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Sleep Routines in Childcare need a Rethink

Has your toddler ever been unable to go to sleep at night because they had a huge daytime sleep at childcare? As an educator have you wanted more guidance on sleep practices to support your practice? Recently we caught up with Dr Sally Staton, Lead Researcher on Mandatory Nap times in Childcare and Children’s Night-time Sleep from the Centre of the Children’s Health Research to answer these questions and more.

About the Study

 In the first ever study of sleep in childcare the findings of the study have suggested 80% of the childcare centres studied are undertaking mandatory rest time but the study has debunked the practice of mandatory sleep times.  The ‘Sleep in Early Childhood’ study showed children who were exposed to more than 60 minutes mandatory sleep at childcare slept worse at night which continued when they started school.  Dr Staton said, “once children had entered school and mandatory napping had ceased, those children still had a 21 minute reduction in total sleep duration.” Dr Staton works as part of the ‘Sleep in Early Childhood’ research group in the Centre of the Children’s Health Research which mainly focuses on sleep and rest during the early years of the life. ‘Sleep in Early Childhood’ looked at the relationship between compulsory nap times in childcare and the length of the child’s night-time sleep and then again 12 months later. The results showed that children exposed to more than an hour of mandatory nap time in their childcare setting had, on average, 24 minutes less night-time sleep when in childcare,” she said.

What is Mandatory Sleep Time?

Mandatory sleep time means a child cannot do other quiet time activities and they are required to lie on their beds or on a mat. Dr Staton said, “we find about 18% of the (childcare) services have some period of mandatory sleep time within their setting, however the duration of that really differs. We had the services that might have only 15 minutes in which children are required to lie there and that the maximum we actually observe services with two and half an hours of what we refer to as mandatory sleep time. Quite different”.

Is it Time to Update the Guidelines on Sleep and Childcare?

Dr Staton said Australian legislation required all childcare services provide for each child’s individual sleep and rest needs but there were currently no specific guidelines regarding how children’s sleep needs should be met. “That’s because we haven’t really had very good evidence of what good practices might look like? So as part of the research we’re doing, we are actually collecting examples or services who’re working really really hard to actually address how we meet individual needs for sleep and rest because one of the issues for the three to five age group is actually there is a huge diversity in how much sleep they actually need.

For some three years olds, they’re going to require a nap. But actually for a lot three years olds, they don’t require a nap anymore, and when you get to the four and fives, you’re actually looking only about one in four children who will require a regular day time sleeping in that age group which is not very many children and if you contrast that towards what’s happening in practice, when we have a schedule sleep time in particularly a mandatory sleep time for these children, it doesn’t really match up between what children’s actually needs are and what we see in practice.

Advice for parents and educators having the ‘Sleep time’ conversation

“I think it’s challenging for parents and also challenging for educators”, Dr Staton said. “I guess there are a few things to recognise. One is that by legislation a service is required to provide rest time for children. Mandatory sleep is absolutely not a legal requirement. So they actually as part of their legislation are required to cater for individual needs. So certainly from the parent’s perspective, you are in the position to remind the service that they do need to provide some provision for your child if they’re unable to sleep. Of course, there is a little bit issue there because once you are in a service you have big group of kids. Of course educators are not just catering for your one child, although they are required to, or need to do things to meet their needs. They might have up to 24 children in a room with very very diverse needs and of course they need to balance those different things. So they might be limited in what they can provide but they certainly should be providing something for your child.”

The key is really communicating and it needs to be a two-way communication, so it’s really important that parents feel comfortable and know they can talk to their educator and the service about their child’s needs and then be prepared to also meet with the educators’ needs as well. The best option would be to work with the childcare centre on a strategy that might work both for the educator and service but also for the individual child.”

Dr Staton is now working with Early Childhood Australia and the government to develop some helpful resources for educators.

The research, led by Dr Sally Staton and co-authored by Professor Karen Thorpe, Associate Professor Simon Smith and PhD student Cassandra Pattinson, was conducted on behalf of the Australian-based Sleep in Early Childhood Research group.

A sample of 168 children, aged between 50-72 months of which 55 per cent were male, was observed during the study.

A big thanks goes to C & K who extended an invitation for me to attend their 2015 conference Connect, Collaborate Create where I saw Dr Sally Staton present her findings and heard about their ground-breaking study for the first time.

About Rebecca

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Hi I'm Bec and this is my my blog Daycare Decisions. I am a mum of 2, passionate about early education, nature play and a parents' transition back to the workforce after having a baby.

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