We all know that how we sleep affects how we feel, how we look, and how we function each and every day. We know because we’ve had plenty of tough days that began when we woke up feeling more tired than when we went to bed.
Researchers are discovering that sleep is one of the most important things a parent can help their child achieve. We don’t need the experts to tell us that sleep deprivation can make kids moody, emotionally unstable, and even aggressive. But studies have shown that to be true. In addition, it has been found that without good sleep, focus and impulse control decrease, both of which lead to problems in daily functioning, underdeveloped life skills, and ongoing academic struggles. It’s frustrating for parents and kids.
But, when our children sleep good, they’re more ready to tackle daily activities and they’re set up to operate at their full potential. When a child receives the right amount of sleep their internal systems restore and renew. Their brains get busy directing things like tissue growth, muscle repair, and hormone release. Energy is restored and the important “need for sleep” mechanism is reset telling them they’re good to go.
So we know we all need to sleep good, but very often we don’t. For a whole host of reasons, a good night’s sleep in your home might seem like just an impossible dream.
Why is it so hard to sleep? Many parents struggle getting their kid to sleep and keeping them asleep long enough for the magic of restorative sleep to happen. Experts suggest a few culprits: too much caffeine, chocolate or sugar can play a role, and so can just being hungry or feeling too hot or cold. Just like adults, children sometimes worry about things, and this can make sleep illusive, as can a history of nightmares. Big changes in a child’s life, such as divorce, a family move, an illness or death, can weigh heavy on a young one’s mind and make falling asleep difficult. Of course, medications and conditions like ADHD, anxiety or depression can as well.
So how can you help your child get to sleep, stay asleep, and sleep good? Here are a few things to try:
- Say no to caffeinated and sugary drinks, especially after 5:00pm.
- Keep in mind that investing in daily exercise can pay dividends at bedtime, but plan any strenuous activities for before dinnertime.
- Establish a relaxing sleep environment. Don’t allow a TV or other devices in your child’s room as screen light reduces melatonin levels which promote sleep. Check the mattress. If it’s old and uncomfortable, it could inhibit good sleep. Consider replacing it if necessary.
- It’s best if electronics are shut off at least 30 minutes before bedtime.
- Develop a soothing bedtime routine and stick to it. Try and keep bedtime the same time every night, including weekends. If your child is under 10, try to be lights out by 9:00pm. Research has shown that kids who go to bed after 9:00pm take longer to fall asleep and get less sleep overall.
- Allow for time to wind down before the lights go out, reading together or just snuggling. These can be special times to connect and talk about the day and anything that might be bothering your child and potentially inhibit sleep.
If these tips don’t help, you might want to consult your pediatrician or a sleep specialist, especially if medication is in the mix. These professionals will help you find a way to make a good night’s sleep a dream come true.
KidsHealth. (2015, September). What to do if you can’t sleep. Retrieved from https://kidshealth.org/en/kids/cant-sleep.html.
National Sleep Foundation. What happens when you sleep? Retrieved from https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/what-happens-when-you-sleep.
Aarhus University. Science Daily (2016, May 4). Children with ADHD sleep both poorly and less.
Tuck. (2018, December 19). Stages of sleep and sleep cycles. Retrieved from https://www.tuck.com/stages/.