One in five parents give their child melatonin to help with sleep, according to an American survey which has also revealed that one in four parents report difficulties in getting their child to sleep.

These parents have usually resorted to techniques which may not be beneficial in the long run, the authors say. These include staying with their child until they are asleep or keeping the television on.

A quarter of parents say that their child’s anxiety or worrying prevents them from falling asleep easily, according to the findings from the University of Michigan Health C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health.

Sarah Clark, Mott Poll co-director, said: “Our report reinforces the common struggle of getting young children to sleep. When this transition to bedtime becomes a nightly conflict, some parents may fall into habits that work in the moment but could set them up for more sleep issues down the road.

“Establishing a consistent bedtime routine is crucial. When children don’t get enough rest, it can impact their physical development, emotional regulation and behaviour.”

The survey, which included responses from 781 parents of children aged from one to six, revealed that over a third of parents report that their child wakes upset. Just under half say they then have the child in bed with them, while around 30% end up sleeping in their child’s bedroom.

Sarah Clark said: “Many young children go through stages when they become scared of the dark or worry that something bad might happen, causing them to delay bedtime or become distressed by parents leaving the room. Bad dreams or being awakened in the middle of the night can also disrupt sleep.

“Although this is a normal part of a child’s development, it can be frustrating when parents already feel tired themselves at the end of the day. Parents should find a balance between offering reassurance and comfort while maintaining some boundaries that help ensure everyone – both kids and adults – get adequate sleep.”

The team’s advice for parents whose child struggles to fall asleep or stay asleep includes:

  • Establish and stick to a regular bedtime routine
  • Create an environment conducive to sleep
  • Talk to your GP before using aids like melatonin
  • Offer comfort but enforce boundaries
  • Be consistent
  • Ease into changes to sleep patterns, such as dropping naps

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