I spend a lot of time discussing stress management and the need to remain calm, confident and connected. But adding energy and dynamics is also crucial for sleep. If you’ve already ruled out overtiredness and other strategies to improve nighttime sleep, you might want to think about this. Here I’ll explain what I mean and how this might transform your naps and nights.
Energy and Dynamics
There’s another piece of the puzzle with bedtime routines. I often meet parents who are instigating a really lovely calming bedtime routine. They might have a bath in a dimly-lit room, a massage, story, cuddle and into bed…. And then sleep doesn’t follow. What’s that about? Well, we don’t want to do such a good job of keeping things calm, that we end up with a day that lacks energy and dynamics.
Think about a day when you’ve done very little. The sort of day where you don’t leave the house. You might potter about, watch some TV, eat, read. You might be reading this thinking – wow! That sounds like heaven! But that’s only because you’re tired and need rest. What about if that was all you did most days. Admit it; eventually you’d be bored!
It is hard for a baby or child to calm down for bedtime, when they’ve essentially been calm all day. It’s boring! Going from one energy state to the same state for different activities means we end up with a day that lacks energy and dynamics.
The zones of regulation
Stick with me. I promise this will make sense! A few years ago I started learning about the zones of regulation. This is a resource that is wonderful for children with neurodevelopmental or sensory problems, but actually, like so many other things, it is great for neurotypically developing children as well. Essentially, this is a way of describing emotional regulation to people (especially children) to enable them to recognise when they are becoming dysregulated.
Red zone: This is a state of extreme anxiety and hyper-arousal. Often a meltdown will occur if a child is in the ‘red zone’. For obvious reasons, it’s best to avoid this! Children become very stressed, and a stressed child can neither think rationally, nor settle for sleep. You may notice screaming, hitting, thrashing around or crying. Not fun.
Yellow zone: A child in the yellow zone is brewing up their anxiety, stress or frustration. They may become squirmy, hyperactive, may struggle to concentrate or become agitated. They can usually be calmed down in this state, but if they are not, they may escalate into the red zone. Nobody wants that!
Green zone: This is the ‘good to go’ zone. Children will be alert, but not hyper-aroused or stressed. They are usually happy, ready to concentrate, communicate or learn.
Blue zone: This is where children are feeling bored, sick, low in mood or sluggish. It can be difficult to get a child to get up and go in this zone. The only time when this is a good zone to be in is right before bed.
How do the zones affect behaviour and sleep?
During the day, your baby or child needs to have an ebb and flow to their day. Giving the day more energy and dynamics can help a child switch from one energy state or activity to the next. If they go from quiet play to a quiet walk, to calmly interacting with parents, to a calm-down time before bed, you might find that they resist falling asleep. It’s not that you’ve done anything wrong, they perhaps have just been a bit stuck in the blue zone.
The ideal situation is some movement between the green zone, into a calm down down time which eases a child into the blue zone so they’re ready to fall asleep. Well-known GP, IBCLC and sleep expert Pam Douglas, heads up the Possums clinic in Australia. Assuming children are over-stimulated, when they may be under-stimulated is not a good idea. Babies need fun, excitement, and entertainment too!
How to add energy and dynamics without overdoing it?
I’m certainly not advocating over-scheduling your child. They do not need lots of classes, activities or to be constantly kept busy. Children can sometimes become overtired and wired if they always being stimulated and ‘entertained’. Plus it’s exhausting for you to be able to keep up with that. But equally, you don’t want to worry so much about over-stimulation that your baby’s day is boring! Activities do not need to be expensive, or even require you to leave the house if the weather’s awful.
Some things to try
- Tickle sessions (anything that makes your baby or child laugh hard definitely counts!)
- Rough and tumble play – throwing your baby up the air (safely of course!!), rolling around on the floor, pillow fights
- Running around – chasing, tag games, a baby obstacle course made out of rolled up blankets or cushions for your baby to climb and crawl over, or a crawling race with your baby
- Exciting peekaboo games – babies love drama and theatre! Think suspense and surprise….
- Dancing around. Babies and children love goofing about. If your baby is not mobile, do a silly dance for them and watch them giggle
- Read a story with puppets, and do silly voices or actions
- Go to the playground and push your baby or little one in the swing, send them down the slide or ride on the roundabout or seesaw together
- Have any kind of exercise or outside time together
When you can add in excitement and energy, you’ll find that your baby or child can tolerate a calm down down time better. Appropriately stimulated children will be tired and ready for bed. You will therefore have an easier bedtime!
Lyndsey Hookway is a paediatric nurse, health visitor, IBCLC and holistic sleep and behaviour coach. She works privately at www.feedsleepbond.com as well as for the NHS and as an independent lecturer and trainer. She offers webinars and bespoke training for health professionals, childcare, sleep and maternity carers and parents. Her first book – Holistic Sleep Coaching – is out now on Amazon and direct from the publisher.