Kids need to be well-rested to make it through the long school day ahead of them. Unfortunately, many kids have sleep issues. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, approximately 15 to 25 percent of kids struggle to fall or stay asleep on a regular basis. The good news is that there are many steps parents can take to help their kids get a good night’s sleep. Here’s what the experts suggest:
Keep a consistent sleep schedule
Help your kids keep a consistent sleep schedule. Child psychologist Dr. Alison Baker says that “consistency is really, really crucial in terms of building healthy sleep habits.” In other words, encourage your kids to go to sleep and wake up around the same time every day – and that includes weekends. “If a kid’s sleep schedule shifts dramatically on the weekends - staying up most of the night and sleeping until midafternoon Saturday and Sunday - the chances of getting back to normal Sunday night are slim,” says Professor Juliann Garey of NYU.
Limit afternoon napsLimit afternoon naps no matter how tired the kids may be when they get back from school. Naps make it hard to fall asleep at night in general, let alone at their regular bedtime. If they really can’t stay awake in the afternoon, encourage them to take a short nap. “Sleeping for more than 20 minutes,” says child psychologist Dr. Daniel Lewin, “can throw off their nighttime sleep schedule.”
Turn off electronics before bedtime
Cellphones and laptops also make it hard for kids to fall asleep at night. The problem isn’t just that they’re texting with friends, posting on social media, and playing video games instead of sleeping: the so-called blue light that electronic devices emit sends a signal to their brains that suppresses the production of melatonin and prevents them from feeling tired. Experts agree that kids can avoid this problem by putting away these electronic devices well before bedtime. As Dr. Lewin says, “leave a buffer zone of at least an hour before going to bed.”
Parents may think that kids will rebel against this rule, but that’s not necessarily the case. According to Beata Mostafavi of C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, many kids “describe a sense of relief when their parents limit phone use because it takes away some of that pressure to keep up with social news and what their peers are up to.” In fact, says clinical psychologist Dr. Jeff Nalin, “not having access to electronics and social media just might cause your (kid) to become bored and decide to go to sleep on his or her own.”
…And charge them outside their bedroom!
Don’t tempt your kids to turn on their cell phones or laptops once they’re in bed. The best way to avoid that is to insist that they charge their devices anywhere in the house except their bedroom. “Consider having your (kid) leave their device in an area of the house that’s not their bedroom,” says registered nurse Mary Sweeney. “That’ll discourage them from reaching for it after they’ve shut off the lights.”
Reorganize their homework
You can help your kids stay away from electronics before they go to bed by having them do the homework that requires online access in the afternoon, and leaving offline homework for the evening. Have them do most of their homework right after they get home from school so that they can relax and unwind in the evening. “Anything to prevent (kids) from completing important deadlines at the end of the day,” says Beata, “will make it easier to wind down for bed.”
Create an unwinding routine
When it’s time to wind down for the night, have your kids follow a set pattern. A nighttime routine, says Beata, will “get their body into sleep mode and send the right signals to the brain that it’s time to snooze.” This could be anything from taking a hot bath or shower before they go to bed, to doing breathing exercises or writing in a journal.
Avoid caffeinated drinks
Encourage your kids to limit their caffeine intake, especially in the afternoon and evening. They should avoid energy drinks, which often have more caffeine than coffee and tea. “If they’re craving something hot to drink,” says Kevin Asp, the founder of SomnoSure, a sleep medicine company, “then recommend a warm cup of herbal tea. One or two strong cups of tea can help them mellow out.” Editor’s Note: Consult your child’s doctor or pediatrician before offering them any herbal supplements, including teas.
If they wake up during the night…
If your kids wake up during the night and come to your bedroom for comfort, gently bring them back to their own bedroom, says clinical psychologist Dr. Anna Loiterstein. You want to make their bedroom, not yours, the ultimate place for relaxation and rejuvenation.
Tanni Haas, Ph.D. is a Professor in the Department of Communication Arts, Sciences and Disorders at the City University of New York – Brooklyn College.
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