Another summer is coming to an end and a new school year is beginning. This change can often produce both positive and negative emotions in your children. We all know that proper nutrition in addition to regular physical activity are essential components to health and over all wellness. However, something that can often be overlooked is the importance that adequate sleep plays in our everyday lives and how a lack of sleep can have a negative impact on both child development and mental health. Researchers have recently found that children who get adequate sleep are less prone to childhood obesity, have stronger immune systems and have better overall academic performance.
The benefits of sleep:
- Sleep promotes growth.
- Sleep helps the heart.
- Sleep affects weight.
- Sleep helps strengthen the immune system.
- Sleep reduces injury risk.
- Sleep increases children’s attention span.
- Sleep boosts learning.
Steps to building a better bedtime:
- Create a solid routine. Establish a bedtime routine that takes no more than one hour (half an hour in children under the age of ten) to help your child transition and calm down to prepare for them for sleep. This could include taking a bath, brushing their teeth, using the bathroom or reading them a bedtime story. Ensure that your child has everything they need to sooth them throughout the night such as calm, peaceful sounds or white noise such as a fan. If your child has a favorite pillow, blanket or stuffed animal make sure they have it before you turn the lights out. Establish a bedtime and stick to it.
- Set the stage for sleep. Try to maintain a consistent temperature and amount of light in the bedroom during the night. Ensure that all electronics and screens are completely turned off at least two hours prior to when the bedtime routines begin. Research has shown that exposure to the light emitted by electronics can reduce melatonin levels in the body by up to a whopping 22%! Melatonin is a chemical in the body that naturally occurs at night and signals the body to sleep. Oil diffusers have become increasing popular and scents such as lavender, vanilla or jasmine can be soothing and promote sleep.
- Run a sleep audit. Keep track of how many hours of sleep your child is getting at night to be able to determine if they are getting an adequate amount. Keep track of when your child has tantrums or problematic behavior during the day. This can help you track behavior changes and compare them to the amount of sleep they had the night before. Often an increase of an hour of sleep per night can reduce the amount of problematic behaviors your child has during a week.
Children can often have difficulty making changes around their sleeping habits when they have been allowed to stay up late and sleep in during the summer. It is essential to remember that establishing a healthy bedtime routine may be difficult at first, but in the long run is in the best interest of your child and will become easier over time. You may want to also adopt a bedtime routine for yourself to model healthy behavior to your child and support this change in the entire household.
By: Amber Sanner, MS, LMFT