The Importance of Sleep for Our Kids
Quality sleep is one of the most beneficial things a person can experience, but any parent knows that peaceful nights are not always guaranteed or easy to find. Young children and even teenagers can easily get out of sync if their bodies aren’t getting the rest they need, and if the kids aren’t sleeping well, odds are you aren’t sleeping well either. Studies show that irregular and insufficient sleep hours can actually lead to obesity in our kids, and it also is detrimental to their studies, relationships with friends and family, and safety when it comes to drowsy teenager drivers.
Avoid These 7 Bedtime Mistakes
- Using bedtime or sleep as a punishment or threat of punishment. If we tell our kids they will have to go to bed early because they are misbehaving or send them to bed as a punishment, they often get the message that bedtime is a negative consequence they want to avoid. In actuality, we as parents might just be the ones who are exhausted and are looking for a little peace and quiet, so sending the kids to bed becomes our reward at their expense. If you think that your child is misbehaving because he is tired and needs sleep, adjust the bedtime without presenting it as a punishment.
- Skipping transitions. Our busy days are long and filled, and it can be hard to squeeze in 30 minutes of down time before bedtime, but children need transition time in order to fall asleep comfortably. Don’t expect your child to go from playing outside with friends to walking in the house and heading to bed. Transition time allows their brains and bodies to slow down, making falling asleep that much easier. Reading, bathing, or quietly playing on the floor in their rooms are all good transitional activities.
- Failing to establish healthy routines. Children often thrive on routines, and bedtime is not an exception. Make sure you include teeth brushing and other self-care practices in your child’s routine. Reading together, snuggling, talking quietly about the day, or sharing bedtime prayers are all positive, calm ways to end the day together. Not only will these routines help kids transition to bedtimes, but they will establish healthy habits our kids need for life.
- Ignoring comfort needs. Kids are much more likely to fall asleep easily and sleep more soundly when we make sure their comfort needs are met. Room temperature, noise levels in the house, pajama choices, and items such as favorite bears or blankets are all important considerations for sleep.
- Allowing unlimited television and video game time before bed. Many families head for the sofa before bedtimes, watching favorite shows or playing video games, but these habits can interfere with children’s abilities to fall asleep. One study showed that 28% of preschoolers who played video games before bed struggled with falling asleep, compared with 19% of preschoolers who didn’t play video games just before bedtime. Other studies do show similar minimal interference with sleep for older kids who play video games, increasing the time it took them to fall asleep by 4.5 minutes (3 minutes compared to 7.5 minutes). Pay attention to how it affects your children and adjust to meet their individual needs.
- Ignoring snoring. Snoring in young children can be clues to significant health problems. Not only are kids who snore losing peaceful hours of sleep, their snoring could be signaling a narrow airway caused by anatomical birth defects or enlarged tonsils and adenoids. These issues can lead to the dangers of sleep apnea or be signs of upper airway resistance. Both of these need medical treatment and treating them will lead to healthier children who get better sleep at night.
- Failing to be consistent. We don’t have the luxury of predicting and planning each day down to every minute, but we do need to strive to be consistent. Both Mom and Dad should try to use similar bedtime strategies, reinforcing positive routines in the same ways. If your kids know that one parent will let them stay up later or eat cereal in bed, there may be bedtime battles when the other parent is leading the bedtime routine with quiet stories and no bedtime snack. If you have a child who perfers to snuggle in with Mom in the middle of the night, make sure that you both agree to how co-sleeping will be handled. Form a plan together with your partner and commit to being consistent – you will all sleep better for it.