Children thrive on consistency and it will help to set their body clocks to a regular rhythm.
4. Keep bedtime early. This is one of the quickest ways to begin to catch a child up on lost sleep. Depending on how tired the child is, they may need to go to sleep as early as 5:30pm for a few days. But overall, children under five do best with a bedtime between 6-7:30pm.
5. Stay consistent! When you hit a bump in the road, go back to the basics, stay consistent and know that your child can get back on track with some time and patience.
Guest post by Joleen Dilk Salyn – Certified Child Sleep Consultant & Founder of Baby Sleep 101
Baby sleep 101 was created out of a passion to support parents who are struggling with their child’s sleep issues. It is Manitoba’s only certified child sleep consulting service and is independently owned and operated.
Help with night wakings, short naps, bedtime struggles and more
Customized sleep plans
Compassionate and knowledgeable advice
Private or semi-private consultations
Joleen is an independent certified Baby and Child Sleep Consultant, and founder of Baby Sleep 101. She received her extensive training from the Family Sleep Institute. She is also a member of the International Association of Child Sleep Consultants. Joleen is a mother of two wonderful children; ages 2 yrs and 5 months. Visit www.babysleep101.com for more information.
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