Sleep is so important. It is vital for adults, but it is especially vital for children. Sleep allows children the ability to grow, rejuvenate, and become healthy both in mind and body.
There is a strong correlation between children not getting sufficient sleep and mental health difficulties. Although it does not always happen, I have seen first hand instances in which improving children’s sleep hygiene improves their mental health. Not getting enough sleep can make children drowsy, unable to focus, and irritable, all of which are symptoms of mental health disorders!
Today’s post will focus on five ways in which parents and caregivers can improve their child’s sleep and in turn help their body and brain grow.
1. Don’t Send Your Child to Their Room for Punishment
This suggestion may sound a little strange, but it’s very important. When children are punished and sent to their room, they develop a negative association with that space. Self disclosure, when I was put in time out as a child, we had a “time out couch.” My siblings and I never wanted to use the room or couch when we weren’t in time out due to our negative association with the couch. The same thing happens to kids when they are sent to their rooms.
Many kids have a connection between their bedrooms and being in trouble when they are sent there for discipline. When children go to bed, many of them experience the same sensation that they are in trouble, which makes it difficult for them to sleep.
Instead, make your child’s bedroom solely for sleep. Use a time out chair, step, or even couch in order for your child to associate their bedroom with sleep instead of being in trouble.
2. Limit Screen Time Before Bed
Limiting how much electronics children use before bed is definitely tough in our day in age! That being said, it has been found that using electronics before bed has a negative impact on sleep for both children and adults (you heard that right!).
Children and adolescents who are in early to middle puberty that use electronics (emitted blue light) before bed have been found to be vulnerable to the suppression of melatonin, the hormone that is key for a good night’s sleep. The blue light causes the circadian clocks to move to a later timing, making it more difficult for children to go to sleep on time and wake up early the next morning for school.
So….what can we do about this? Turn off electronic media one hour prior to bedtime. Read a book with your child, play a board game, or engage in a calming activity not involving electronics. It’s also helpful to use electronic media outside of the bedroom. Ever heard of the saying “out of sight, out of mind”? Having electronics, such as phones, televisions, computers, and tablets outside of the bedroom makes it less likely that children will want to use them.
3. Establish a Pre-Bedtime Routine
Establish a pre-sleep ritual to give your body cues that it is time to slow down. Having a sleep ritual will cue or trigger your brain into know that it is time to sleep. Do the same things every night in the same order. It’s helpful to have an activity in each of the categories of “shift,” “snug,” and “snooze.”
Shift activities send a signal to your child’s brain that it is time for bed. This activity can include having a snack, playing a game or saying good night to your pet.
Snug activities help your child get snug, cozy, and ready for bed. This can include having your child snuggle in bed by themselves, cuddling with mom or dad, reading, or listening to a story.
The snooze activity is what happens when your child find their favorite sleeping position and closes their eyes. This activity can be a kiss goodnight from mom or dad, a gentle back rub, or a parent saying “I love you.” It should be the same activity every night because it tells your child’s brain that it is time to go to sleep.
4. Establish a Bedtime and Wake Up Routine
Establish a pattern to your sleep by going to bed at the same time each evening and getting out of bed at the same time every day, even on weekends and holidays! Fall asleep at the same time in the same place and wake up in the same time as much as you can! Remember, kids (and adults!) need a lot of sleep. Monitor how much sleep that your child is getting and adjust their routine in order to make sure they are getting enough sleep.
5. Be a Sleep Role Model!
Sleep is just as important for adults as it is for kids. Model to your child how important sleep is to you as well by establishing your own sleep routine, bedtime, wake up time, and limiting your screen time. Children learn so much through observing their caregivers’ behavior. Showing your child that sleep is important to you will encourage them to value sleep throughout their lifetime!
Hope this helps you, your children, and clients get a good night’s sleep! Sleep (and Play!) On!