Get that child to bed!

By Drum Digital
13 April 2014

Most moms do believe children need strict bedtimes, but did you know a lack of sleep could cause kids to struggle with schoolwork? We give you some tips on getting them to bed.

According to a study published in July last year* children between the ages of three and seven do better in reading and maths and have better spatial abilities if they have regular bedtimes. At age seven this is especially true for girls, who seem to be more affected by less sleep than boys of the same age. But at age three all children who had irregular bedtimes – boys and girls – seemed to score lower on tests.

Researchers looked at more than 11 000 children in the UK and visited them at ages nine months, three years, five years and seven years. The tests were, for example, reading words aloud, forming structures with coloured blocks and identifying numbers.

And don’t think it’s okay to wait until they’re seven to implement the strict bedtime rule. Researchers also looked at the cumulative effects of less sleep and results showed children who lack a regular bedtime at a younger age will still be affected at age seven.

“Girls who never had regular bedtimes at ages three, five or seven had significantly lower reading and spatial scores,” the study reads. Boys had significantly lower scores if they didn’t have a regular bedtime at any two of the ages (three, five or seven years).

Researchers recommend a child of age seven gets 10 to 11 hours of sleep every night.

Sister Ann Richardson is a specialist nurse and parent coach at the Lonehill baby and child clinic in Johannesburg and says “establishing healthy sleep habits from the start will ensure that your child will fit smoothly into your family’s routine”. But she says this isn’t necessarily something that comes naturally to toddlers, and they need help from parents.

According to Richardson, there are two big things you can do to establish a good bedtime. The first is a Sleep Zone, which can be wherever the child sleeps – whether in their own room or yours – and the second is a solid bedtime routine. “Toddlers thrive on routine, so having the identical bedtime routine every night will soon become a trigger to him to start shutting down to a calmer state.”

 Create a sleep zone

-          Make sure the room is dark, or with only a dim light. If they sleep during the day, close the curtains.

-         Have sleep friends such as a stuffed animal or a pillow or favourite blanket.

-         Choose a calm colour scheme and avoid bright and primary colours.

-         Avoid scary posters or wall murals and overstuffed shelves. This might distract them and keep sleep away.

-         Don’t hang dressing gowns or towels on the back of the door – they can take on strange, sometimes frightening shapes in dim light.

-         Avoid glare from a window or passage light.

-         Keep the play zone in another part of the house, so that play and sleep aren’t confused

-         Keep the cot or bed away from plug points.

 Create a bedtime routine

-         Keep this time of day calm and quiet by limiting horseplay and excitement.

-         Do relaxing activities together such as watering the garden, doing a puzzle or playing “I spy”.

-         Try to serve supper at the same time every evening and perform the same activities until bedtime, for example reading a book.

-         Make tidying up part of the routine so they can learn to put toys and dishes away as part of the routine of sleeping.

-         Let them help you lay out pyjamas on the bed in preparation for putting them on and going to bed.

-         Have them take a bath before bedtime and add a drop of lavender or camomile oil to it. Limit the bath toys to simple stacking toys.

-         Wrap them tightly in a warm towel when finished and dry with deep, firm strokes which will help your child relax.

-         Have a favourite, calming song to sing before bedtime.

-         Try an infant massage after bath time. Richardson says this is one of the most effective ways to calm anyone, including children, and it enhances parent-child bonding. The International Association of Infant Massage in SA (011-787-0681) can offer more information.

-         Put on some calming music such as lullabies.

-         Read together – this can be a calming exercise. Stick to age-appropriate stories or old favourites.

-         Give a firm goodnight after the last kiss and cuddle and leave while your child is still “happily awake”, not drowsy or asleep – Richardson warns that otherwise you’ll create the expectation to always stay with them, which can become an issue later on, especially when they need to sleep out or if someone else is babysitting.

-Dalena Theron

SOURCE: Sister Ann Richardson is the co-author of the books Baby Sense and Sleep Sense and the author of the book Toddler Sense (Metz Press: 2011 new edition). The above tips are available in the book and Sister Richardson also does workshops on the subject. More info at

*The study was done by researchers at the department of epidemiology and public health at the University College of London and was published online in July 2013 by the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health ( The full text can be viewed at

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