Getting good Zzzzzzz’s

How has your sleep been in the last week? How about your child’s? Did you have a chance to jot down notes regarding when you and/or or child goes to bed, falls asleep, and wakes up? Notice anything surprising?

I notice that I feel much better if I stick to a schedule of going to bed and waking up around the same time, every day and including weekends. How boring, right? But if I have a couple late nights or really early mornings here and there, I really feel a difference during the day.

For children and teens, a regular schedule is exactly what they need. Try enforcing it though! After-school activities, piles of homework, intense sports practice schedules, the occasional slumber party at a friend’s house, illness, an assortment of electronic distractions, evening meltdowns, and just wanting to spend time together as a family, all make it challenging for kids to have regular bed- and wake-up times. To further complicate matters, teens’ biology wires them to stay up later in the evening and get up later in the morning. No wonder teens are barely awake during their first period class!

Try a few of these ideas to see if they make a difference in how you or your child sleeps:

  1. Remember the sleep requirements mentioned in the last post? Reference this to get an idea of how much sleep your child might need. This is only a guide. Your child may need more or less depending on temperament, stress, growth spurts, or exciting events. If she needs to get up at 7AM for school and needs 10 hours of sleep, she’ll need to be asleep by 9PM. Bedtime routine should start around 8-8:30PM.
  2. Try to have a consistent schedule, even on the weekends. If you decide you want to extend bedtime for special activities, try to limit this to Fridays and Saturdays and by only 30-60 minutes. Your child’s behavior the next day will tell you how he coped with this change.
  3. Anticipating a glitch in the schedule? You may have to trade in an activity for extra sleep. It’s that important. Think about what has to stay and what can probably be negotiated. Talk with other parents about how they navigate complex sports scheduling, homework, and family time.
  4. Take electronics out of the bedroom! (Read: your child’s and your’s!) TV’s, computers, and phones have screens, the light from which interferes with the brain’s ability to signal sleepiness. Having screens somewhere else in the house will encourage your child to find other ways of settling down for bed, like reading a book or being read to. If your child is looking at a screen in the evening, turn it off 1 hour before she needs to fall asleep. Have a “check in and charge” location for phones at night.
  5. Is your child’s sleep space relaxing and fit for sleep? Is it quiet, dark, and uncluttered? White noise machines, such as fans, can eliminate peripheral noise in the house. If your child prefers to have a nightlight, choose one that is just bright enough to find a doorway. Perhaps bedtime routine includes tidying for a minute or two.
  6. Minimize or eliminate caffeine, especially in the afternoon and evening. Everyone has differing sensitivities to caffeine in drinks and food and for some people, it gets in the way of falling asleep or getting quality sleep all night. Soda at dinner is probably asking for trouble! Even a piece of chocolate cake could lead to irritabilty or trouble falling asleep. If you think there is a connection between caffeine and your child’s sleep, cut back or eliminate it as best as you can.
  7. Finally, find a bedtime routine that works for your child and family and keep it as consistent as possible. Some people’s routine may look like: reminding your child the routine starts in 15 minutes, providing a snack, putting on pajamas, brushing teeth, using the toilet, crawling into bed, reading or being read to. Your routine may be a little different, but each activity signals the brain that sleepiness is coming soon!

Next post: Troubleshooting problems and resources!