We all need sleep. It is essential to our health and well being that we get a good amount of non-disturbed sleep on a regular basis. But for our children regularly getting a good night sleep is even more important than it is for an adult. Most children will spend 40 percent of their childhood asleep. And this sleep is so important for children because it has a direct impact on their physical and mental health and development. Children who sleep well are less likely to have behavior problems or trouble focusing in school and are also less likely to make unhealthy choices.
So, what can we do as parents to help make sure our children are getting the proper amount of sleep, and that they are getting the restful sleep that they need? What does the right amount and kind of sleep look like? As parents, we should be making sure that our children are able to fall asleep easily, stay asleep throughout the night, and wake up refreshed so they have the energy they will need throughout the day.
PREPARE FOR BEDTIME
Enforce A Consistent Bedtime
Children function best when they have a set routine and they know what to expect. Setting a bedtime and enforcing it consistently is always the first step in helping make sure your child gets enough sleep and is set up for getting the right kind of sleep. Teenagers may be able to function well on an adult sleep schedule of 8 hours a night, but younger children could need up to 11 hours of sleep each night. You know what your family’s schedule looks like, so you know how early they need to get to bed in order to get the proper amount of sleep each night. It is also important to keep a consistent routine, even on weekends. If your children follow one sleep schedule during the week but then stay up later and sleep in longer on the weekends, it will only be more difficult for them to return to their earlier bedtime routine during the week.
Have a Positive Pre-Bedtime Routine
As adults we know how difficult it can be to get into bed and simply “turn off” our brains. Children have the same difficulty with “turning off” their brains and getting to sleep if they do not have a positive pre-bedtime routine. Help your children establish a pre-bedtime routine that helps them relax and wind-down so their brains and bodies are prepared for bedtime when it arrives. Common relaxing pre-bedtime routine activities include taking a bath, putting on pajamas, brushing teeth, cuddling up for a bedtime story, listening to soothing music, and goodnight kisses. These pre-bedtime activities are soothing and calming and signal to a child that bedtime is near. Using the same pre-bedtime routine consistently will help your child’s body begin to prepare for sleep at the start of the pre-bedtime routine activities.
SET THE LIGHT RIGHT
Dim The Lights After Sunset
It used to be that our sleeping and waking patterns were determined by the rising and setting of the sun. But with the availability of artificial light also came a rise in difficulty with our sleep patterns. Artificial light used in our homes at night can cause our bodies internal clocks to be thrown off, which will affect how easily we are able to fall asleep and stay asleep. Simply dimming the lights at night can make it easier for our bodies to recognize that it is time to sleep and rest.
Limit Screen Time Before Bed
Too much screen time is bad for us in many ways, but especially when it comes to preparing ourselves for bedtime. Our bodies rely on our brain’s natural increase in production of melatonin at night to alert our bodies that it is time to begin winding down and getting ready for bed. But the blue light that emits from electronic devices such as television, laptops, computers, phones, and tablets can confuse our brain and stop or slow the production of melatonin. Even just a half hour of screen time can slow the process and keep children up for an additional 2 hours – so limiting screen time to at least an hour before bedtime is best. Create a restful environment by keeping televisions and video games out of the bedroom and have a charging station setup outside of the bedroom like in a living room where devices won’t disrupt sleep throughout the night.
MAKE THE ENVIRONMENT COMFORTABLE
Cool, Dark, And Quiet?
Children will find it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep if their bedroom environment is not comfortable. An optimal sleeping environment is typically cool, dark, and quiet. But it is best to figure out what works for your child and keep it consistent. Most children are not going to want to go to bed in pitch black, so a small night light is ok, but remember to make sure that the light is dim, so it will not interfere with their melatonin production. Your child may also want a favorite stuffed animal to keep them “safe” at night, but keep in mind that too many toys can become a distraction. You can also try giving your child “monster spray” to help keep scary monsters away. If your child likes there to be some noise when they go to sleep, try calming music or soothing white-noise to help them fall asleep without becoming too overstimulating.
Making sure your child keeps their bedroom clean can also help them sleep easier and better at night. A messy environment can often create feelings of stress and provide many distractions. However, a clean environment will be soothing and will help promote good sleep. In making sure your child’s room is clean it is also important to do your part and make sure that the room is allergen free, so your child’s sleep is not disrupted with itchy, pesky allergens throughout the night.
Bedtime can be a crazy and hectic time in any household. But following the guidelines discussed in this article can help make your family’s bedtime routine less stressful and more soothing and successful – leading to an overall healthier and happier family!