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10 ways to make sure your little one gets a great night's sleep

Lisa Salmon investigates how strange snacks, hide and seek and more can help children wind down

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Pleasant dreams: Getting kids to nod off isn’t always easy

Pleasant dreams: Getting kids to nod off isn’t always easy

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Playing hide and seek helps to create a familiarity with the bedroom, allowing children to take ownership of the space and create a feeling of love

Playing hide and seek helps to create a familiarity with the bedroom, allowing children to take ownership of the space and create a feeling of love

Pleasant dreams: Getting kids to nod off isn’t always easy

Children sleeping well is one of the holy grails of parenting, and many mums and dads swear by the routine of bath, book and bed.

However, it's not just immediately before bed that steps can be taken to encourage an unbroken night for both children and parents - there are plenty of things that can be done during the day too.

"A positive bedtime structure is about ensuring daytime and night-time routines are a continual process and not seen as two separate things," says psychologist and sleep expert Chireal Shallow, who runs the Baby Sleep Clinic.

"It's really important that children are stimulated. This can take the form of education at school or post-school activities, such as games, hobbies, reading and seeing friends.

"School is one of the better opportunities for children to develop good sleep hygiene due to the rigid structure of the day. They know when to expect break times, for example, and the routine is structured and secure. Their home life routine needs to match up."

Here Shallow, in partnership with family skincare experts Bloom and Blossom, shares her top tips on what parents can do during the day to help children settle well at night.

1. Hide and seek in the bedroom

Playing hide and seek helps to create a familiarity with the bedroom, allowing children to take ownership of the space and create a feeling of love. The more time spent in their bedroom, the better association they will have with it at night time.

2. Eating cottage cheese with raspberries

Feeding children snacks such as cottage cheese before bed may sound absurd, but it's full of the amino acid tryptophan, which can increase serotonin levels. Top the cheese with raspberries to appeal to a child's sweet tooth. The berries are also rich sources of melatonin, the sleep hormone.

3. A foot massage before bed

A foot massage an hour before bedtime can help anxious children feel calm and settled.

4. Fresh air and stimulation

It's important to make sure children get enough fresh air and stimulation in the day. For older children, the main barrier to sleep is anxiety, overtiredness and hyperactivity. Fresh air in the day can do them a world of good because being outdoors and surrounded by nature helps with relaxation. There's a stark contrast to how we feel indoors in comparison to outdoors. It's about ensuring the balance is right and encouraging children to come out of their internal world.

5. Choose activity time wisely

Where possible, it's better to get most of your weekend activities done first thing on a Saturday or Sunday. This doesn't have to be set in stone hour-by-hour, but it could work to cut your day into segments. This will help you to settle children later on. Otherwise, you may struggle to remove them from their friends and the fun. Boisterous activities and games are best done in the morning or early afternoon. Activities which relate to quiet time and winding down, such as chatting with family, reading books and doing puzzles, require mental engagement rather than physical and are better placed towards the end of the day. These are more conducive to sleep and prepare the body to wind down.

6. Cater to your child's needs

Cater to your child's individual needs and make sure what you do during the day suits them and their unique personalities. If they're afraid of scary films, ensure they spend plenty of time outdoors, not in front of the TV or iPad. If your child is highly stimulated, it's a good idea to give them more sedentary activities. If you have a calmer child, give them more stimulation, so they gradually become worn out in the morning and tired in the early afternoon or evening.

7. Communicate with their teachers

Children spend a lot of time at school, and this is the best place for structure and routine. Make sure you're constantly in contact with their teachers and know what's going on day-to-day. Find out what's happening towards the latter end of the day where possible, so that you can build this into your home life routine. Planning and preparation is key. If a birthday is being celebrated at school and there are lots of sweets, it's advisable that you know about this because, ultimately, it could impact how your child sleeps that night.

8. Lie down with children on their bedroom floor

Getting a feel for what a child experiences in their bedroom can be vital to understanding what's happening in their heads. Ask yourself if it feels like a calm space or if there are any objects which may look different at night. For example, your child may have a backpack hung up that looks scary in the dark. Invest in a personalised one that they can take pride in and which helps them feel unafraid.

9. Create a bedtime box

Put inside a box the things that children need to feel safe and help them sleep. For example, books, toys and family pictures.

10. Hang up family photos

Place family photos around your child's bedroom, so if they wake during the night, they're immediately comforted.

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