Did you know that May is Better Sleep Month? Sleep is a topic we often fall short on discussing when trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle. One of the first things any doctor or mental health professional asks about when assessing your well-being is your sleeping routine. A good night’s sleep is about getting to sleep and staying asleep for the appropriate length of time. Your child should fall asleep within 20 minutes of going to bed. The length of time it takes children to get to sleep can depend on how sleepy their bodies are and how healthy their daytime and bedtime routines are. Bedtime routines are important for kids of all ages and help children wind down before bedtime, so they can fall asleep more easily.
Getting enough sleep is not only beneficial for our kids' physical health, but also their mental health. When a child does not get enough sleep at night they can become at risk for problems including decreased brain development, learning problems and more frequent negative emotions leading to negative behaviors, including an increased risk for anxiety and depression. Poor sleep can also contribute to weight management problems, growth issues and increased frequency of illnesses.
Here is a breakdown by age of average amounts of sleep a child should have per 24 hours, including naps:
- Preschool (3-5 years) 10-13 hours of sleep
- School age (6-12 years) 9-12 hours of sleep
- Teen (13-18 years) 8-10 hours of sleep
- Adults (18-60 years) 7 or more hours of sleep
Tips to help your child sleep better:
1. Set up a regular bedtime routine
Setting a regular bedtime routine that starts around the same time each night encourages healthy sleep patterns. A bedtime routine including a bath, story time and bed time can help younger children feel ready for sleep. For older children, a bedtime routine may include a recap of their day and some time relaxing alone.
2. Relax before bedtime
Encourage your child to engage in a relaxing activity before bedtime. Older children might like to wind down by reading a book, listening to calming music or practicing breathing relaxation techniques. If your child takes more than 30 minutes to fall asleep, they may need a longer wind-down period before the lights go off. Ensure that your child has time to relax without technology, like a phone, television or computer, before bedtime.
3. Keep consistent sleep and wake times
Keep your child’s bedtimes and alarm times within 1-2 hours of each other every day of the week. This helps to keep your child’s internal clock in a regular pattern. This includes keeping sleep and awake times consistent over weekends and holidays, as well as school days.
4. Keep older children’s naps early and short
Most children stop napping at 3-5 years old. If your child is older than five and is still napping during the day regularly, try to keep the nap 20 minutes or shorter and no later than early afternoon. Longer and later naps can make it harder to get to sleep at night.
5. Make sure your child feels safe at night
If your child feels scared about going to bed or being in the dark, praise and reward your child whenever they’re brave. Avoiding scary TV shows, movies and computer games can also help. Having a night light can help some children with bedtime fears feel better.
6. Check the noise and light levels in your child’s bedroom
Is your child’s bedroom too light or noisy for sleep? Blue light from televisions, computer screens, phones and tablets suppresses melatonin levels and delays the onset of sleepiness. This includes the presence of bright light in the hour before bedtime. To avoid this problem, try the following:
- turn off devices at least one hour before bedtime
- keep screens out of your child’s room at night
- dim the lights an hour before bed
If your child uses a night light, choose a dim, warm-hued bulb, rather than a bright, cool-hued bulb.
7. Avoid looking at the clock
If your child is checking the time frequently while trying to fall asleep, encourage them to move the clock or watch to a spot where they can’t see it from bed.
8. Eat a moderate amount at the appropriate time
Ensure that your child has a satisfying evening meal at a reasonable time. Feeling hungry or too full before bed can make your child more alert or uncomfortable, making it harder for them to fall asleep. In the morning, a healthy, balanced breakfast helps to kick-start your child’s body clock at the appropriate time.
9. Get plenty of natural light in the day
Encourage your child to get as much natural light as possible during the day, especially in the morning. Bright light suppresses melatonin, helping your child feel awake and alert during the day and sleepy closer to bedtime.
10. Avoid caffeine
Caffeine is in energy drinks, coffee, tea, chocolate and soft drinks. Encourage your child to avoid these things in the late afternoon and evening.
Find more useful parenting tips at raisingchildren.net.au.