By Jennifer Halter
Does your child get enough sleep each night? According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, school-aged children (those ages 6 to 12) should be getting nine to 12 hours of sleep within a 24-hour period. For teens, ages 13 to 18, that number drops to eight to 10 hours. With school, extracurricular activities and just being busier in the evenings, healthy sleep habits are often put on the back burner to ensure everything else gets done. This can cause issues with behavior, school/work performance and the ability to focus.
Establishing good sleep routines in your home may seem like a daunting task, but it’s not impossible and is so important! Here are a few tips to help get you started.
Make a Plan
First you need to create your plan. Include your children in the planning so they understand the steps and you have their buy in. Discuss their expected bedtime and why it is necessary. Change can be difficult for anyone, so explaining this is to help and not punish them can help with the transition. Once you have set a bedtime, work backwards to list out all tasks that need to be completed prior to lights out. This can include picking up and putting away toys, bathing, changing into pajamas, washing their face or brushing teeth. Figure out an estimated amount of time needed to complete the tasks so you will know what time to start your bedtime routine. For example, if bedtime is at 8 p.m. and you need 45 minutes to work through your list, you will need to begin the process at 7:15 p.m. Knowing this time will also help with the rest of your evening plans, such as homework, dinner time and any other activities.
Create a Peaceful Environment
Settling down is always easier in a comfortable and quiet room. What small changes could you make to
create a snooze-worthy spot? Investing in something new or moving something special into their room may
also help children accept the new routine. Consider comfy blankets and pillows for their bed or room-darkening curtains for their windows. Aromatherapy sprays or diffusers can also help relax your child —
lavender and chamomile are great scent options.
Room temperature is also important. According to sleepfoundation.org, the best bedroom temperature for
sleep is approximately 65°F, a little warmer for infants at 69°F.
If you live in a home or area that experiences more outside noise, a white noise machine or a fan in your
child’s room can mask distracting sounds. You may also choose to play soothing music during your routine to create a calm space.
Power Down Early
Just like we’ve said for adults, electronics of any kind can stimulate children’s brains and make it more difficult to wind down before bedtime. Limit screen time and power everything down at least one hour (preferably more) before you start your nightly routine. Instead of electronics, you can encourage more relaxing activities to fill the time before you start your bedtime routine, such as reading, coloring or drawing.
It’s important to limit the consumption of certain foods and drinks before bedtime. Avoid things with caffeine, sugar and even some carbohydrates, as they provide energy your child doesn’t need at the end of a long day. Focus on providing a balanced meal with veggies and protein that will help keep your child feeling full much longer.
Depending on the age and needs of your child, you may also want to think about limiting liquids prior to
starting your evening routine. Midnight potty breaks can definitely be disruptive to a good night’s sleep.
Stick to the Plan
It’s not always easy to start a new routine and in the beginning, you may find it difficult to get your child on
board with following it but stick with it. Consistency is key. However, allowing yourself (and your child) grace
is also vital for finding your flow and having long-term success.
If you find that going “cold turkey” with your child’s bedtime is too tough or creates battles, try adjusting it by 10 minutes at a time. For example, if your child is used to going to bed at 9 p.m. and you want them in bed by 8 p.m., start by setting a goal to have them ready for sleep by 8:50 p.m. for the first week, 8:40 p.m. the next week and so on until you get to your desired time.
Keep It Positive
Keeping bedtime as a positive time is key to reducing resistance. Try not to use being sent to bed early as
a punishment, because your child may equate it with something negative. Make this new routine fun, positive and something you participate in with your child. They will likely enjoy having more special time with you, and the benefits of getting more sleep will make everyone feel healthier and happier.
Jennifer Halter is the Publisher of Macaroni Kid Woodbridge and Macaroni Kid Gainesville/Manassas, free online calendars and resources to help you find your family fun all year round.