Going to bed earlier may seem only like a dream with a summer schedule of late nights. Yet helping your family get into a pattern for healthy school-year sleep habits is more in your control than you might have imagined. When you set up healthy patterns in your home, it can make the difference between groggy inattentive children at school, and alert more focused children.
Even if your child is affected by jet lag, long homework time, or insomnia; there are some effective habits and practices, known as “sleep hygiene” that researchers have identified that can help increase the time you spend asleep at night.
Sleep hygiene may sound boring, yet it could be the best way for your student to get that much needed rest to function their best at school. Below are some clear steps you can take to get your family back into a good sleep habits and better sleep hygiene :
#1 Avoid Caffeine (in later afternoon & evening)
Simply stated, caffeine is a stimulant that may make it hard for your child to go to sleep at night. So keep it away from you and your family in the later afternoon and evening. That means not only coffee but cola, tea, chocolate, and even some pain reliever medication.
#2 Turn Their Bedroom into a Sleep-Inducing Environment
Do a little look-see in your kid’s bedroom and make adjustments to create a sleep inducing environment for them. It needs to be dark when the lights are off, quiet, and cool. This setting will promote a sound slumber. Some things that can help:
- Have some “white noise” to drown out other sounds (fan works great)
- Provide your child with earplugs if needed
- Get a simple eye mask they can use
- Put up heavy drapes or black-out shades on the window
- Keep the room temperature a comfortable cool
- Possibly check out an online mattress sale to ensure your child has a comfortable mattress & pillow
- Make sure the room is well ventilated
– Keep in mind that the majority of mattresses will wear out after ten years so make sure your child has a comfortable bed.
– If your child has a pet that often awakes him or her at night, consider having that pet sleep in another room.
– Keep television, social media, smart phones and the like out of the room. Digital media and lit up screens stimulate the mind and make it harder to prepare the brain for sleep. You also want your child to associate his or her room with sleeping and keeping other activities out of the room will help build that mental association.
#3 Create a Calming Pre-Bed Routine
You can make the transition from awake time to sleep time by establishing soothing activities an hour or more before it’s time for bed. Here are some examples of things that can prepare your child’s mind and body for rest:
- Read a story
- Do some relaxing stretches (parent and child can do this together)
- Have them take a bath – maybe add in some lavender oils (the rise and fall in body temp promotes sleepiness)
- Have a quiet cuddle time talking about their day (don’t get into emotional or drama issues at this time)
- For a child with anxiety – have them write all their problems and worries down on paper – then physically “set it aside” so they can clear their mind for rest.
- Dim the lights, talk more quietly and soothing
- Play some calming music softly in the background (instrumental piano, Nature sounds, Oprah’s calm down playlist)
The key at this time (an hour or two before bed) is to avoid stimulating or stressful activities which can cause a body to secrete cortisol, a stress hormone that increases alertness. So put their digital media away, turn off the loud up-tempo music, help them mentally put issues “away”, use a softer voice and make it a calming place preparatory to sleeping.
#4 Go to Sleep When Truly Tired
Wrestling to get some sleep only leads to aggravation. So if your child simply cannot go to sleep after 20 – 30 minutes, allow them to go into another room and do something relaxing. Have them listen to soothing music or read a book. Do not allow them to do stimulating things like playing video games and watching action on TV, as these things will not promote sleep. It’s best to keep the TV off and just allow for the body and mind to unwind and settle down.
#5 Keep Clocks Out-of-Sight From the Bed
Clock-gazing when you are trying to get to sleep or even when you wake up briefly at night can actually promote anxiety and stress. This in turn, makes it harder to fall asleep or get back to sleep. So keep the clock radio facing another direction, and don’t have any clocks on the wall that can be seen from your child’s bed.
If your child does wake up late at night and has a difficult time falling back asleep after 20 – 30 minutes; allow them to get up and do a quiet activity like listen to calming music or read a book (See #4 above). Be sure to keep the lights dimmed as bright light can trigger their internal clock. As their eyelids begin drooping, you know they are ready to sleep and you can have them return to bed.
#6 Natural Lighting is Your Advantage
Natural light will keep your son or daughter’s internal clock on a healthy cycle of awake and sleep. So when the first morning light comes up, let it in. And during the day, make sure they get out of the house for a sun break.
#7 Keep a Consistent Sleep Schedule (To Set Internal Clock)
You can set your body’s “internal clock” by going to bed and getting up at the same time each day. This consistency trains your mind and body to fall asleep at a certain time every night. So as you begin to establish your back to school routine, even if you slip off once in a while, try to keep sticking to it as much as possible even on weekends. Then you can avoid a sleep hangover on Monday morning.
Waking up at the same time every morning is the optimal way your child can set his or her body clock, even if they didn’t sleep very well that night before. The extra drive to sleep will actually help them be able to consolidate their sleep the next night.
#8 Nap Early—Or None at All
If your child takes a nap or two and has a hard time getting to sleep at night, the culprit could be their afternoon nap. Naps late in the day decrease their sleep drive. If he or she must have a nap, it may be better to keep it short and have it early on in the day.
#9 Keep Evening Meals Lighter
Consuming a pizza at 9 or 10 p.m. could be a recipe for insomnia. Be sure and serve your family dinner a few hours before it’s time for bed and avoid food items that might promote stomach issues or indigestion. If your child gets hungry at night, offer snacks that commonly do not disturb their sleep. Some ideas might be:
- Whole grain piece of toast
- Cheese and crackers
- Warm milk or chamomile tea
- Peanut butter on a whole grain cracker
- Apple with mozzarella cheese
Avoid snacks that are high in sugar and refined carbohydrates like cookies, pastries and the like. These kinds of snacks often reduce serotonin levels which can make falling asleep harder.
#10 Balance Water Intake
Have your child drink enough water in the evening to keep from waking up thirsty. Yet not so much and so close to sleep time that they will wake up having to go to the bathroom.
#11 Exercise Earlier
Getting some physical movement in during the day can help your child fall asleep faster and sleep more soundly. Although it’s important that exercise is done at the right time. Since exercise stimulates the body’s secretion of the stress hormone cortisol, activating the alert mechanism in the brain, it’s best to complete any physical activity at least 3-4 hours before it’s time for bed.
#12 Follow Through
Some of these steps may be easier to incorporate in your family’s new back to school routine than others, yet if you stick with these, the chances of your child getting a healthy sleep for this coming school year will greatly increase. Better sleep can enable your child be more alert at school and handle the stresses and issues of the day better. The benefits to a good night’s sleep are irrefutable and worth the effort for your child!
Having said that, not all sleep problems are easy to treat and some might signify the presence of a sleep disorder such as narcolepsy, apnea, restless legs syndrome, or another sleep issue. If your child’s sleep issues do not improve with a good sleep hygiene, you may want to talk to your doctor or sleep specialist