I have 4 kids who have lived a combined total of more than 50 years (yikes!) and I know I’ve probably heard several months worth of “Mom – I can’t fall asleep!”. Some of that has been the result of watching a scary movie with Dad, some of it from worries about the next day, and some of it from excitement and anticipation for our future plans. But no matter the reason, falling asleep doesn’t always seem to come as easily as it should for kids.
Think happy thoughts. Your own mom might have told you just those words as you struggled to fall asleep. Mom knows best – and if she ever told you these words she was on to what scientists are calling “savoring” – where kids use an imaginary TV channel to think happy thoughts. I’ve been using these ideas with my own kids and hopefully we won’t have too many more nights of evading sleep.
Why Kids Need Sleep
OK – so the obvious answer is that kids needs enough sleep so that their bodies have energy for healthy growth and development. A growing body of research and evidence also shows that sleep patterns in childhood are linked to mental and general health in adulthood. Kids who don’t develop good sleeping habits are more likely to experience any of the following issues as they move from their tween and teen years to adult years.
- Alcohol and drug abuse
- Aggressive behaviors
- Memory problems
In one study, kids who had trouble sleeping when they were 12 to 14 years of age were more than two times as likely to be suicidal when they were 15 to 17 years of age. Another study showed that 46% of kids at age 9 who had difficulty sleeping grew up to have an anxiety disorder when they were in their twenties.
Signs Your Child Might Have a Sleep Problem
There are three common sleep problems that children face, with some unfortunate kids experiencing all three. Even just one of these is enough to interrupt the healthy growth of kids emotionally, physically, and psychologically.
- Difficulty falling asleep (anything more than 30 minutes on a regular basis is too much)
- Difficulty staying asleep (beyond infant ages where nighttime feedings are expected)
- Not getting enough sleep (see below the average numbers your kids need for sleep according to The American Academy of Sleep Medicine)
Infants: 14 to 15 hours
Toddlers: 12 to 14 hours
Preschoolers: 11 to 13 hours
School-age kids: 10 to 11 hours
Teenagers: 9 to 10 hours
Typically these symptoms of sleep problems are persistent under average conditions – not just one night after a spooky movie or a weekend sleepover with friends. Tonight as my kids are giggling with their cousins and no one is falling asleep “on time” I won’t fret about it too much because this is their annual summer week with cousins.
How Do I Get My Child to Savor Sleep?
If your child isn’t getting the sleep he needs, especially if he is having difficulty falling asleep, do what mom told you to do and what scientists are now teaching in efforts to improve sleep patterns of kids. It is not counting sheep, but it is getting your child to change his mindset as he goes to bed for the night – and scientists call it “savoring”.
- Encourage your kids to imagine their ideas and thoughts as different channels on a television.
- Have them create a “savoring” channel that includes different positive things (a happy memory from the day, a letter from a friend, etc.).
- Encourage kids to designate a “worry” or negative channel where all of the anxious thoughts from the day can be sent.
- At bedtime ask your child to tell you what is playing on their “savoring” channel. Researchers believe that focusing on these positive thoughts will decrease kids’ anxieties and improve their sleep patterns.
I use an idea similar to savoring with one of my more anxious kids who always seems to snowball his worry ideas into one giant “I’ll never get to sleep thinking about this!” worry. I have my son put all of the worry thoughts that creep into his mind into an imaginary box that never leaks. I tell him that in the morning we can open those thoughts together and see how we can worry less about them. Then, instead of counting sheep, I have him count good things from the day and see how high he can get. These types of techniques are just tools to use to help your kids fall asleep at night that should be combined with a positive bedtime routine. Sweet dreams!