Dr Miriam Stoppard: How to make simple routine changes for sleep-deprived kids

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A few weeks ago I answered a letter from a woman whose grandson was having ­difficulty sleeping.

Since then I’ve had several more.

It seems to be an almost universal problem and I thought the topic could do with further airing.

For parents of children who seem to need only a few hours of sleep at night, there’s light at the end of the tunnel.

A programme pioneered at Sheffield Children’s Hospital is helping sleepless children to get several more hours a night.

Their families have seen major improvements by sticking to consistent bedtimes, banning sugary drinks in the evening and removing toys and electronics from bedrooms.

They’re no fun for anyone (file photo)

 

Parents need some firm discipline. In the hour before bed, children in the programme are not allowed to watch TV or use their phone or computer.

Instead they do more calming ­activities such as jigsaws, Play-Doh and simple board games.

Health professionals in Sheffield are now using this method to help 800 families who have a child sleeping for just four or five hours a night.

NHS England’s mental health chief calls the initiative “life-changing”. And it could be for you too.

The children in the programme are now getting an average of 2.4 hours more sleep a night.

And they’re also eating more healthily and doing better at school.

Kids are sleeping – and eating – better under the programme

 

Heather Elphick, a consultant in paediatric sleep medicine at Sheffield Children’s Hospital, said parents’ lives had also improved because they worry less about their child’s sleep.

The programme was rolled out across Sheffield after a pilot in 2016 with 40 families.

A joint team of NHS staff, the city’s council and the Children’s Sleep Charity helped families of children with sleep difficulties.

After a meeting with a nurse or health visitor, families start an action plan at home.

Each week they receive a phone call from a health professional to check on progress and offer advice. I think this parental support is crucial.

“It’s really difficult to get children to adapt to the new routine,” said Elphick. “A lot of parents have read stuff online about tackling children’s sleep ­problems but failed.

Tears before bedtime could be a thing of the past with new ideas on what the kids should do in the hour before bedtime

 

“This programme takes two to three weeks of perseverance, and it often gets worse before it gets better.

“But this isn’t a complex invention. Yes, a lot of this is just good parental practice.

“Children involved are now getting to sleep faster, and many say their mood has changed from ‘grumpy’ to ‘happy’ thanks to a good night’s sleep.”

With my children and grandchildren I’ve used a consistent bedtime routine of bath, books, bottle, bed, adjusted as they got older but always with a nice, calm, quiet winding down.

It’s worked about two-thirds of the time.



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