I have two children. My three-year-old is a natural sleeper. My five-year-old is not. I spent plenty of time when he was younger reading books about child sleep, trying various methods, and even more time pulling my hair out over why he didn’t sleep well. Several years and another child later, I can see that it’s simply the way he is wired. We’ve parented both kids in exactly the same way. Our daughter sleeps well and always has. Our son does not. It’s just the way it is.
It didn’t feel like it at the time though. Everyone had an opinion.
He needs a warm bath and a story before bed, they said. We tried that. Bath time was more of a wild and wet splashing party and he emerged from the tub more wired than when he went in.
He needs to go to bed earlier, they said. We tried. He needs to go to bed later, they said. We tried.
Just let him cry and he’ll give up and go to sleep, they said. It didn’t feel right to us. We tried it once. It was a spectacular disaster and I apologized over and over and vowed to never do it again.
Eventually, our experience led us to co-sleeping, which we did on and off for over a year. He left on his own, and now sleeps in his own bed in his own room. Once he goes to sleep, most of the time, he stays asleep until morning.
However, he is still not a great sleeper when it comes to falling asleep. One night, a few weeks ago, I peeked into his bedroom and was rather horrified to see that while he had been put to bed three hours earlier, he was still awake. In bed and quiet, but still awake. When I asked him, “Why are you still awake? It’s 11PM!” he gave me a very revealing answer.
He said, “I can’t sleep, I can’t make my brain stop thinking.”
It stopped me in my tracks.
I can certainly relate. Being able to shut my thoughts off and go to sleep is something that I struggle with too, and considering the vast numbers of people who use sleep aid medications, he and I aren’t the only ones.
But how do you teach someone to “go to sleep?” If put to bed and instructed to “go to sleep,” what 5 year old would be able to figure that out on their own?
Puzzled, I pulled out our sleep book and turned to the section on the things children need for healthy sleep, but it seemed like we were already doing everything right. Enough physical activity during the day. Check. Avoid sleep preventing foods and feed sleep producing foods. Check. Gentle bedtime routine. Appropriate bed time. Sleep inducing environment. Check, check and check.
Then I turned the page and the word jumped out at me.
Personally, I do yoga almost daily and on nights when I just can’t settle down and fall asleep, I get out of bed and practice some calming poses to help me nod off. I figured it was worth a try with my 5 year old.
Within a week, he came to expect the bedtime practice, and I really think it has helped him fall asleep faster. On the couple of nights we skipped it, he was in and out of bed and up much later than he should have been. My three year old is also very interested and the ease at which children can slip their limber bodies into challenging poses is amazing. I usually aim for about 10 minutes, because beyond that their attention starts to slip, and I vary the poses based on how they are feeling that day and what physical activities they did that day. For example, on days when my son has been ice skating for school, we do a lot of forward bends to stretch out his legs.
You will need comfortable clothes (we usually do the sequence after the kids are in their jammies and ready for bed) and enough space to lie flat on your back with arms and legs extended. If your floor is hard or cold, you might want to consider a yoga mat or a blanket for padding, but be careful of slippage if you use a blanket. You should be barefoot.
Some poses to try:
Downward Facing Dog
Standing Forward Fold
Extended Puppy Pose
Head To Knee Forward Bend
If you’re not familiar with these poses, you can find descriptions and step by step directions at YogaJournal.com/poses. This site also has free 20-minute podcasts of varying difficulty at yogajournal.com/podcasts.
You can also check your local library for instructional videos and books on yoga for all ages.
Namaste and sleep well!