Baby Sleep - Dispelling The Myths
We all know how important it is to make sure our kids get a good night's sleep, but how can we ensure they do?
Sammy Margo, author of The Good Sleep Guide and the forthcoming The Good Sleep Guide for Kids tackles some common misconceptions. The following are some of the most common:
Myth 1: Blue and white are good colours for a nurseryActually, we should really be painting our kids' rooms pink or green! It is well known that colours have a strong influence on our mood and feelings. While blues and purples can be calming for an overactive child, they can also be cold. Reds and other strong colours, though warm, can be overstimulating. Pinks, however, will soothe and calm. Bright walls, in particular brilliant white, can reflect so much light even at night that it prevents sleep. Greens, on the other hand, are thought to have a balancing and harmonious effect, which is one of the reasons you feel calm after a long country walk. Think about the colour of your child's room - how it makes you feel and the effect it might have on your child. The ideal colours to send your child off to sleep peacefully are pale shades of pink and green.
Myth 2: It's fine to put a TV in your child's roomStudies show that children who watch TV in their rooms get less sleep. Research conducted at the University of Haifa examined 444 school pupils aged 14 who were asked about their sleep habits and use of computers and television. It was discovered that children with TVs in their room went to sleep half an hour later than those without a TV, while waking up at the same time in the morning, effectively losing 30 minutes of sleep a night. Some children will also get up earlier in the morning to watch TV at the expense of sleep.
Myth 3: Wool blankets are old-fashioned and will overheat your childAlthough it's expensive, wool is actually particularly suitable for bed covers. It's lightweight but because of its heat-regulating qualities will keep you warm in cold weather and cool in hot weather. It's water repellent, useful for spills and also for wicking moisture away from your body, which helps keep the body at a more even temperature. This can help you and your child get a better night's rest and sleep for longer. It is a natural flame retardant, having a low burning rate so it doesn't need to be treated with chemicals, and it doesn't get dirty easily. Washable wool fabric makes it easier to care for too so there is no longer any need to dry-clean woollen blankets.
Myth 4: It's unusual to have an imaginary friendNew research indicates that approximately 65 per cent of young children befriend imaginary companions, and nearly one-third continue to play with them through age seven. Studies also show that children who invent friends tend to be more articulate, creative and have higher self-esteem. It's healthy for children to have imaginary friends and it allows them to see things from other people's perspectives.
Myth 5: Sleep has no effect on a child's weightIn fact the opposite is the case. In several studies over the past few years, a link has been found between sleep deprivation and the increased risk of obesity in both children and adults. One study in 2006 which looked at over 28,000 children found that infants who slept less than 12 hours a day ran almost twice the risk of becoming overweight preschoolers. The experts' recommendation is that parents should use sleep hygiene techniques (e.g. bedtime rituals) to improve the length of time their children sleep for in order to prevent them from becoming overweight.
Myth 6: There is no such thing as a 'sleep inducing' foodThere are actually several foods that can help your child feel ready for sleep:
Porridge: oats contain small amounts of melatonin, the hormone that promotes sleep.
Honey: although too much sugar is stimulating, a little glucose is thought to be helpful for sleep because it tells your brain to turn off orexin, which is linked to alertness.
Bananas: if your child was just to eat one bedtime food, then the banana would probably be it. As well as having the tryptophan, it also contains the sleep hormones melatonin and serotonin, and magnesium, which is a muscle relaxant. Bananas mashed with warm milk and honey would be a super-sleep combination.
Myth 7: It's hard to make sure our children get enough exerciseEvery child should have 60 active minutes of exercise a day, but many children don't get this - partly because many parents don't know how much exercise their children should be getting. It shouldn't be difficult. An hour a day may sound like a lot but this doesn't have to be taken all in one go. If it's easier you can divide the time into 15-minute slots throughout the day. And exercise in the daylight will help your child feel tired at bedtime and sleep well throughout the night. The combination of exercise and daylight works synergistically to regulate the body's sleep/wake cycle.
Myth 8: It doesn't matter how you approach bedtime, as long as the kids get to bedIn fact, a bedtime ritual can be hugely effective in making sure your child sleeps well every night. The American journal Sleep recently published the findings of a study in which 405 mothers of young children with mild sleep behaviour problems were shown how to follow a very simple bedtime ritual. This included a bath time followed by a massage, then story time before lights out. The results showed the routine had many benefits:
It significantly improved sleep and bedtime behaviour in infants and toddlers - including the time it took for the child to get to sleep, the number of times they woke up during the night and how long they slept for.
Toddlers were less likely to call out for their parents or get out of bed in the night.
The reduction in the children's sleep problems meant that the mood of the mothers who were surveyed was considerably improved. This in turn had a beneficial effect on the children's sleep. Because the mother was less stressed, the bedtime experience for the child became happier, and this helped them fall asleep more easily too.