The children have brushed, the PJs have come on, umpteen stories read, but sleep is as elusive as ever. Sounds familiar? Well, the good news is that there is a way out. Make music your ally — it calms, engages, distracts and transports the little ones to the land of their dreams.
Why is sleep important?
Research has found that children sleeping less than nine to 10 hours a day are 25 per cent more likely to misbehave. “They are consistently at a greater risk for ‘acting out’ behavioural problems and oppositional and non-compliant behaviour. “So, rather than pulling an ‘allnighter’ for exams, it’s better to have sufficient sleep so that the brain retains what was read. It improves memory retention.
Poor sleep patterns lead to mood swings, behavioural problems, hyperactivity and affect cognitive skills and their ability to learn new things,” says Dr Lakshmy Menon, consultant neonatologist and paediatrician. Achild’s sleeping pattern develops over time.
A newborn averages 16-18 hours for the first week. It happens in snatches and occurs at random intervals throughout the day. By the time they are four weeks, it averages between 10-16 hours while some kids sleep only for eight-nine hours. Most babies are night owls and the daynight differentiation happens only when they are three to five months old.
“The reason for this is that melatonin, the sleep hormone which is not present in babies at birth, increases over time. Also, the wake-up hormone ‘cortisol’ is secreted at specific times of the day in what is called the circadian rhythm(sleep-wake cycle),” Dr Lakshmy said.
What are the usual reasons for a child not getting sound sleep? “Initial problems could be colic, hunger and later on, separation anxiety (child sleeps away from the caregiver). Problems of colic can be easily sorted out with time and identifying the cause. A good feed at night (breast/bottle feed) usually ensures sleep for four to six hours and sometimes longer for the older infant,” says Dr Lakshmy.
Bed time music to the rescue
Music can also help children asleep. Not just that. It also enhances deep sleep throughout the night. Music, like any sound, causes the inner ear to vibrate. Vibrations are transformed into electrical impulses and relayed to a small area of the brain that regulates the heart rate.
As children continue listening to soothing music, their heart and respiration rates lower. This leads to mental relaxation where the body enters a state of deep calmness. With repeated use of soothing music, children learn to associate music with sleep.
Saket Jalan, certified music therapist from the World Federation of Music Therapy, says, “There are seven chakras in the human body — crown, third eye, throat, heart, stomach, naval, and root chakra. When one hears different sounds of music, these chakras get activated and help us relax. Oily or junk food that we eat add toxins to our body and surroundings.
Since the young child does not have enough toxins in his body, the seven chakras get activated quickly, leading to a relaxed state.” Response to sound is one of the earliest and most highly developed ability of a newborn. Babies know their mother’s voice from the womb.
For them, the best bedtime music is listening to their mother’s voice. Another benefit is that communication and bonding occurs between the caregiver and the child. Infants respond directly to the singer by cooing and babbling, thus encouraging speech development.
“An infant’s interest in the world of ‘sound’ can be encouraged by different pitches, tones, rhythmical movement etc. Lullabies are designed such that oft-repeated words help soothe a child,” says Dr Lakshmy. Once the baby falls asleep, you can continue the music at a low volume.
Effective bed time music
The best soothing sounds come from a saxophone and violin. But whatever music you play should have a steady beat and harmonic rhythm. Reduced stimulation by bedtime, feeds in semi-darkened rooms, sometimes a warm bath at night and a massage, swaddling the baby, and reduced audiovisual distractions at night will help regularize the sleep pattern and help the infant achieve sleep earlier.
Sweet dream songs
Here are some favourites you can play for your baby: Dreamland by Robert Kochis; Fairy Dreams by Johann II [Junior] Strauss, Edvard Grieg, Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky; Bach at Bedtime: Lullabies for the Still of the Night and Rainbows & Sunshine.