While growing up, most of us were probably told to get a good night’s sleep, and with good reason. In fact, Dr. Wayne H. Giles of the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion has said, “…Sufficient sleep is not a luxury—it is a necessity—and should be thought of as a vital sign of good health.” Sleep is a powerful restorative process. It helps us function better physically, emotionally, and metabolically. It helps us consolidate and form our memories, and has a direct effect on our attention and behavior. The need for adequate sleep is present throughout our lives, and the best time to establish strong sleep habits is in childhood.
There are numerous ill effects when children do not get enough sleep, such as being less able to concentrate, and being more easily distracted, hyperactive, or impulsive. Kids of all ages have difficulty learning when they are sleep deprived, from fussy infants to busy teenagers. So how much sleep do kids need? According the Mayo Clinic, newborns typically need 16-18 hours each day, pre-school aged children should get 11-12 hours daily, school-aged kids need at least 10 hours, while teenagers should aim for 9-10 hours. That’s a lot of sleep, and a major obstacle in making sure kids get the proper amount is actually getting them to bed.
Sleep hygiene simply refers to the activities, habits, and routines we have to prepare for bed and signal to the body that it is time for sleep. Yes, a bedtime routine is an important part of ensuring a proper night’s rest for children. Perhaps the most important part of sleep hygiene is making sure kids go to bed at the same time every night, and wake up at the same time every morning, even on weekends and holidays. This consistency reinforces their bodies’ sleep-wake cycles, known as the circadian rhythm, and promotes better sleep at night (which means better sleep for parents).
Here are some other tips to promote good sleep hygiene:
- Physical exercise during the day, such as sports or recess games of tag, burn off energy and lead to drowsiness during the evening.
- Limit screen time for an hour before bed because the light from computer screens, phones, tablets, and other technology stimulates the brain into an awake mode that interrupts the circadian rhythm.
- Use the bed for sleep only.Introducing other activities, such as laying in bed texting or watching TV, teach the body that bed is used for entertainment and not relaxation.
- Develop a consistent bedtime routine.
Bedtime routines, including stories, teeth brushing, and perhaps a small snack an hour before bed, teach the body and brain to wind down and prepare for sleep. Each child differs in what will be relaxing for them. For example, one may want to listen to a lullaby while another wants to hear a story. A great way to create a bedtime routine that meets children’s specific relaxation needs can be through developing an interactive chart. One such chart can be found at http://keltymentalhealth.ca/healthy-living/sleep. By developing a bedtime routine, the consistency that is necessary for good sleep hygiene is put into place. For older children, developing the interactive routine invites their participation, which means they are more likely to follow through.
By using these tips, you and your children should have better luck in not just catching some zzz’s, but catching lots of them.
Jennifer Laycock, B.Sc., M.C., Registered Psychologist