Summer brings a more relaxed routine, and often a less consistent bedtime for both adults and children.
Every living creature needs to sleep. It is the primary activity of the brain during early development. We spend about a third of our lives sleeping. Our bodies regulate sleep in a similar way that they regulate eating, drinking, and breathing.
This suggests that sleep serves a critical role in our well-being. Studies of humans and other animals demonstrate that sleep plays a critical role in immune function and metabolism.
Research has shown that sleep plays an important role in memory and learning, both before and after learning a new task. Lack of adequate sleep affects mood, motivation, judgment, and perception of events.
The No. 1 tip for establishing good sleeping habits is to get up at the same time every morning and get exposure to light. In addition, following a nightly routine will make it easier for your child to relax, fall asleep and stay asleep through the night.
Typical Bedtime Routine
- Have a light snack.
- Take a bath (if a bath is too stimulating for your child, move it out of the bedtime routine).
- Put on pajamas.
- Brush teeth.
- Read a story.
- For older kids, establish an activity they can do themselves
- Make sure the room is quiet and at a comfortable temperature (62-68 degrees F); remove toys/electronics.
- Put your child to bed.
- Say goodnight and gradually work with your child to fall asleep independently.
- Limit "screen time" to a maximum of 60 minutes per day and avoid it right before bed.
- Bedtime should be about the same time, seven days per week (no more than an hour difference on the weekends).
- Make bedtime a positive and relaxing experience without TV or videos.
- Save your child's favorite relaxing, non-stimulating activities until last, and have them occur in the child's bedroom.
- Caregivers should take time to "connect" with the child at bedtime.
What if your child wakes up during the night? Know your child. Everyone goes through sleep cycles during the night. Give your child a few minutes to see if s/he will go back to sleep. If not, first use your voice for soothing, then pat the child. Only if these steps do not work, pick the child up. When you go into your child's room every time s/he wakes during the night, you are strengthening (a sleep onset association) the connection between you and sleep for your child.
Except during conditions when the child is sick, has been injured or clearly requires your assistance, it is important to give your child a consistent message that s/he is expected to fall asleep on her/his own.
And what about naps?
Sleep is a major requirement for good health, and for young children daytime sleep is usually necessary. With physical and mental development at an all-time high in early childhood, naps provide the body with much-needed time for growth, repair and rejuvenation.
Naps also help keep children from becoming overtired, a state that not only takes a toll on their moods but may make it harder for them to fall asleep at night. Naptime gives parents a brief respite during the day-some time to tackle household chores or catch a nap of their own.
Unfortunately, there's no one-size-fits-all answer when it comes to how much daytime sleep a child needs. It all depends on the age, and the total amount of sleep a child receives in a 24-hour period. For example, one toddler may sleep 12 hours at night with only one hour of napping, while another gets nine hours at night, but takes a solid 2-3 hour nap each afternoon.
- Naps should not occur too close to bedtime.
- Don't let naptime become a battle.
- Let your child read books or play quietly in the bedroom for 45 minutes.
- If your child has given up daytime naps, adjust to an earlier bedtime.
Myth: Children will sleep longer at night if they do not take a nap.
Fact: For young children, both naps and nighttime sleep are necessary and independent of one another. Children who nap well are usually less cranky and sleep better at night. Although children differ, naps of 45 minutes to three hours in duration are expected after 6 months of age. Naps may continue to age 5.
It's important to model healthy routines for your whole family. Initiating a digital curfew for the entire family before bedtime is one important step.
The impact of electronics on sleep in children should be considered:
- Increase in electronics in children's bedrooms results in increased evening stimulation and light exposure,
- Children using electronic media as sleep aids in general have later weekday bedtimes, get fewer hours of sleep/wk and report more daytime sleepiness,
- TV in the bedroom of adolescents results in later bedtime, more difficulty with sleep onset and shorter total sleep time,
- Texting/emailing after lights out significantly increases daytime sleepiness in teens, per self-report,
- Basic sleep requirements may not be fulfilled, with significant contributions potentially stemming from light and evening engagement,
- Adequate sleep is essential for growth, mood, weight control learning and creativity,
- Crow Wing Energized created A Guide To Healthy Sleep with tips for healthy sleep for all ages. Download the guide at www.crowwingenergized.org.