Children and Sleep
We all know how important sleep is to our life and how a lack of sleep or poor quality sleep can adversely affect us. We know that when our children don’t sleep, we invariably don’t sleep which can, in turn, affect our mood. It may be then of little surprise to you to know that sleep issues are a key factor driving parents to seek professional healthcare advice in early childhood because it has been estimated that between 20 and 30% of children experience sleep problems during the first 3 years of life.
So why is sleep so essential to a baby’s development?
Babies create up to 1.8 million new synaptic connections in the brain per second and what a baby hears, sees, feels and smells determines which of these connections survive (Eliot et al,1999). Given that babies spend much of their time asleep in REM sleep would suggest that sleep is essential for baby’s brain and body development. During this period, the brain is at its most plastic, grows at its fastest and is the most responsive to external stimuli (WHO, 2014). It has also been proven that most of the brain’s neural pathways supporting communication, understanding, social development and emotional wellbeing grow rapidly in the first 3 years of life (WHO, 2014).
The importance of bedtime routines in aiding sleep.
One of the most significant factors affecting a child’s ability to get off to sleep is routine. There is a vast amount of research to support that having a consistent bedtime routine significantly improves a baby’s and child’s sleep. If you implement a bedtime routine it allows the babies or children to associate this with the onset of sleep. This can help with bedtime resistance with older children but also for those of you with babies, it gets them in to the habit of being put to bed awake and falling asleep naturally which should help them to self soothe if they wake in the middle of the night. A bedtime routine has also been shown to contribute towards infant learning with repetition strengthening the connectivity pathways in the brain (Schiller et al, 2010).
A three week study of 405 mothers and their infants or toddlers aged 7-36 months found that a consistent bedtime routine had a positive impact on sleep within 1 week with infants on average:
*Falling asleep 37% quicker
*Having 38% fewer night wakenings
*Spending 32%less time awake.
The Benefits of a Multisensory Bedtime Routine
Multisensory bedtime routine is described as the concurrent stimulation of touch, smell, auditory and/or visual stimuli which enhances the brain’s processes for learning more than stimulation of a single sense. If you think that 85% of a baby’s brain is developed by the age of 3 yrs, experiences such as a multisensory bedtime routine that can enhance this process are vital (WHO ,2014).
Other developmental benefits of a multisensory bedtime routine are:
* stress reduction
*Improved sleep quality and duration
How to create a Multisensory bedtime Routine
A multisensory bedtime routine consists of various activities designed to stimulate all the senses, which are followed in the same order on a nightly basis before sleep. It is generally thought that the younger the child the better (Mindall et al, 2015).
To incorporate all the facets of a multisensory bedtime routine, I would advise all parents to start with a warm bath followed by a gentle massage (obviously slightly easier with the babies). I would then advise them to have some quiet time with maybe a reading of a book or singing if it’s a baby. These all used together provide complete multisensory stimulation through:
*Tactile stimulation via skin to skin contact in the bath and during massage.
*Visual stimulation by engaging in direct eye contact
*Auditory stimulation via the parent’s voice talking during bath and massage and during quiet time with a book.
*Olfactory (smell) stimulation through the use of baby skin appropriate scented bath and massage products.