Promoting good nap- and bedtime routines is an important part of an early years practitioner’s role, as Ruth Silverman explains…
Early years professionals can do a lot to teach children and parents about healthy sleeping. It matters because good sleep allows children to learn, concentrate, grow and develop and means they are generally healthier and happier.
By contrast, poor sleepers often suffer from behavioural issues, attention difficulties, and problems with learning or memory and problem solving.
Frequent sleep deprivation can result in increased health issues such as lower immunity to illness and increased risk of obesity and can have a negative impact on growth and development.
All educators have a part to play in informing children about healthy lifestyles and making wise choices, and how to develop positive, lifelong health habits. We talk frequently about healthy eating and exercise, but how often do we think about sleep?
In truth, it’s an area that’s often neglected when thinking about children’s health and wellbeing, but talking and teaching about sleep and embedding good sleep habits is as vital as discussing eating healthily.
We all need sleep and it’s essential for babies and children to grow and develop. In early years settings, there is lots that early years settings can do to promote healthy sleep.
Create a rest area
There should be an area in your setting where babies and children can rest and sleep. Naps are vital for children in the early years, as they allow them to recharge in order to continue throughout the day.
The rest environment should be quiet and cool, and conform to safe sleeping practices (see The Lullaby Trust’s guidelines).
Explore sleep rituals and routines
Recreating a child’s at-home sleep routine, where possible, can help babies and children relax and achieve optimal rest time when at your setting. You may find that offering a familiar toy or blanket to cuddle helps in this regard.
Record any naps
Naps are an important part of a baby or child’s sleep requirement, and it’s important to record any they have while in your setting. This can help staff and families to identify changes – for example, if a child is sleeping more than usual in the setting, this can be an early sign of illness and should be shared with the family.
Help them explore sleep
Even at this young age, it’s useful to help children begin to understand the importance of, and make good choices about, sleep. Often the easiest starting point is thinking about the bedroom.
Children can talk about their bedroom at home or ideal bedrooms, about curtains, lights, books and toys. A bedroom could be set up in the role play area, and going to bed acted out. This can include putting toys to bed and thinking about bedtime routines.
The bedtime routine is the foundation for a good night’s sleep. Get this right and sleep onset should be easy. It includes what is happening in the hour before falling asleep with positive sleep associations.
Sleep associations are cues and triggers that children need to have to help them fall asleep. Sleep problems can occur when the association cannot be maintained throughout the night and the child wakes and cannot fall back to sleep.
Common sleep associations are a special toy to cuddle, a dummy or parent who stays with the child until they fall asleep.
When a child wakes in the night (we all wake around two or three times each night naturally) and finds the sleep association is no longer there, they are more likely to become fully awake and need help to go back to sleep.
Learning to self-settle can be tricky, but with the support of early years professionals it can become easier. Teaching children about good bedtime routines and sleep associations can empower them to choose healthy sleeping habits.
Below is an example of a good bedtime routine that should help children to fall asleep. Creating a display in your setting showing what a good bedtime routine looks like, can help parents too:
Discussing time, clocks and numbers offers an ideal opportunity to talk about nap/bedtimes and wake-up times in your setting and at home. Bedtime should be the same each night – it is also important to get up at the same time each day, to anchor and reset the body clock. Late nights and lie-ins can quickly lead to problems.
When a baby or child is not sleeping well at night, this usually means that neither are the parents. Deprived sleep can affect parenting, relationships, wellbeing and health.
It is important to support parents when they are implementing changes in sleeping practices and signpost them to early help to prevent long term effects for both children and parents.
Below are the optimal sleep requirements for children aged from four months to 18 years, as set out by the American Academy Of Sleep Medicine (2016)...
Ruth Silverman is a Queen’s Nurse, health visitor and sleep specialist. She has developed The Sleep Game – an interactive training game that helps professionals to learn all about key aspects of sleep. It can also be used to engage with parents during family events or when a child or family are having sleep problems. For more information on the game, visit sleepgame.co.uk.
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