Sleep is important to us in terms of our ability to function well while we are awake. More recent studies have confirmed that sleep is a time when our bodies repair and our minds consolidate what we have learned during the day. It is not unusual for me to be asked by parents about how to support their children and young people to establish good sleep habits. I thought I’d write a blog about my top tips for doing this.
Create a consistent daily routine:
Actually this starts in the morning. Make sure your child is waking up at the same or similar time each morning. Provide them with plenty of opportunities for exercise and fresh air during the day. Any focused or busy activities such as homework should be completed by the early evening. Provide your child with a predictable bedtime so that they know when they will be going to bed.
Create a food and drink plan that supports sleep:
Dinner should be finished at least an hour and a half prior to bedtime so that a full tummy won’t keep your child awake. As the evening moves on reduce consumption of liquids so that getting up to go to the toilet isn’t a problem.
Create a going to bed routine in the evenings:
Soon after dinner homework should be completed if it is not already done. A warm bath or shower and a change of clothes into sleep attire, brushing of teeth and so on will provide cues to everyone that it’s time to wind down and move into a different phase of the day. The warm bath or shower will elevate body temperature in anticipation of a drop of body temperature which signals sleep in our bodies. Following this should be a mixture of quiet and calming activities which could include some TV watching depending on the age of your child. About 30 minutes prior to lights out your child should be in bed and this is a time for a parent to read a story or for older children to read to themselves.
Create a bedroom environment that is conducive to sleeping:
Cover windows with curtains or blinds that block out as much light as possible. Remove or cover any devices which emit light. You may need to check after lights out as it can be hard to see illuminated buttons or switches during the day time. Ensure that their bedroom is cool and dry. If a room is too hot this will impact sleep quality. This is a personal issue so may require some experimenting with a range of temperatures and bed coverings. Keep bedrooms quiet in the evening. An exception to this might be a white noise creator. Some children find this will help them to fall asleep and may cover other noise which cannot be removed such as traffic noise from a nearby street.
My absolute top tip is this - keep devices out of the bedroom, and remove access to them at least 30 minutes prior to getting into bed. The blue light emitted by any device such as a laptop, TV, Ipad or phone stimulates our minds and will slow down the approach to sleep. Additionally the games children play on these devices are often very stimulating and will increase their arousal when they need to be reducing arousal. Older children may need to be able to access their devices to complete homework but parents should have discussions with them about developing good habits in relation to use of devices. Parents will need to model this behaviour themselves in order for their advice to be taken seriously by older children!
Robyn Stead, Child Psychologist and Educator, lives and works in central Auckland.