Bedtime is often one of the most dreaded times of the day. Getting enough sleep is something both new and seasoned parents struggle with and when bedtime is stressful and unproductive it leaves us completely drained.
Kids are rapidly developing both mentally and physically so they need significantly more sleep than most adults. Without adequate sleep children not only have trouble paying attention in school and other activities but have a harder time controlling their emotions. Sleep deprivation can result in irritability, hyperactivity and mood swings and is even associated with childhood obesity. Even just missing a short nap or waking up half an hour earlier than normal can affect their whole day in ways we may not realize.
When we notice kids aren’t getting enough sleep, we can make positive changes in their sleeping environment and habits. Here are some strategies for those hoping to create a more stress-free, successful approach to bedtime.
Recognize when your child is tired. Unlike most adults, kids often get hyper and resist going to bed when they are overtired. Catching them before they get worked up can prevent a stressful bedtime transition.
Keep a sleep diary. For about two weeks record your child’s sleep schedule, noting when they go to bed, when they fall asleep as well as their wake up time. Also try to include what the activities and meals were late in the day. These records can give you insight on subtle ways to improve overall sleep habits.
Avoid big meals, sugar, and caffeine. Having a full stomach can inhibit sleep. Also be conscious of desserts and treats that contain sugar or caffeine late in the day (Experts recommend no caffeine after 2pm to ensure the stimulant leaves the body’s system before bedtime). A light healthy snack before bed may include crackers or sugar-free cereal, or a glass of milk.
Have a designated wind down time. Winding down about half an hour before your child’s designated bedtime creates a smoother transition between the hustle of the day and the bedtime routine. Turn off electronics, dim the lights and use soft voices to signal it is almost time to sleep.
Have a consistent, relaxing sleep routine. Kids thrive on predictability and structure, and having a routine can take much of the stress out of putting your child to bed. Every child is different, so do whatever they need to feel relaxed and soothed before they go to sleep. The routine could include a warm bath, brushing teeth, putting on pajamas, reading a book, telling a story, stretching or meditation, cuddling together, talking about the day, listening to a favorite song or preparing for the following day. Make it a special time for you and your child. Doing the same things at the same time (in the same order) every evening creates a predictable, reassuring pattern for your kids to follow. Keep the routine to 20 to 30 minutes and make sure to discuss and agree on the sequence with your partner or whoever else may be putting your child to bed to be as consistent as possible.
Make the bedroom conducive to bedtime and sleep. Some children need complete darkness and silence to sleep through the night while others need a dim light or background noise. Particularly in the summer months when the days are longer, dark curtains or blinds can be very helpful. Most children sleep better when the room is cool but not too cold, so use a fan or air conditioner on hot days. Also spraying sleep-inducing scents in the room (or on a pillow) such as lavender, chamomile or ylang-ylang may encourage sleep.
Stay active during the day. By getting enough exercise throughout the day (try to avoid too much activity up to three hours before bedtime) it is much easier to fall asleep in the evening.
Turn off electronics. Watching a late night show or playing a quiet video game may seem like a relaxing wind down option but the bright pictures and lights from screens can over stimulate the mind and make it much harder to unwind and fall asleep.
Encourage your child to sleep with a special object. A light blanket, stuffed animal or favorite soft toy can provide a sense of security and be soothing when falling asleep.
Create your own sleep routine. Children learn from example, so if they know you make sleep a priority for yourself they will be much more likely to welcome a sleep routine of their own. It is recommended that adults need at least 7 hours of sleep a night to reach their maximum potential during the day. Set a bedtime for yourself, and take deliberate steps to relax and unwind before you hit the sack.
With the right amount of sleep both kids and adults can increase their overall mood, energy and improve their heart and immune system health. Knowing sleep is so important for our children’s physical and emotional well-being, we can become aware of how much sleep our own children need and encourage positive sleeping habits. Figuring out exactly what you and your child need may take some trial and error, but just by making sleep a priority at home we can drastically improve our family’s overall happiness and productivity throughout the day.
Sidebar: According to the National Sleep Foundation, the recommended amount of sleep for newborns (0-3 months) is 14-17 hours, Infants (4-11 months old) require 12-15 hours, toddlers (ages 1-2 years) require 11-14 hours, preschoolers (ages 3-5 years) need 10-13 hours, and school aged children (ages 6-13) require 9-11 hours.
by Sarah Nieminski