A mum who was being woken up her toddler calling for her every night, was very surprised to discover the real cause of her disturbed sleep.
“I felt like we had tried everything. Different bedtimes, different pajamas, her favorite dolls, night-lights, cuddling, cry-it-out… you name it. But nothing worked,” Stacey Garska creator of The Soccer Mom Blog wrote.
The one day Garska’s mother suggested something she hadn’t thought of: trace amounts of caffeine in chocolate could be causing her toddler’s wakefulness.
When Garska tried cutting chocolate out of her daughter’s diet, she stated the effect on her daughter’s sleep patterns was “like a miracle”, and detailed the changes in a blog post on 22 March.
Vicki Dawson, CEO of The Children’s Sleep Society, explained that caffeine in chocolate can make it difficult for a child to sleep.
“Caffeine can impact on children’s sleep and is best avoided,” she told The Huffington Post UK.
“It can be found in chocolate, some carbonated drinks, as well as tea and coffee.
“Caffeine acts as a stimulant, water or milk are better options for drinks in the evening.”
Your child is unlikely to always be able to tell you what it is that is stopping them sleeping, so with that in mind we asked child sleep experts to tell us other surprising things that could be keeping your child awake:
1. You’re inadvertently boiling them.
When thinking about an environment you’d like to fall asleep in, it’s common to picture curling up with a big snuggly blanket by a warm fire, but actually all that heat does not promote good sleep.
Lisa Artis from The Sleep Council advises that the ideal temperature for a child’s bedroom is around 18°C.
“Don’t be tempted to crack the heating up,” she said. “A room too warm (or too cold) makes for more restless sleep.
“Like animals, we sleep better in a cooler environment – think hibernation.
“Ideally room temperature should be between 16 to 24°C (20°C for babies and young children, who find it harder to regulate body temperature).
“The room should be well aired before bed time if necessary.”
2. Their devices won’t let them switch off.
It’s common knowledge that staring at a screen just before bed is not a good idea, but even if your child is not looking at them directly the mere presence of screens in your child’s room could be stopping them sleeping.
“Bedroom environments are anything but the calming environment recommended, they frequently now contain iPhones, TVs, computers and games consoles,” explains Andrew Morley, lead sleep physiologist at the children’s hospital in Glasgow and paediatric representative on the British Sleep Society’s executive committee.
“Many of these portable devices emit significant amounts of lux [a measure of light], which can be as much as half the illumination of a room light.
“The short wave blue light within this light is disruptive as it suppresses the production of melatonin [a hormone that helps control your sleep].”
3. Lighten up.
Leaving a light on as your child drifts off and then turning it off when you turn in could disrupt their sleep.
Dawson explained: “Some children find having a night light in the room helpful particularly children who have a visual or hearing impairment. Other children prefer darkness and blackout blinds can help to keep the room dark all night long.
“Either way, it is important that conditions remain consistent throughout the night.”
Morley adds: “Although sleep experts talk of the optimal environment for sleep being that of limited light, in some cases – particularly with young children who can have vivid imaginations – using a night-light can be helpful in providing a reassuring environment for the child to sleep.
“Comforted by the light the child then learns to fall asleep within this environment. It can also be beneficial when a child wakes during the night again it provides comfort for the child hopefully allowing them to roll over back to sleep without significantly affecting the quality of their sleep.
“Some concerns have been expressed that even a night light of low light will affect sleep initiation. However most people do not think there is enough light emitted from this to affect melatonin levels, unlike that of a household light bulb where there is plenty of evidence available to prove that this will inhibit the secretion of melatonin.”
4. Lack of patience
When all you want is for your child to go to sleep so they can get a good night’s rest, sometimes it can seem necessary to issue the instruction: “Go to sleep now. I don’t want to hear another peep out of you until the morning.”
But actually trying to fall asleep on command is bound to fail. The Sleep Council advise parents shouldn’t expect children to nod off the second they get into bed – after all, most adults don’t – they should be allowed to play quietly or read for a little while until they drop off.