Each child’s wellbeing and comfort is provided for, including appropriate opportunities to meet each child’s need for sleep, rest and relaxation.
Supporting rest and sleep in early childhood settings for toddlers
Daytime rest and sleep is an important feature of an early childhood centre routine and significant for children’s health, behavioural regulation, and learning. To create an environment for children to rest and sleep in there are four keys things to consider:
- environmental stimuli
- emotional climate
- Sleep scheduling
Sleep scheduling includes the consistency and duration of sleep and respect for the child’s sleep duration. We need to be aware of a child’s sleep schedule at home because it helps us to establish positive sleep and rest practices at the centre. Another important point is to know when a child has had their sleep schedule interrupted because we all know how a child’s behaviour can be linked to a lack of sleep.
We can assist the parents by teaching them the importance of regular bedtime, rise time, and allowing children to sleep to their needs. There is a link between sleep scheduling and behaviour, for example, irregular bed and rise times might disturb the circadian rhythm (body clock). When exposed to irregular sleep scheduling, they may experience tiredness and adverse effects on the child’s behaviour and learning.
What do we do well in centres?
Educators maintained sleep and rest routines, told stories, and offered children an opportunity to play with a soft toy or to read a book on their bed for a period of time before the expectation of sleep. They engaged in routines that prepared children for sleep time.
What do DON’T DO WELL in centres?
Educators were expecting children to have lengthy periods of sleep time, often up to 2 hours or more during which nonsleeping children were not permitted access to alternative activities. These rooms were characterised by a lack of pre-sleep routines to decrease arousal.
How can you improve your sleep and rest schedule at your centre?
- Sleep routines
Routines are activities that are associated with the start of sleep time and serve to reduce stress and increase predictability for children. Such routines lead to a decrease in arousal levels and result in a shorter period in getting to sleep and an overall improved quality of sleep.
Tips for parents. For night bedtime routines to be most successful, they should start before putting the child to bed and include a pre-sleep activity that is low in stimulation and signals transition to sleep. The worst things parents can do before bed are boisterous or mentally exciting activities that arouse the child and heighten physical and emotional states. The above works well in ECE setting too. For daytime rest and sleep we need use consistent routines that reduce arousal states and signal the approach of rest and sleep time.
As a team create a list of pre-sleep routines that are low in stimulation and signals transition to sleep. Don’t forget to share the successful ideas with parents.
They will love you for it.
Now list all the things you have seen or accidentally done that is the opposite of a pre-sleep routine and boisterous or mentally exciting activities.
- Stimulus in the sleep environment
Activities that occur within the rest and sleep environment are important to look at and evaluate as they influence rest, sleep and the quality of sleep in both positive and negative ways. Reading a book has a positive effect on sleep, but activities involving screen-based media, for example TV, iPads or computer screens have a negative effect. Many research studies have shown the presence of screen technology reduces sleep duration and quality. Screen-based technologies heighten emotional, cognitive, and physiological arousal by increasing levels of environmental light and sound, and exposure to emotional content. It’s good to remind parents of this as well as the negative effect of having screens/iPads etc in the bedroom. Put simply, beds are for sleeping in and we don’t want to learn beds are for stimulating non-sleep screen activities. Sleep clinics and sleep health practitioners are worried about this trend in modern life.
Evaluate your sleep environment. Are you reducing the behaviours and practices to slow children down and take their emotional and physical states down? How can you improve?
- Emotional climate
Adults behaviour effect the arousal levels in the sleep environment and set the emotional tone of the room. A calm emotional climate can facilitate sleep, whereas an environment that is threatening or punitive (“on your bed” said in a harsh voice) may limit sleep and may become associated with sleep disorder.
Research showed centres scheduling prolonged sleep times without alternative activity for nonsleepers were found to have lower emotional climate, whereas those with more flexible timing and provision of quiet activities for nonsleepers had higher emotional climate. Disruption and distress of children within ECEC rooms have been reported to occur alongside coercive and punitive methods to keep children in their beds and can disrupt the sleep of other children in the room.
In contrast, positive behaviours such as gentle and respectful communication within classrooms have been observed to provide a calm and emotionally supportive environment. The best environments for the support of children’s sleep are: characterized by appropriate scheduling, the provision of pre-sleep routines that signal the commencement of the sleep period; presence of activities that reduce stimulation and remove arousing activities; and educator’s practice that maintains calm and are free of threatening or punitive behaviours.
What are the alternatives for non-sleepers?
Exceeding Theme Core
All educators consistently meet each child’s needs for sleep, rest and relaxation individually and in groups, taking into consideration information from children, families and the community. All educators can explain how children’s changing activity needs are considered in the program design and the guidelines that underpin their practice.
Where is your practice compared to the above statement?