“The amount of sleep required by the average person is five minutes more.” ~Wilson Mizener
If you think sleep is over rated, then think again! While many of us recognize how sleep contributes to our overall health and wellness, we are quick to move it to the bottom of our priority list. There is a growing body of research aimed at helping us to understand just how important sleep is, particularly for children. The link between adequate sleep and cognitive development, depression, academic performance, behaviour and healthy eating habits is well established.
If you are looking for some simple steps to put back sleep back on your family’s priority list, consider the following:
Make time for Sleep
Is your child getting enough sleep? While all children have different sleep needs, the National Sleep Foundation suggests that children ages 1-3 require about 12-14 hours; preschoolers ages 3-5 need about 11-13 hours; and school-aged children between 5-12 years need 10-11 hours per day. Setting an earlier bedtime can help your child catch up on lost sleep, particularly if school start times and daycare drop off times require you to wake your child up early in the morning.
Be selective about extra cirriculars. We want to expose our children to a diverse range of learning activities, but it can overwhelm their day and push both mealtime and bedtime back. Over scheduling your child’s calendar can have a noticeable impact on how much sleep your child is getting. Look for activities that have the least impact on the timing of your child’s bedtime.
Respect nap time. If you child is still napping, respect their need to sleep during the day as well. Limit scheduled activities, outings and errands during naptime and find other opportunities to spend time together when your child is well rested. Remember that well rested children sleep better at night.
Monitor Pre-Bedtime Activities
Ditch the electronics. The more screen time before bed, the more likely it will be difficult for your children to initiate sleep (even if they have an appropriate bedtime). Opt for other age appropriate quiet time activities in the hour before bedtime such as crafts, board games or sticker books.
Focus on food. Sleep gives your body an opportunity to rest and regenerate. If meal times are too close to bedtime, your body will need to use its energy for digestion rather than rest. Try to ensure 1-2 hours of separation between eating and sleeping to allow adequate time for digestion. Mealtime chaos is common due to long work days, long commutes and evening activities. Take control by setting aside one day each week to meal plan and prepare meals in advance. Involve your children by making a list of house hold favourites and share meal prep responsibilities with everyone.
Establish Bedtime Routines
Be consistent. Consistency and predictability are important to children. When they know what to expect at bedtime, it makes it easier for them to make the transition from waking to sleeping. If your younger child struggles with following a pattern consider using a sticker chart to help keep the routine moving.
Keep it calm. The majority of the routine should take place your child’s bedroom and the routine should be enjoyable for both parent and child. It can and should be quality time between parents and children. If something isn’t working, change it. For example, if your child doesn’t like bath time, then omit it from the routine.
Keep it up as they grow. Older children need similar patterns to help with sleep initiation. Consider encouraging your tween or teen to create bedtime rituals such as make a nightly journal entry, listening to music or reading before bed to unwind.
Evaluate your Child’s Sleep Environment
Make it dark. Our sleep patterns are regulated in part by light and darkness. Light cues trigger chemical changes, including the release of the hormones melatonin and coritsol. Even artificial light sources like night lights, steet lights, mobile devices, alarm clocks and baby monitors can inhibit our body’s natural release of melatonin, the hormone that promotes sleep and regulars our daily sleep cycle. Conduct a bedroom audit and remove unnecessary light sources and ensure window treatments provide an adequate barrier from natural light.
Eliminate Distractions. Your child’s bedroom should be a calm and relaxing space. Clutter has a way of creeping into kid’s rooms and it can restrict their ability to focus. Maintaining an organized bedroom that is free from distraction will help your child concentrate on sleeping, rather than playing.
How do you make sleep a priority in your house? What changes are you committed to making?
Rebecca Earl is a sleep consultant based in Toronto. "My goal is to affect positive change in the lives of children and their families, helping to teach children the skills necessary to sleep happily through the night. My personal and recent experience with sleep deprivation provides invaluable perspective, ensuring comprehensive and supportive guidance." You can reach Rebecca via her websiteThe Sugar Plum Sleep Co.