We’ve all beenthere – it’s 10:00 PM, and we’re winding down fromourday (trying to push away those little mental reminders that we used to be cool!)… Then we hear it…. The unmistakable sound of children who are NOT sleeping. Perhaps it’s the toddler singing while playing with their stuffed animal or asking for another drink. Maybe it’s a teenager playing a game on the phone or relentlessly texting. Regardless of age, there are few things more frustrating than when our children’s wakefulness has overstayed it’s welcome.
Ever heard of sleep hygiene? Chances are that you have, but you’ve not heard it called that term. It’s essentially a fancy term used to describe those behaviors and routines we have at night to help us go to sleep. It’s about the environment that you sleep in, the order in which you get ready to go to bed, and what you do while you’re laying down.
Why is sleep hygiene so important?
Sleep is ESSENTIAL to be the best versions of ourselves for the next day. Children who are under-slept have difficulties with school performance, social interactions, memory… they’re also just generally cranky. We’ve all experienced what it feels like to be exhausted – now add fewer emotional resources to cope with that, coupled with hormonal changes associated with adolescence and you have a recipe for a REALLY BAD day.
So what can you do?
The trick is to help your child, regardless of their age, to begin establishing sleep hygiene habits that promote better sleep. With repetition of those habits, your body starts to learn that starting your routine should initiate releasing the chemicals that facilitate sleep. Here are some tips to get yourself started:
- Unplug. Try to keep devices out of the bedroom, and refrain from using them for at least an hour before bedtime. The light from devices like your phone or the TV stimulate your brain, preventing the release of the chemicals that facilitate sleep.
- Have a Routine (or help your child establish their own). For younger kids, this might look like bath-time, followed by teeth brushing, story time, a song, and a goodnight kiss. For teens, it might be taking a shower and reading a book they like or listening to music. The bottom line is, you want your kids to have a consistent bedtime routine that is predictable and occurs at roughly the same time each night.
- Set limits with the routine. If your routine is 8 stories before bed, god bless you, but 8 should be it. If it’s one stuffed animal, they shouldn’t go to bed with two or three. Kids are master negotiators, but part of this process is showing your children that you value their health by setting those limits to ensure that they sleep. Try to keep the routine consistent as much as possible.
- Make sure their room is comfortable and safe. Blankets, nightlights, pillows, temperature… all that good stuff. It may seem like it goes without saying, but a comfortable kid is a kid that will sleep better.
- Redirect them to bed. Getting riled up with anger and frustration while trying to sleep has the potential to cause a cascade of biological and emotional consequences that will make sleep more difficult. When your child inevitably sneaks their cell phone into their room or comes out of their room AGAIN to ask for another glass of water, calmly remind themthat the answer is “no” and that it’s time to go back to sleep. Try to minimize attention for this behavior (thereby inadvertently teaching them that by getting out of bed or straying from the expectations, they will get your undivided attention). Instead, give them a prompt to return, help them back into bed, and leave the room. If you keep your cool, you’ll facilitate a level of calm in redirecting them that will give them the most chance of falling asleep. You’ll find, with time and consistency, you may be doing this ten+ times tonight, and that number will quickly diminish when the learn that you won’t be giving in.
I could go on and on – there are so many good behaviors that facilitate sleep (exercising in the day, avoiding large amounts of food before bed, occupying an anxious mind that’s keeping you awake…). We are happy to talk to you more about your child’s sleep (or your own)! The following is also a great resource for additional information:
Hopefully that gets you started for a gentle night’s rest for your child, and ultimately for yourselves.
Sleep Sweet, Everyone!