In the fall we are hit with a double whammy, and the sleep gods are not on our side. We have to change our clocks AND we have Halloween. On Halloween children everywhere will be going to bed much later than usual with bellies full of candies, and on top of that... Hey! Let’s mess around with their internal sleep clocks!
Now in the BK era – "Before Kids" – we could enjoy that extra hour and bask in slumberville. Now that we have kids, the fall time change is the most terrifying time of the year – minus the ghosts and ghouls.
Moving the clocks back could mean early morning wakings and late bedtime battles for our little ones. If your child is more sensitive to these time shifts, it’s best to take the gradual approach. A few days before the actual time change, shift your routine later by 15 minutes each day, even going as far as shifting your little ones entire day-to-day routine later, including naptimes and meal times. So your normal naptime of 9 AM will get moved to 9:15 AM, and so on. Then once the clocks "fall back" your child will already be adjusted.
Want to know what we do at our house?
Two times a year when the clocks shift, we just hold on tight and adjust to the new times. It’s the easiest route to take, and if you think that your child can manage just switching to the new times, it may be the best route for you to take for your family, too. You may have a fussy little one for a few days, maybe up to a week, but they will adapt provided you remain consistent.
Remember: these time changes don’t only affect our children. It can also be a tough adjustment for us parents.
Don’t be fooled into thinking since we have an “extra hour” we can stay up later and sleep in more in the morning. To help adjust your own body clock quickly, stick to your same routine and go to bed at the same time each night (even though it will be darker earlier) and wake up at the same time in the morning. It shouldn’t take longer than a week for you to adapt as well.
Consistency is key in whichever approach you take. We always manage to get through this time of year unharmed! Remember my two favourite words. Persistence and consistency! You got this - candy overload and all.
It was my husband’s idea to let our four year-old daughter watch Ghostbusters. But who’s she going to call when she has a nightmare at 4 a.m.? That’s right; it’s mommy she wants for some reassurance and comfort.
At two years of age bad dreams can suddenly develop from TV shows children watch, books you read to them, or conversations they overhear. The frequency and severity of dreams can depend on how sensitive your child is and even major transitions like starting a new school, welcoming a new sibling or potty training can bring on a nightmare. It’s normal for a child to have a nightmare and until they are older and able to understand that a bad dream is just a bad dream and not a real life event it’s important that mom and dad are available to reassure them and help them feel safe.
If your child wakes up with a nightmare, the most important thing is for them to feel safe and secure and it’s okay to go into their room to provide them that comfort. Hug her and cuddle her and tell her everything is going to be okay. My suggestion would be to reassure her in her own room and try not to get into the habit of her crawling into your bed. That can be a slippery slope and a habit you may not want to start in your home.
It’s important that she knows her sleep environment is safe and secure, but I don’t recommend you start looking under her bed for monsters or getting out the monster spray. That is only proving that these monsters exist. Communication is key so lie down with her and talk about her dream, try and pinpoint the fear or anxiety to see if there are any underlying issues that she may be experiencing in her day-to-day. A great trick that I like to use with my own kids is to encourage your child to come up with a funny or happy alternative ending to the dream, which will lessen the nightmare’s power. Could the monster become your friend? Can the scary room turn into a fun playroom? If your child needs a nightlight to ease the anxiety about the dark that is okay but try to not make it a long term solution.
If frequent nightmares are becoming an issue in your home it’s best to evaluate your child’s day-to-day for triggers. Stay away from scary TV shows or books right before bed and make sure to focus on your child’s sleep hygiene - often an overlooked component in curbing nightmares. You want to avoid an overtired child at bedtime because an overtired child isn’t going to sleep restfully, which allows nightmares to creep in more easily.
Despite our best efforts, nightmares can still happen. Just keep telling your child that she’s safe, and maybe save Slimer and the gang for when she hits her teens.
Often confused with nightmares, night terrors are categorized as a parasomnia and are most common in children. While nightmares tend to happen during the last half of the night, night terrors occur in the beginning of the night. A night terror or sleep terror isn’t actually created by a scary dream though the experience can be quite scary for parents. A child experiencing a night terror can wake up suddenly screaming in fear, thrashing their bodies and flaying their arms, speaking out loud, and can even start sleep walking. It’s important to understand that your child won’t realize what is going on and very rarely will even remember it in the morning.
A night terror occurs when the part of the brain that is trying to go to sleep is fighting with the part of the brain that is trying to stay awake. When there is an unbalance in this state of partial arousal night terrors can occur and your child may appear awake and even speaking to you but they are generally unaware that you are there.
For the most part night terrors aren’t a cause for concern and most children will grow out of them. If you feel that your child is truly experiencing night terrors you want to:
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It’s common for your 8-12 year old to start struggling with sleep. Often parents find their children at this age take longer to get to bed. Perhaps it’s taking them longer to fall asleep or suddenly they are showing bouts of anxiety and fear about going to bed alone. At this age adequate sleep is necessary as children are growing, becoming increasingly active in school and after-school activities, and need well rested minds and bodies to strengthen their cognitive ability, memory, alertness, and overall mood and behaviour for school and learning. Within my practice I see children at this age suddenly start to sleep less even though their bodies still need the same amount of sleep - 10-11 hours of sleep per night.
With the average age of puberty for girls being between 10 and 12 years of age and boys 12-16 years of age, it’s during this age group that there is a shift in their natural sleep rhythms – their circadian rhythms. Melatonin – our sleep hormone – is secreted later at night. This hormone is what signals to the body that it is time to go to sleep. While this may not happen as early as 8 years of age, when the shift does take place it can be biologically impossible for our tweens and teens to fall asleep at an earlier bedtime even if we want them to.
Unpredictable Routine with Poor Sleep Environment
This is the age where activities, sports, and homework increase. Bedtimes begin to be pushed out too late, and over-scheduling leaves children overtired and exhausted making it more difficult for them to fall asleep. Also technology is finding it’s way into children’s bedrooms and sleep is being traded for staying up-to-date socially and catching up on their favourite TV show or YouTube channel.
Anxiety and Bedtime Fears
Fears are becoming more realistic and anxious thoughts about school work, social environments, family difficulties, or even as serious as illness and death can keep our children’s brains busy and worrisome, making it very difficult for them to fall asleep.
Age Appropriate Sleep Solutions That Will Help Your Child Fall Asleep Easier
The first step towards healthier sleep for any individual is to start promoting proper sleep hygiene and this definitely includes children as well.
Combat childhood anxieties and fears before bedtime with communication and relaxation techniques. It’s also important to take the pressure of sleep off of both of you. It’s a stressful cycle that can begin. Your child will stress before bedtime because he knows he’s going to have a hard time falling asleep and then you and he may have conflict about it, stressing you both out where no one is falling asleep any time soon. They often feel the pressure when we are just telling them to go to bed. Explain to him why he needs to sleep and then incorporate different techniques that can help him get there.
It’s also important to monitor parental involvement. Try and step back and look at the situation. Is your involvement too much? Are you the last obstacle standing in the way of your child sleeping soundly at night? If so, you aren’t alone and putting a consistent plan in place can help you all sleep better at night.
Lastly avoid Band-aid solutions like melatonin. The first route to take before any sleep aid supplements should be behavioural and emotional sleep modifications.