Four Tips to Help Children Sleep Better
For parents of both younger and older children, establishing a bedtime routine can be challenging. The challenges for creating a bedtime routine differ depending on the age of the child. Little ones may not want to go to bed and insist of staying up, while teenagers may actually want to get some sleep but have a hard time falling asleep. Sleep is critical for children’s development, so it can be helpful to know some tips and tricks to make bedtime less of a hassle.
- Establishing a Nurturing Activity as Part of the Bedtime Routine. For younger children that may have started sleeping in their own beds or resist bedtime, adding a nurturing activity to the bedtime routine can promote calm. A nurturing activity is something the parent and child can both do together, such as reading a story, singing a goodnight song, or nightly prayers. Hopefully the chosen activity is calming and also signals to the child that it is time to for the day to end. Incorporating an activity that allows the child and parent to spend extra time together also positively benefits the parent-child relationship and may cause the child to actually look forward to getting ready for bed!
- Limiting Screen Time before Bedtime. No matter the age of your child, putting down the phone or tablet at an appropriate time before bedtime helps promote quality sleep. According to a study completed by professionals at Harvard, using screens before bed results in taking a longer time to fall asleep, delays circadian rhythms, decreases melatonin secretion, limits REM sleep, and makes you feel alert when you want to sleep and less alert when you want to wake up. It is recommended that you put down the phone and other screens about 1-2 hours before, but even 30 minutes would be a start! Since children and teens (and maybe even adults) might have a difficult time distancing themselves from screens, a pre-set alarm might help the whole family put down screens before bedtime.
- Consistency! Establishing and then following the bedtime routine consistently will help children go to sleep at an appropriate time. Like any meaningful change, a bedtime routine takes time to develop and needs practice to become a habit. The more you stick with the plan, the easier it will be to follow the plan over time. Maintaining routines also means following the routine on the weekends. While difficult to do, especially with teenagers that like to sleep in, sticking to the routine even on weekends will help kids get quality sleep during the school week. It may even be possible that when adolescents get good sleep during the school week they will not feel the need to “catch up” on sleep during the weekends.
- Regular Exercise. When kids get regular exercise, they are more likely to fall asleep easier. Kids of all ages need to exercise consistently, and expending energy during the day makes children wind down easier. A word of caution though, final exercise or playtime of the day should be completed at least three hours before bedtime. If a child or teen is playing or exercising too close to bedtime, they may be too wound up to sleep. Since older children usually have later scheduled sports practices, creating a routine that allows an appropriate amount of time for kids to calm down is important to getting quality sleep.
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