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Sleep on it

A key ingredient for a happy child is sufficient sleep. Here are tips on how to help your child get enough snooze time.

Understand the sleep cycle

We all have a 24-hour 'internal clock' that regulates our biological processes, known as circadian rhythm. Circadian is Latin for 'around the day' and this rhythm determines the regular times at which you feel alert or sleepy each day. It also affects body temperature and appetite.

There are two kinds of sleep - light sleep and deep sleep. Light sleep is when we 'go over' the day's events and wake refreshed. In babies, 80% of the sleep cycle is light sleep, but by adolescence this figure is only 20%. Deep sleep is when growing and healing takes place. It's harder to wake people from this kind of sleep. While we all move from light to deep cycle, in babies the cycle is shorter. Toddlers usually take about an hour for each sleep pattern or cycle. During deep sleep, adults may pull up another blanket or roll over, whereas babies and toddlers may cry and need help to settle again.

Establish a routine

So what can you do to help your child get a good night's sleep? 'Children thrive on routine, it gives them a sense of security, and the only way you instill a routine is by doing the same thing at the same time every day,' says Jaqui Flint, owner of Baby Love and Toddler Love.

What's a good bedtime routine?

At the end of a busy day, try the following:
- Start with a warm bath.
- Reduce noise and activity, including loud music, energetic play or watching TV.
- Avoid sugary drinks.
- Have quiet time - read a story or chat about the day.
- If your child struggles to sleep, ask why. The answer will guide your course of action.
- Listening to a child's feelings may help reduce their need for attention from you.

Dealing with bad dreams

Sharon Paulus, social worker at The Parent Centre in Cape Town, says an occasional bad dream shouldn't alarm you, as children have active imaginations. However, recurring and disturbing bad dreams could indicate an emotional problem and in this case, seek help.

- Children who have a relaxing bedtime routine are less likely to have bad dreams.
- When a child does have a bad dream, go promptly and reassure them.
- Listen to your child. Check their TV viewing, be alert to bullying or other problems and address them.
- Help your child to confront the bad dream through role-playing. For example, get the child to draw the spider from the dream and then ask him or her to destroy the drawing, giving the child a sense of control.

You Say

Mambo Chigumbu, mother of Tafara (4) and Tapiwa (3) was very nervous with her first child. 'I read a lot about sudden death syndrome, so I kept my son up.

Whenever he slept I was worried he wasn't breathing, so I would wake him and then he would get mad at me and cry so much that no one got any sleep. I learned from my mistakes and let my second son sleep as much as he wanted.

I give them a 10-minute warning before bedtime so they can get ready to stop playing. After bathtime I change them into their pyjamas. They drink their water, give us goodnight kisses and then I tuck them in. My husband and I take turns reading bedtime stories till they fall asleep. They sleep in the same room - we believe this will help them be friends as well as brothers. We turn the light off but leave the passage light on, in case one wakes during the night.