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Moms: How to Sleep Soundly, Even When You’re Sick

Sore throat. Stuffy nose. Wheezing cough. When you’re sick with a cold or flu, all you want to do is crawl into bed and sleep for a week or two. But your pesky symptoms make it impossible to rest easy. When bedtime finally rolls around, you actually feel worse than you did during the day.

“When you have a cold or the flu, congestion worsens at night,” says Dr. Neil Schachter, medical director of the respiratory care department of the Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City, and author of The Good Doctor’s Guide to Cold and Flu. “When you lie down, the airways are more likely to become clogged with mucus.”

Here’s how to stop tossing and turning, and get a restorative night’s sleep.

  1. Have a tea party. Before you go to bed, sip a mug of decaffeinated black tea. The antioxidant-rich beverage contains theobromine, which is a natural cough suppressant, and the heat thins mucus. Add lemon to help cut through congestion and honey to soothe the throat.
  2. Rinse away congestion. Wash away gunk that’s interfering with your breathing by doing regular nasal rinses. Nasal rinse kits can be found at most drugstores and are easy and painless to use. Essentially, you are rinsing your nasal cavity with a mixture of distilled water and sodium. This helps to clear passages and keep them moist. If you’re uncomfortable with a nose rinse, try a saline nasal spray instead. This also helps to flush out the nose, which makes breathing easier, says Dr. Schachter.
  3. Pamper a sore throat. “The throat feels sore during an infection because the mucus that is lining the throat is filled with inflammatory compounds,” says Dr. Schachter. Add half a teaspoon table salt to warm water, gargle for 10 seconds and spit out. Removing the virus-laden mucus relieves both sore throat and coughing.
  4. Darken your bedroom. It’s important to create a healthy environment that promotes quality sleep. Since incoming light tells the brain to wake up, try to block morning light from reaching your eyes. You can accomplish this by hanging dark curtains or by wearing a comfortable sleep mask that covers your eyes. Also, if you have a brightly illuminated alarm clock, make sure it’s not facing you during the night.
  5. Keep it cool. In your bedroom, set the thermostat low. When your body temperature drops, your brain goes into sleep mode. The National Sleep Foundation recommends between 54 F and 75 F.
  6. Take a hot shower. Before bed, muster the strength to take a hot shower. When you get out, the drop in body temperature helps prepare your brain for sleep. Bonus: Steam loosens congestion and hydrates your nasal and throat passages.
  7. Slip on socks. Put on a pair of cozy socks before you get into bed. According to a Swiss study, warming your feet helps your body relax and puts you in the snooze zone.
  8. Silence symptoms. Some common symptoms, such as a cough and congestion, can make restful sleep a real challenge when you’re sick. Over-the-counter medications can help alleviate these uncomfortable obstacles to a good night’s sleep.
  9. Elevate your head. When you’re sick, sleep with your head elevated. Prop yourself up with a few extra pillows or the plump cushions from your sofa. Sleeping elevated helps ease sinus pressure and makes breathing less difficult.
  10. Quiet your mind. Even when you’re exhausted and not feeling well, sometimes you can have a mental block that prevents you from falling asleep. To get into the right frame of mind, try one of these calming pursuits: meditate, jot your thoughts into a journal, listen to soothing music or read your favorite book.

How to Talk to Your Kids About…Bedtime

Bedtime is hard for many families. Everyone is tired, worn out, and short on patience. As parents, if we stick to a routine and change the way we think about putting our kids to bed, it will really help with the bedtime battles. It can be a great time of day when we relax, connect, listen, talk and teach.

Remember, sleep breeds sleep. The more your child sleeps, the more your child will sleep. We need to stop thinking that skipping naps will make getting them into bed easier.

To make bedtime an enjoyable time of day for everyone, ESTABLISH A ROUTINE. By sticking to a routine, kids know what to expect. This will help them feel safe and secure because things are predictable. Predictability brings comfort.

Your routine should include…

  • Setting a bed time and sticking with it. The more lenient you are with bedtime, the more going to bed will be a battle.
  • Starting your bedtime routine at least 30 minutes before you want your kids to be in bed. This will allow time for your child to wind down, just like we need to do. Rushing them through bedtime prep does not allow them to do and say all that they need to in order to feel ready to stay quiet and sleep.
  • Establish a sequence in which you will accomplish the same bedtime tasks every night. (For example…Put on Pj’s, go to the bathroom, brush teeth, read a book, talk about the day, say prayers, hugs and kisses, lights out).
  • Change the way you think about bedtime. Time to start thinking about bedtime as a way to connect with our children. A time to laugh and snuggle and talk.

When talking to your kids about bedtime…

Don’t threaten. (“If you don’t go to sleep, you can’t play tomorrow”). This only makes things worse. Instead, stick to a routine, give lots of time to get ready for bed, and talk about the fun things that you will do, like “Tell me what you liked best about today and then we will turn out the lights”.

When kids get out of bed, be firm and say “You need to sleep in your bed”. Then, with little to no words at all, return them to their beds. At first, you might have to do this a lot. Keep with and don’t give in, not even one night.

Don’t get 10 glasses of water. Only respond to requests once. Explain that they can have one request and that is all. They will learn to use that request wisely and pretty soon, the requests will stop. Going up every time they call will fuel the fire and drag the process out for hours.

If bedtimes are already difficult in your family, remember that behavior can be modified. Establish and stick to your routine, don’t give up hope, be patient and don’t quit.

6 Tips to Help Your Child Get Quality Sleep

The right amount of sleep is paramount for your little one’s development both physically and mentally. The duration very much depends on the child’s age. As a rule of thumb the following applies to my five children: between the ages 1 and 2, 11 to 14 hours of sleep, pre-school age (3 to 5 years old) 10 to 13 hours and school children (6 to 13 years old) 9 to 11 hours.

So, why is counting those ZZZ’s so crucial to a child’s growth? One of the things that resonate with parents the most is their child’s mood and learning ability – sleep directly affects it, and none of you want those temper tantrums or phone calls from school because your son or daughter is grouchy and tired.

Sleep is essential to children’s health, influencing your child’s weight, immune system, and overall ability to regenerate and assimilate what they have learned during the day. Another bonus is that your precious offspring will be less accident prone and aware of his or her environment.

Need we go on? It is safe to say that sleep is one of the most important things in your kid’s young life. Here are some tips and tricks to help you on your way.

Choose the right mattress:

You as a parent can have a direct influence on this. Sleeping Guide will help you make the right choice.

So what is important here; what should you consider?

I have found that a pocket-sprung mattress is better suited than the memory foam version. This is because, unlike many adults, children need firmness contrary to an adaptable surface. I assumed that a medium-hard mattress is better for my child’s spinal growth and so far I still need to be proven wrong.

Routine is everything:

I always prefer to have my son and daughter in bed before 9 pm. Also, I created a bedtime routine as a kind of introduction to sleep. My precious little ones automatically understand when their dad or I use the words, “Sweetie, it’s off to bed in half an hour.”

Think of your computer – it also needs a certain amount of time to shut down.

Monitor electronic interference:

Now we have all fallen victim to the so-called benefits of the digital nanny. Let’s face it; our kids love tablets, on-demand TV, and music.

If you have allotted a certain amount of digital playtime, make sure it comes to an end at least an hour before bedtime. Another thing, depending on your child’s age, make sure the usage time does not exceed an hour in the evenings. From my experience too much electronic playtime makes them irritable and excitable – not the ideal recipe to collect those ZZZs.

Reduce stress:

High levels of stress heighten cortisol levels in the body. As a result, your kid will have trouble falling asleep. A small tip here – keep those bedtime activities calm and the house quiet.

Make bedtime special:

I mention this point because the time before bed is the ideal moment for you to make your young one feel loved. You might have a small talk or tell them a story; anything that will detract from our hectic everyday lives and make their voyage to dreamland all the more comfortable.

The right sleeping environment is the way to go:

Letting my kids have a big say in the way we designed their rooms was a huge boon.

Makes sense right? We all sleep better in an environment in which we feel comfortable and safe. Take care of those stuffed animals too; one or two is fine but having a bed full of them is counterproductive. And I always keep lighting to a minimum and make sure that the temperature is not too high or too low.

As a last bit of advice, be mindful and respectful of your child’s fears. It may sound silly to you, but to them, it is vital. A small something like imaginary magic pajamas or a brave teddy bear can go along way in creating peace in their mind.

Sleep: The Best Gift to Your Child’s Intelligence

As parents, we are faced with an onslaught of products that claim to improve our child’s learning and intelligence. Manufacturers of toys, games, and electronic devices all try to convince us that they will make all the difference in your child’s development.

It turns out that perhaps the easiest gift we can give our child’s developing brain is sleep. We all know the importance of sleep, but new research links sleep directly to the development of executive function in young kids.

Why is Executive Function Important?

You may have heard the phrase “executive function” thrown around in education circles. What does it really mean? Simply put, executive function is the mental processes that help you regulate your behavior. Things like impulse control, working memory and planning are all part of executive function.

From this description you can probably tell how important executive function is to kids performance in school, and perhaps more importantly, their functioning in later life. Kids who lack executive functioning skills often appear to be misbehaving or defiant. In reality, their brain just doesn’t yet have the skills to regulate their behavior well.

The Link to Sleep

Think back to the last night you lost a night’s sleep. How did you feel the next day? Groggy, slow-moving, perhaps even clumsy or forgetful? This is a perfect example of how sleep affects executive control. Without proper sleep even we adults are not at the top of our mental game in terms of executive function. Now imagine this same scenario in children, who have not fully developed their executive control anyway.

Past research has clearly linked sleep loss to poor executive function in elementary age children. In these groups, children who lose sleep either due to medical problems or purposefully in lab settings often experience deficits in cognitive skills and the ability to pay attention.

We are just now understanding, however, the ways in which sleep might affect executive function in very young children. The newest study on this topic looks at children as young as 12-18 months of age. While these kids have not developed a great deal of executive function skills, it is still possible to see differences.

The results of this study found that among kids who had more overall night sleep, their executive function skills were higher than among kids who had less overall night sleep. Additionally, the area that showed the most difference was executive functions that centered on impulse control.

As parents, we all know what this looks like in real-life. Your toddler skips a nap or gets to bed too late one night and they are a mess the next day. Cranky, unable to follow the simplest instructions and cries at the drop of a hat. Now multiply this by weeks or months of inadequate sleep and you can get a picture of how sleep really affects executive function.

So, forget all the fancy gadgets and electronic games. If you want your child to develop their intellect and executive function in the best possible way—just let them sleep as much as they can.

How to Recognize If Your Child Has An Airway Problem

Have you noticed any unnatural or worrisome behavior in your child’s sleeping patterns? For example, does your child snore, even as an infant? Does your child gasp for air, appear to choke, or thrash around in his or her sleep? If so, you may want to have your child’s airway development evaluated.

We all know proper breathing habits are essential to our children’s health, development, and intellectual success. Early detection and correction of airway problems is critical to their overall quality of life. Children who cannot adequately breathe through their noses tend to breathe through their mouths. Constant mouth breathing is not only unhealthy, but also tends to affect the growth of facial features.

Even if your child has never had any respiratory issues, his or her ability to easily and efficiently breathe depends on more than lung functionality. Even if your child’s lungs are functioning properly, any obstructions or constrictions of the airway over a significant amount of time can lead to unhealthy breathing habits and anatomical pathologies. As your child grows, a restricted airway increases his or her chances of asthma, allergies, and chronic sinus and throat infections.

Don’t forget – the tongue is the strongest muscle in our body! The more your child’s tongue sits in the lower jaw, the more pressure exerted. This leads to severely compromised nasal breathing, causing the upper jaw and midface to develop at a slower rate, because the natural growth stimulant of air flow through the nasal passages is absent. The deficiency of growth in our upper jaws and midface affects our facial balance, beauty and function. A poorly-developed upper jaw means less support for the eye sockets and nasal airways, leading to a deviated septum, asymmetrical nose, snoring, and sleep apnea.

By examining, diagnosing and treating your child’s airway development at an early age, you can:

  • Remove dangerous factors influencing your child’s growth
  • Ensure proper growth in your child’s development
  • Assist in the psychological well-being of your child
  • Save your child from a potential jaw surgery in adulthood
  • Prevent crowding and crooked teeth in your child’s smile

To determine which course of treatment would be the most beneficial to your child, reach out to your pediatrician, dentist, orthodontist, or sleep specialist.

How to Overcome Sleeping Challenges with Your Young Child

Lots of young children find it difficult to settle down to sleep and will wake up during the night.

For some people, this might not be a problem. But if you or your child are suffering from lack of sleep, there are some simple techniques you can try.

Every child is different, so only do what you feel comfortable with and what you think will suit your child.

If your child won’t go to bed

If your child won’t go to sleep without you

More sleep tips for under-fives

Help your disabled child to sleep

Help with children’s sleep problems

If your child won’t go to bed

  • Decide what time you want your child to go to bed.
  • Close to the time that your child normally falls asleep, start a 20-minute “winding down” bedtime routine. Bring this forward by 5-10 minutes a week – or 15 minutes if your child is in the habit of going to bed very late – until you get to the bedtime you want.
  • Set a limit on how much time you spend with your child when you put them to bed. For example, read only one story, then tuck your child in and say goodnight.
  • Give your child their favourite toy, dummy (*pacifier) (if they use one) or comforter before settling into bed.
  • Leave a beaker (*cup) of water within reach and a dim light on if necessary.
  • If your child gets up, keep taking them back to bed again with as little fuss as possible.
  • Try to be consistent.
  • You may have to repeat this routine for several nights.

If your child won’t go to sleep without you

This technique can help toddlers (over 12 months) or older children get used to going to sleep without you in the room.

It can also be used whenever your child wakes in the middle of the night.

Be prepared for your child to take a long time to settle when you first start.

You can use strokes or pats instead of kisses if your child sleeps in a cot and you can’t reach them to give them a kiss.

  • Have a regular, calming bedtime routine.
  • Put your child to bed when they are drowsy but awake and kiss them goodnight.
  • Promise to go back in a few moments to give them another kiss.
  • Return almost immediately to give a kiss.
  • Take a few steps to the door, then return immediately to give a kiss.
  • Promise to return in a few moments to give them another kiss.
  • Put something away or do something in the room then give them a kiss.
  • As long as the child stays in bed, keep returning to give more kisses.
  • Do something outside their room and return to give kisses.
  • If the child gets out of bed, say, “back into bed and I’ll give you a kiss”.
  • Keep going back often to give kisses until they are asleep.
  • Repeat every time your child wakes during the night.

See more tips from Barts Health NHS Trust on helping young children to sleep (PDF, 219kb).

More sleep tips for under-fives

  • Make sure you have a calming, predictable bedtime routine that happens at the same time and includes the same things every night.
  • If your child complains that they’re hungry at night, try giving them a bowl of cereal and milk before bed (make sure you brush their teeth afterwards).
  • If your child is afraid of the dark, consider using a nightlight or leaving a landing (*hallway) light on.
  • Don’t let your child look at laptops, tablets or phones in the 30-60 minutes before bed – the light from screens can interfere with sleep.
  • When seeing to your child during the night, be as boring as possible – leave lights off, avoid eye contact and don’t talk more than necessary.
  • Avoid long naps in the afternoon.

Help your disabled child to sleep

Sometimes children with long-term illnesses or disabilities find it more difficult to sleep through the night. This can be challenging both for them and for you.

Contact a Family has more information about helping your child sleep.

The Scope website also has sleep advice for parents of disabled children.

More help with children’s sleep problems

It can take patience, consistency and commitment, but most children’s sleep problems can be solved.

If your child is still having problems sleeping, you can talk to your health visitor.

They may have other ideas or suggest you make an appointment at a children’s sleep clinic, if there’s one in your area.

Editor’s Note: *clarification provided for our US readers.

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