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Co-sleeping and reduced screentime the most effective tactics to get children sleeping

Sleeplessness in children can negatively impact concentration, learning and behaviour, and can even disrupt the sleeping patterns of parents. For some parents, getting their child to sleep can be a nightmarish struggle that can sometimes take hours to resolve. Now, new research among Aussie parents has revealed sharing a bed or room with their child and reducing screentime are the two most effective tactics parents have used to improve their child’s sleep.

The findings were derived from a survey of 219 Australian parents commissioned by Calming Blankets, a premium, science-driven weighted blanket, designed to assist adults and kids who suffer from troubled sleep, stress or sensory conditions that impact sleep quality.

Survey respondents selected the tactics they’ve tried and tested to help their child sleep better, from a list of eight. Just over half (52 per cent) of all parents said they tried reducing screen time before bed, while an equal 48 per cent read a book to their child or used a nightlight, and 46 per cent let their child sleep with their favourite toy. An equal third (35 per cent) has given warm milk or snacks before bed, or let their child fall asleep in the same room or beside them, 34 per cent tried adjusted the number of bedcovers, and 27 per cent increased or reduced the temperature in their child’s room.

Respondents were asked to select the most effective tactic. One in five (19 per cent) admitted letting their child sleep in the same room or, controversially, beside them gives the best results. Reducing screen time before bedtime is most successful for 17 per cent of parents, while reading a book to their child worked best for 16 per cent and using a nightlight worked best for 12 per cent of parents.

The least effective tactics are warm milk or snacks before bed (successful for just nine per cent of parents), having a child sleep with their favourite toy (eight per cent), adjusting the amount of bed covers (four per cent), and altering bedroom temperatures (five per cent). Ten per cent of parents admitted none of the tactics worked.

Parents were also asked if they’d tried using slightly heavier blankets, bed covers or a weighted blanket to help their child sleep. A third (37 per cent) of parents revealed they had tried this strategy, with a promising 81 per cent revealing it was effective in helping their child sleep.

Davie Fogarty, the CEO and founder of Calming Blankets, says: “Sleep problems are fairly common among children, with studies showing that up to 47 per cent have trouble sleeping at one point or another. While it has been assumed that children outgrow these problems, recent studies have shown that sleep problems can actually increase during later childhood, indicating the importance of adopting a good sleep routine at a young age[1].”

“It is great to see that many parents are actively trying to reduce their child’s screen time prior to bed, as screen use has been found to have a negative impact on our ability to fall and stay asleep[2]. Co-sleeping with your child is controversial, with some medical experts not recommending this tactic, as it may impact the parents’ sleep quality and potentially lead to behavioural problems in children later in life[3]. As part of their development, it is important for children to self-soothe and sleep on their own[4], and using strategies such as a toy, nightlight, or a weighted blanket, can prove effective in helping your child sleep independently, and through the night.”

Survey Findings

Q. Which sleep tool worked best for your child?

% respondents

Adjusting the amount of bed covers

5%

Warm milk or snacks

9%

Reducing screen time before bed

17%

Reading a book to them before bed

16%

Having a night light on

12%

Letting them sleep with their favourite toy

8%

Letting them fall asleep next to, or in the same room as, a parent              

19%

Increased or reduced temperature in their room

4%

None of the above

10%

Below, the Calming Blankets team has brought together their research to share several other strategies parents can try to improve their child’s sleep:

  1. Talk through and address the issues of the day.

Poor sleep quality in children has been strongly associated with behavioural or emotional problems, such as anxiety, depression, or ADHD. It is also fairly common for children to experience night-time fears, which are typically to do with personal safety, separation, fear of imaginary creatures, frightening dreams, the dark, or potential school and social pressure. In fact, in a recent study, children who are fearful took nearly an hour longer to fall asleep than non-fearful children[5]. If night-time fears or anxiety are an issue, it can be useful to teach children strategies such as brave self-talk and coping statements to address any worries they may have. It is also important for parents to regularly communicate with their children about their day to help them express their emotions and feel comfortable openly discussing the things that be causing them stress.  

  1. Eliminate screen time completely at night.

Children are one of the largest consumers of technology as a result of mobile phone use and the large number of tablet-based learning games, activities, or shows. Studies have shown that the increased mental, physiological, and emotional stimulation from more frequent use of technology has been associated with increased sleep anxiety, night waking and increased overall sleep disturbance while significantly shortening sleep duration among children[6]. Light emissions from the screen will also suppress the production of the sleep hormone melatonin, thereby delaying sleep and potentially altering the sleep-wake cycle[7]. Try leaving devices at a charging station in the evening, away from the bed or in another room, to discourage use at bedtime. Families can also create ‘tech-free’ zones in the home, at the dinner table or the bedroom to eliminate temptation and engage in family time as an alternative. Reading before bedtime will help a child wind down while still engaging their mind. 

  1. Stick to a bedtime routine.

Sticking to a bedtime routine is important to creating good sleep hygiene practices and reducing sleeplessness in children. Setting consistent bedtime hours provides and transitioning activities provides children with a sense of predictability and security by developing regular external cues to indicate that sleep is coming. A bedtime routine should include the same unwinding activities every night at around the same time, such as a warm bath, brushing teeth, reading, and singing lullabies.

  1. Try a combination of tools to aid your child’s sleep.

There will never be a ‘one size fits all’ approach when it comes to getting children to fall asleep. An effective sleeping strategy will usually require a variety of tools and approaches that are tailored to the individual needs of a child. Utilising bedtime transition objects, such as blankets, dolls, and stuffed animals, can help young children to gain independence and self-soothing to fall asleep. If your child is a restless sleeper, using weighted covers can help prevent excessive movement, ensuring your child won’t toss and turn throughout the night and can continue sleeping. In fact, weighted blankets have been found to be beneficial for children with autism and other sensory disorders, improving morning mood and improving sleep quality.[8]

  1. Recognise when to seek professional assistance.

When a child experiences regular sleep problems, the parents usually suffer as well. Poor sleep outcomes for parents are associated with increased stress levels and bad moods, which can impact parenting behaviours that will, in turn, impact a child’s sleep, creating a vicious cycle[9]. If sleep difficulties are causing significant problems to both the child and the parents, it is important to seek professional advice from GP or paediatrician who may be able to provide a referral to sleep specialist.

About Calming Blankets

Founded in 2017 by Davie Group CEO and entrepreneur Davie Fogarty, Calming Blankets is one of Australia’s highest-quality, science-driven weighted blankets. Calming Blankets is an effective sleep solution that has helped thousands of Australians who suffer from troubled sleep, and stress and sensory conditions that impact sleep quality. The weighted blanket mimics deep tissue stimulation, reducing movement and providing a calming effect to relieve stress and improve sleep. The Calming Blanket range comprises Minky, Bamboo, Hand Woven and Silver Ion. www.calmingblankets.com.au

About Davie Fogarty

Davie Fogarty is an entrepreneur and founder of Davie Group. With a background in marketing, Davie has grown the company to be one of Australia’s largest and fastest-growing online retailers. Established in 2017, the company owns 12 brands, including The Oodie, Calming Blankets, Pupnaps, ZoeTech, Tumfort, Australian Furniture Warehouse, Babymat, TMRW and Swished.

[1] PLOS ONE, 2019: journals.plos.org/plosone/article/comments?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0224139

[2] BMC Paediatrics, 2021: bmcpediatr.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12887-021-02529-y

[3] Behavioural Sleep Medicine, 2021: tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/15402002.2020.1818564

[4] Frontiers Psychology, 2021: frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2021.772260/full

[5] Monitor on Psychology, 2020: apa.org/monitor/2020/07/ce-corner-sleep

[6] Global Pediatric Health, 2018: journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/2333794X17736972

[7] Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism, 2019: karger.com/Article/Fulltext/508055    

[8] Children, 2021  ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7823442/

[9] Nat Sci Sleep, 2020: ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7608549/

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