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Health and Nutrition - Sweet Dreams

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Meredith Jones Russell asks how staff can help parents who are struggling with their child’s sleep habits.

Most of a child’s brain development occurs during sleep, especially in the first two years of life. Adequate sleep is believed to support emotional, physical and mental development.

But a study by the British Nutrition Foundation found that one in three primary school students slept less than nine hours, which is below recommended levels.

“We get a tremendous amount of information about our need for exercise and healthy eating, but not so much when it comes to sleep,” says Ruth Silverman, neurodevelopmental pathways leader at Sussex Child and Adolescent Mental. I don’t know,” he said. health service. “Once you understand why it matters, it becomes easier to change for the better.”

What is sleep?

Sleep supports rest and repair of the body and mind. A protein hormone secreted by the pituitary gland, called human growth hormone, is released during deep sleep and helps children grow. , the most important factor for young children is sleep.

“Sleep plays an important role in early childhood learning,” explains Vicki Beevers, CEO of The Sleep Charity. “Studies show that sleep directly affects well-being, emotional regulation, vocabulary acquisition and memory.

“Children are negatively affected by lack of sleep in many ways, including weakened immune systems, increased daytime behavior problems, poor concentration, poor growth and weight problems.”

A University of Warwick study found that short sleep duration was also a risk factor for obesity (see more information), and sleep deprivation during childhood was linked to chronic sleep disorders and mental health problems later in life. Related.

“Studies show that learning the basics of good sleep in early childhood and elementary school can lead to better sleep throughout your life,” says Silverman. “Like diet and exercise, if we can role-model good sleep behaviors, we might get better results.”

sleep routine

Establishing a regular lifestyle is an important way to promote good sleep. “Our bodies have an internal clock, or circadian rhythm,” explains Beavers. “You need a routine to keep your sleep on track.”

Melatonin, a hormone whose production is boosted by darkness, helps to synchronize the sleep-wake cycle with day and night and regulate circadian rhythms. The main reason to avoid screens before bed is because the light can interfere with that.

Children are especially sensitive to changes in sleep habits. “We sleep in cycles and are partially awakened many times during the night,” adds Beavers. “If the situation were consistent and we could reset ourselves, we might not even be able to remember them, but many children are completely devastated because something changed after they went to sleep.” A parent has left the room, the landing light has gone out, etc. Or a favorite toy has fallen off the bed.

How long do you sleep?

Newborns sleep between 8 and 18 hours in a 24-hour period, according to the NHS. As babies grow, they quickly begin to understand the difference between day and night, and by the age of 4 months, they will be sleeping at night for about twice as long as during the day.

Some babies from 6 months to 1 year old sleep up to 12 hours a night. In total, after his first birthday, he sleeps for about 12 hours to 15 hours.

Most 2-year-olds sleep 11 to 12 hours a night and take one or two naps, but most 3- to 4-year-olds need about 12 hours of sleep.

However, there are no hard and fast rules. “It’s important to note that every child is an individual, and most importantly, assess whether a child is suffering from sleep deprivation rather than trying to keep track of time,” he said. “What may be good enough for one child may not be good enough for another,” says Beavers.

One of the main symptoms of sleep deprivation is hyperactivity. This can be misinterpreted as saying the child is not tired.

Reasons for sleep deprivation include:

  • cannot resolve itself
  • Sleep associations that are not arranged all night.For example, cuddly toys with lights
  • Diet; for example, too much sugar or caffeine
  • undiagnosed sleep disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea
  • Other medical problems; e.g. eczema
  • teething
  • sensory problems
  • too stimulating environment
  • circadian rhythm problems; lack of routine, for example.

how to help

According to Silverman, early practitioners are ideal for supporting sleep routines. They can ask about routines at home, change settings, and start supporting sleep in the same way as potty training. We work together,” she says.

With so many approaches to sleep available, including graduated retreats, sleep training, rewards, and sleep diaries, it can be difficult for practitioners to know what to recommend.

Silverman invented a sleep game and is currently developing an app that encourages practitioners to discuss, learn and share experiences about sleep in groups.

“It’s really spotty. Training professionals get it in their sleep,” she explains. “Talking in groups helps us consider different experiences and come up with different approaches. We suggest a variety of exercises to help your body develop.Sleep should be the same.No method is better than the other.It should be tailored to your specific child and family.

“Don’t blame the parents. What we can do is help them change things to improve their sleep. It can be hard because they lose sleep too. Understand and calm down.” and two-way communication and working collaboratively with parents.

Case study: Wellies nursery school in Horncastle, Lincolnshire

Daycare owner Kathy Christie was concerned about her parents’ welfare in 2015, so she turned to Sleep Charity for help.

“Our practice was clearly defined from the beginning,” she says. “We have a stimulus-free sleep environment, recognize when a child is showing signs of readiness for sleep, and gradually retreat. Stand by your child, slowly, But definitely leave and give the gift of self-solving without pain.

However, she admits that this can be difficult to implement as a parent. It’s heartbreaking how upset or sick they can get, and I gave up on the idea that this is exactly what having young children is like. There is a social understanding,” says Christie.

“Many conversations have started with families asking not to put their children to bed during the day because they feel it affects their sleep at night. It didn’t feel like an approach.

“Sometimes parents try to strategize against their child’s negative behavior, but sleep was causing problems.”

Staff participated in The Sleep Charity training and shared what they learned with their colleagues and parents. The nursery now hosts regular parent workshops and special parent evenings and shares tips via social media.

Our staff aims to approach every situation non-judgmentally. “Every setup is different,” says Christie. “For example, many parents keep their children in bed. But there may be options that help. Covid has added challenges,” she says. Even the kids who were fine were struggling.”

The nursery set up a Zoom session with The Sleep Charity to help parents stay on track and feel supported.

Further information

eat well

Dr. Xanthi Maragdouaki, a nutrition expert registered with the Early Years Nutrition Partnership (EYNP), considers advising parents about giving their children treats.

The structure of nursery days with regular meal and snack times may mean that early childhood practitioners do not get the same food requirements as their parents. How can I support my parents when they have questions?

Prepare healthier snacksIf a parent or caregiver has a healthy snack ready, there is no time to prepare and there are always healthier options available. Crudités with cottage cheese, hummus, grapes, watermelon, cucumbers and nectarines are all great seasonal options. Tastier snacks like cheese cubes, homemade popcorn, and whole grain crackers are also starchy options. Also, don’t hesitate to advise parents to offer snacks similar to the menu in the children’s room.

Avoid prepackaged snacks, especially those high in salt and sugar. These snacks can become a child’s habit, and the high sugar and salt content increases cravings for similar snacks and reduces satiety, but the packaging is also designed to be more appealing to children. However, when you’re short on time, a quick snack is convenient. In these situations, it is advisable to remove the packaging before serving to your child.

Don’t say no to certain snacksThis may sound like contradictory advice, but parents should avoid saying ‘no’ all the time when their children come across snacks that are considered ‘unhealthy’. Nothing terrible will happen if they occasionally get snacks that aren’t what you usually offer. Please avoid doing

provide nutritious and satisfying mealsseconds. Make sure your kids get enough fiber and protein in their diet to help them stay full longer. I often advise nurseries to offer foods that are likely to be rejected first while children are hungry. It may also be worthwhile to provide children with starchy foods during the day.

get the kids involved! Children love to create and cook. Fruit stars, popsicles made with Greek yogurt and berries, halloumi and vegetable skewers are just some of the easy, colorful choices to keep kids engaged. It’s also a great sensory experience that encourages you to embrace a wider variety of foods.

  • If you would like to discuss the issues raised in this column, or any other issues related to early childhood nutrition, please contact Jonathan Lucas at to arrange a conversation with one of EYNP’s registered nutrition experts. Please arrange. For more information, please visit