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You made it through the early years of either sleep training or lying in your child’s room until they fell asleep, right? So why is your big kid constantly coming down or lying in bed awake until all hours of the night?
When our oldest started preschool, it was like as soon as he got into bed his brain became alive. He built his best creations our of Duplo Lego or Zoobs when he was supposed to be sleeping, asked many intriguing questions and would even cry because he couldn’t get tired enough to fall asleep. The fact was, he was overtired and we tried everything to correct it - switching up the bedtime, creating a more soothing routine, we even got our the essential oils and massagers.
When he was in 1st grade, I found this great book and we read it together. It has helped him understand it is his job to help his body relax and there are many ways to do it. There’s also a game in the book that really helped our 3-year-old who was afraid of the dark!
Before being able to fall asleep, melatonin production needs to be high and cortisol should be low. Melatonin, the sleep hormone, is based on the circadian rhythm, so in order to get it in alignment, we must have exposure to sunlight as soon as possible in the morning and reduce light exposure in the evening. Cortisol is the stress hormone, so in order to lower it, we need time to relax and unwind before preparing our body for sleep.
We found, through a lot of trial and error, that there are three important elements that must be right to help those troubled sleepers.
#1 - ROUTINE - I know you’ve heard this many times before, but another reminder to make sure to have your child go to bed and wake up about the same time each day. If you need to reschedule a bedtime, work in 15-minute increments to reset over a period of days. This is what we do during Daylight Savings Time. Our routine in a bath or shower, cozy pajamas and a story each night.
#2 - ENVIRONMENT - As a parent, it’s your job to set the mood for relaxation. You should be reducing exposure to blue light - so no screens an hour or two before bed. If you must use a screen, set it to a nighttime mode or wear blue light blocking glasses. Our boys share a room, so we got our older son a sleep mask to wear when his little brother wants to keep a lamp on. If your child insists on a nightlight, look for one that doesn’t emit blue light - as other types of light don’t interfere with melatonin production. I’ll bet you used a sound machine or white noise when your child was a baby, right? It’s worth breaking it back out if your older child is having trouble sleeping. You can also use soft music or nature sounds. Set up an oil diffuser with lavender or rub some oils directly onto your child's’ feet. Finally, activate the sense of touch with a soft lovey and blanket or even try a weighted blanket that helps signal the body it’s time to relax.
#3 - QUIET ACTIVITY - If all else fails, keep your child in bed by allowing them a period of time to unwind with a quiet activity before lights out. Books are great, or if your child isn’t reading yet, a sketchbook and pencil or crayon or a small magnetic puzzle or we love our interactive globe! Another option is to have your child watch a lava lamp or a timer like this one.
Oh! I know you don't want to read this, but if your child gets up in the middle of the night and climbs in bed with you, break the habit when you're ready by each night gently carrying your child back to his or her own bed. It will wake you and make things tough for a few weeks, but it's the only way! We have to lie down in our youngest son's room with him for a bit, but he know not to come in until it's light out now!
Our oldest now sometimes takes a while to fall asleep, but we use these techniques to make it as easy as possible. It’s definitely cut back on the number of times we have trouble!
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